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Couch to 5K - running for beginners

couch to 5k

The Couch to 5K exercise plan is the perfect guide to getting started with running. It's designed to get inexperienced or out-of-practice runners off of the sofa and completing 5K without stopping, all in just nine weeks. With numerous physical and mental health benefits, running is an excellent way for over 50s to get more active and enjoy a boost to their mood. So, why not try the Couch to 5K plan? You never know - you could go from couch potato to regular jogger!


What is Couch to 5K? | Benefits | Week-by-week plan

Does it work? | Apps and podcasts | Running tips for beginners


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What is Couch to 5K?

Developed by Josh Clark to help his 50-something mum get fit, the Couch to 5K plan has now become a global phenomenon, tried and tested by thousands of now-regular joggers. It is unique in that it understands the limitations of new runners, and by doing so helps build them up to 5K with a different 3-run plan every week. The programme consists of alternating brisk walking and running, with at least one day of rest in between training, until you reach your goal.

Couch to 5K benefits

couch to 5k

It's no secret running has plenty of health benefits, so here are the top five you can enjoy by training with the Couch to 5K plan.

1. Reduces your chances of health risks

Running can: 

  • Increase the efficiency of your cardiovascular system.
  • Strengthen your bones, joints and muscles.
  • Reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.


2. Improves your mood

Exercise releases endorphins which improve your mood. So, if you're feeling stressed, anxious or down, a gentle jog is a great way to relax the mind.


3. Helps with weight loss

If you're looking to shift a few pounds, running is a good way to slim down. It's one of the most effective methods of burning calories, beating swimming and cycling. However, if you are aiming to lose weight, it is important to enjoy a healthy diet and plenty of rest. 


4. It's free! 

Running is a great form of exercise that doesn't cost the earth - all you need are a good pair of running shoes. What's more, the Couch to 5K plan is free to access, meaning you get a useful fitness plan that would usually be quite expensive from a personal trainer. 


5. It's for everyone

You may find yourself asking, "Who is the Couch to 5K plan for?" and wondering if you can do it, but the NHS guidelines state that the Couch to 5K programme is for everyone - even complete beginners with a low fitness level.

Of course, make sure you check with your GP before beginning Couch to 5K or any other fitness plan.


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Couch to 5K week-by-week plan

You've consulted your doctor, you've bought a brand-new pair of trainers, and now you're ready to hit the park/street/woods and run to your heart's content. All you need now is the 'how to'.

To help you get started, we've outlined the plan for you. Just remember that when you are walking to keep up a brisk pace, just enough that your heart is still beating a little harder than when you're sedentary. 


Week 1

  • 5 minute walk to warm up
  • 60 seconds running, 90 seconds walking, alternating for 20 minutes

Week 2

  • 5 minute walk to warm up
  • 90 seconds walking, 2 minutes running, alternating for 20 minutes

Week 3

  • 5 minute walk to warm up
  • 90 seconds running, 90 seconds walking, 3 minutes running, 3 minutes walking (x2)

Week 4

  • 5 minute walk to warm up
  • 3 minutes running, 90 seconds walking, 5 minutes running, 2.5 minutes walking, 3 minutes running, 90 seconds walking, 5 minutes running

Week 5

  • Run 1: 5 minute walk to warm up, 5 minutes running, 3 minutes walking, 5 minutes running, 3 minutes walking, 5 minutes running
  • Run 2: 5 minute walk to warm up, 8 minutes running, 5 minutes walking, 8 minutes running
  • Run 3: 5 minute walk to warm up, 20 minutes running, with no walking

Week 6

  • Run 1: 5 minute walk to warm up, 5 minutes running, 3 minutes walking, 8 minutes running, 3 minutes walking, 5 minutes running
  • Run 2: 5 minute walk to warm up, 10 minutes running, 3 minutes walking, 10 minutes running
  • Run 3: 5 minute walk to warm up, 25 minutes with no walking

Week 7

  • After week 7, the plan includes running for long periods of time, uninterrupted by walking
  • 5 minute walk to warm up, 25 minutes of running

Week 8

  • 5 minute walk to warm up
  • 28 minutes of running

Week 9

  • 5 minute walk to warm up
  • 30 minutes of running 


Don't forget your rest days

It's vital to make sure you have a rest day between each day of running, as this allows your muscles and joints time to recover, which will reduce your chance of injury. This means that you won't have to miss days of the Couch to 5K plan and can quickly become a proficient runner. 

On rest days, you can stretch your muscles and improve your balance with Pilates or tai chi.


One runner's journey - does it work? 

couch to 5k

One gransnetter, Sharon Parry, describes her journey from non-runner to 5K enthusiast. Think you can't run? Think again. Here's how to get there - and don't forget, it's all about the journey, not the destination.

"I have spent almost fifty years envying runners because my body had no 'running mode' at all. I couldn't even run for a bus. Run a 5K? Don't make me laugh!

And I didn't laugh a lot last winter. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and a soup of shifting hormones left me feeling tired all the time with chronic aches and pains. My zest for life had pretty much disappeared when a friend suggested that I started the NHS Couch to 5K running programme. This was the most ridiculous thing that I had ever heard. Or was it?


