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How to become a runner with Couch to 5K

couch to 5k

You may think that you're not a runner or that there's no way you could run that distance, but with the Couch to 5K free scheme, you might just surprise yourself. Whether you're wanting to improve your general fitness or take up a new hobby, running is a great activity with mental and physical benefits, and proven weight loss results. So why not try the Couch to 5K plan? You never know - you could go from couch potato to regular jogger in just nine weeks!


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What is Couch to 5K?

Couch to 5K is a free running plan that enables you to build up and progress from an absolute beginner to a runner capable of completing a five kilometre track without stopping.

Endorsed by the NHS and Public Health England, the programme is broken down into nine separate weeks, with three days of running per week (with rest days in between), and with each week progressing in difficulty. Luckily, the mix of walking and running allows for a gradual build-up of skill that makes the whole thing that bit easier!

There are a multitude of health benefits with Couch to 5K, so if you've ever fancied training for a 5K or want to start running, it's the ideal plan for you.  
 

Couch to 5K benefits 

couch to 5k

It's no secret that there are plenty of health benefits that come from running. Here are the top five benefits of Couch to 5K.

1. Reduces your chances of health risks

With benefits ranging from an increasingly efficient cardiovascular system, strengthened bones, joints and muscles, a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, running is a fantastic way to improve your health.

2. Improves your mood

Exercise is a proven way to release endorphins, improving your overall mood and happiness levels. So if you're feeling stressed, a gentle jog is a great way to wind down as it promotes optimistic feelings. Not only will the sense of accomplishment give you a boost, chemical changes in the body from exercise are an effective way to improve your mood if you're feeling low. 

3. Helps with weight loss

If you're looking to shift an extra few pounds, running is a good way to get active and to slim down. It's one of the most effective methods of burning calories, beating other forms of exercise such as swimming and cycling. However, the weight loss benefits of running are accentuated by a proper diet regime and plenty of rest. 

4. It's free! 

Looking for a way to get fit but don't fancy spending loads on a pricey gym membership? 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 program 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.

 

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 to know how to go from couch potato to 5K runner. Luckily, this handy guide tells you exactly what you need to do...

Week 1

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

Week 2

  • Five minute walk to warm up
  • 90 seconds walking, two minutes running, for 20 minutes

Week 3

  • Five minute walk to warm up
  • 90 seconds running, 90 seconds walking, three minutes running, three minutes walking (x2)

Week 4

  • Five minute walk to warm up
  • Three minutes running, 90 seconds walking, five minutes running, two and a half minutes walking, three minutes running, 90 seconds walking, five minutes running

Week 5

  • Run 1: five minute walk to warm up, five minutes running, three minutes walking, five minutes running, three minutes walking, five minutes running
  • Run 2: five minute walk to warm up, eight minutes running, five minutes walking, eight minutes running
  • Run 3: five minute walk to warm up, 20 minutes running, with no walking

Week 6

  • Run 1: five minute walk to warm up, five minutes running, three minutes walking, eight minutes running, three minutes walking, five minutes running
  • Run 2: five minute walk to warm up, 10 minutes running, three minutes walking, 10 minutes running
  • Run 3: five 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
  • Five minute walk to warm up, 25 minutes of running

Week 8

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

Week 9

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

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 (the plan takes you from non-runner to running 5K in nine weeks) 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. 

Apps

Having a Couch to 5K app can be a great way to track your progress easily on your phone. The NHS 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, Couch Potato to 5K runner, offers training that takes only 30 minutes a day, three times a week. 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.  

Podcasts

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 high-energy 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 10 minute gentle 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.

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