Getting started

As a scientist, I already knew about endorphins which are chemicals that can cause a happy feeling. They were in my body somewhere, I just had to get them mobilised and exercise could do this. Out of curiosity, I downloaded the Couch to 5K running app onto my phone and decided to give it a go.

On my first session the brisk five minute warm up walk went well enough but then I had to run for 60 seconds. Yes, a full 60 seconds! I told myself that I could stop after 30, perhaps 20 and, worst case scenario, after 10 seconds.


Hitting the wall

Sure enough, within 20 seconds my throat was dry and I could actually hear my pulse in my ears! But, because I could see the seconds counting down, I coped. I kept telling myself to do just 10 more and I made it to the 60 seconds. After 90 seconds of 'recovery walking' I was off running again.

Then I learned my first lesson - you cannot run if you don't breathe. I took some big gulps. Then I got a stitch, my Achilles tendon started pulling and my right knee felt as if it was going to give way. Shall I go on?


Making progress...

But I didn't stop and that is when those little endorphins started to work their magic. I walked back in through my front door like I was crossing the finishing line of the London Marathon and have not looked back since.

On week three (which I reached after four months) I finally learned to run. I felt that my legs had started to know what they were doing and I could get into that elusive rhythm.

It's hard but I'm not giving up because I really like these little chaps, the endorphins. I like what I become when they are around and, for me, running is what it takes to make them stay."

Couch to 5K apps and podcasts

couch to 5k apps

It's always handy to have that little something extra to spur you on, and luckily there are some great resources out there to help you stick to the plan. 



Having a Couch to 5K app can be a great way to track your progress easily on your phone. The NHS & BBC Couch to 5K app is free and offers tips and advice for new runners. It also allows you to select a celebrity trainer to encourage you to keep going, so whether you want Michael Johnson, Sarah Millican, Sanjeev Kohli or Jo Whiley to coach you through your 5K training, you can select a personality that motivates you most. 

Alternatively, download the app Couch Potato to 5K runner. Or if you've already mastered 5K and feel like pushing yourself harder, Couch to 10K, does what it says on the tin, preparing you to build up to be able to run 10km in 14 weeks.  

An app that displays a countdown timer is also another option, as you will be able to accurately time your runs. While it is predominantly for high intensity interval training (HIIT), the Interval Timer app allows you to time how long you run and walk for. 



An audio motivator is an effective way to keep up your momentum when embarking on a fitness plan. These Couch to 5K podcasts are useful and easy to follow. Broken down into each week, the NHS audio guide to the programme tells you exactly what you need to be doing. If music is your main motivator, this Running Mate podcast coaches you through your run while playing a high-energy mix of running music. 

Running tips for beginners

NHS couch to 5k

    1. Don't stretch too hard before walking or running

    Your muscles are cold and putting undue stress on them before they're warmed up could cause injury. Instead, try a gentle 10-minute cardio warm up. There are plenty on Youtube to choose from, and whatever you choose should include movement. Save the long stretches for after your walk (or run, depending on how far you've come!)


    2. Don't expect results right away

    It can take weeks to see a difference in your performance, but you will get there. It's not an overnight process and you need to give your body time to become accustomed to the new activity. Keep going - you will get there!

    Help improve your results by doing other exercises, that will help strengthen your muscles and improve your performance over the long-term. To keep up your interest, why not try a few different runs and mix up your route?


    3. Choose comfortable clothes

    If you're walking or running down the road pulling at uncomfortable clothing or wondering if people are looking at various parts of your anatomy in Lycra (they're not) you won't be concentrating on the task at hand. Choose clothing that you're comfortable in, even if it's a relic from the back of the wardrobe.

    Running in the months between October and March will mean exposure to colder weather and darker nights, so make sure to wear easily applicable/removable thin layers, such as breathable synthetic fabrics, fleeces and raincoats. As the longer nights mean you'll most likely be running in the dark, make sure to wear reflective gear, and stay in well-lit areas that you feel safe in.


    4. Get the right trainers

    Do not, we repeat, do not attempt a 5K run, or even part of a 5K run in inadequate shoes. What you save on buying a pair of suitable kicks, you'll pay for in spades when your body says 'no thanks' to running in tennis shoes that were never meant to run off the courts. A sales assistant in any sports shop can help you choose a pair that will meet your needs, and they certainly don't need to be expensive ones.


    5. Rest

    Your muscles, joints and cardiovascular system need time to get used to the new strain that you're putting them under, so even if you're feeling confident with your running capabilities, don't overdo it! As highlighted in the Couch to 5K plan, make sure that you rest every other day between exercises.


    6. It takes guts to try


    If you're new to running, or even exercise in general, and are feeling self conscious, just remember: you're lapping everybody on the couch! You should be congratulating yourself for giving it a try.

    Also, if you need any more advice or want to discuss your progress, you can talk to other gransnetters in our diet and exercise forums


    Disclaimer: The information on our diet and fitness pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Gransnet would urge you to consult your GP before you begin any diet if you're concerned about your weight, have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.











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