Couch To 5k – A Complete Training Plan With Top Tips On How To Succeed

There are lots of reasons to start running. Perhaps you want to lose weight, or you want to improve your personal fitness?

Couch To 5k - A Complete Training Plan With Top Tips On How To Succeed

Maybe you feel like you don’t spend enough time outdoors, or you want to exercise to boost your mental health? Running is a great way to get out and move your body, helping you to live a more healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Starting out as a beginner can be quite daunting – running is an intensive activity with a steep learning curve. Lacing up your trainers and getting yourself outside is the hardest step to take – once you get going it will become easier and easier.

As long as you have the courage to get out on your first run, you are already well on your way to becoming a runner and running your first 5k!

But how do you start running? How do you know the best training methods to get you from no running experience to being able to run a 5k? Couch to 5k is the best training programme to help beginners learn how to run.

The simple but effective training plan will improve your fitness and get you running at a level where you can comfortably complete a 5k.

Whatever the reason you have decided to start running, this guide will tell you everything that you need to know. Keep reading to find out more.

What Is Covered In This Training Plan?

What will be covered in this training plan? We will explain what the Couch to 5k programme is, how it works and why it has become so popular.

We will also explain how long it takes and which mobile applications are the best if you want to complete the programme. We will answer some common questions about the couch to 5k programme, and then take you through the 10 week training plan.

Finally, we will give you some tips on how to make sure you succeed with your training plan and what steps you can take once it is complete.

What Is Couch To 5K?

What Is Couch To 5K

The Couch To 5k programme is a training plan aimed at novice runners of all fitness levels.

It is designed to help people to get fit and healthy by taking them through a 10 week programme of interval training – running and walking – until they can run 5K (30 minutes).

The plan has been around for over 25 years and has been used by many people to help them become fitter and healthier. It often kick-starts a lifelong love affair with running, and has had a significant impact on the lives of lots of people.

Whatever fitness level you are currently at, this training plan can help you to achieve your goals.

How Does It Work?

The Couch to 5k programme uses interval training to quickly improve your fitness. Combining running and walking will improve your cardiovascular fitness much faster than just running on its own.

It also allows you to gradually build up the length of time that you spend running so that you don’t injure yourself or push your body too hard. This makes it a safe and accessible way to learn how to run.

If you are pushed too hard and too fast then you will feel overwhelmed and may end up giving in. If you train by yourself, hitting the pavement and trying to run as long as you can, your progress will be slow and this can also be de-motivating.

If you are eased into running, you are more likely to stick to the plan and continue running afterwards. This is one of the reasons why the couch to 5k programme is so effective.

Why Is This Training Plan So Popular?

Whilst the Couch to 5k training plan has been around for more than two decades, there has been a big surge in popularity over the last 5 to 8 years.

This is because it is a training plan that is suitable for so many different people. It doesn’t matter if you are unfit, overweight, or if you have never tried running before – it can still work for you!

How Long Does The Training Plan Take?

The Couch to 5K training programme takes between 9 and 12 weeks depending on how quickly your fitness improves. Most people complete it within 10 weeks, but there is nothing wrong with taking a little longer.

You can take it at your own pace, as long as you are running consistently and you finish the programme.

Which Couch To 5K Training App Should You Download?

There are lots of different versions of the Couch to 5k training app. Some of them are free and some of them include in-app purchases.

The best one is the NHS Couch to 5K app which is free to download and use. It is very simple to navigate and it tracks your progress clearly.

There are other running apps available for once you have completed the training plan, such as Strava and Nike+ Running Club.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you are still feeling unsure about whether the Couch to 5k training plan is right for you, here are some frequently asked questions for you to consider.

Do You Need To Be Physically Fit To Join Couch To 5k?

Couch to 5k is designed for beginners, which means that you don’t need to have a good level of physical fitness before you begin.

If you have any health conditions such as asthma, heart conditions, breathing difficulties or injuries and you have concerns about starting the programme, you should speak to your doctor first.

Will You Be Ready To Run A 5k Race By The End Of The Programme?

Most people feel ready to run a 5k race by the end of the programme, but it is okay if you aren’t.

It might take you a little longer to reach that distance if you have a slow running pace or a short stride, or you might struggle to commit to 3 runs a week with a busy work schedule. It is a flexible programme so you can make it work for you.

Can You Complete A Week More Than Once?

If you don’t feel ready to move on to the next week then it is okay to complete a week twice. If you miss a week of training due to being on holiday or being busy at work then don’t worry – just repeat the week before or pick up from where you left off.

The most important thing is that you keep going and you don’t give up.

Can You Run More Than 3 Days A Week?

Running releases feel-good hormones and chemicals into your body, which is one of the reasons it is so good for improving your mental health. This can make it tempting to skip rest days and squeeze in more runs, but this is not advisable.

The rest days are important to allow your body to recover. If you run every day then you are more likely to burn out or sustain an injury.

The Couch To 5K Training Plan

Now you know all about the Couch to 5k training programme and how it works – but what is the breakdown of the plan? This plan is 10 weeks long, and each week has 4 rest days and 3 run days.

You can select which days work best for you, but try to take a rest day between each running day.

Week One

  • Run One – Run for 1 minute, walk for 1 minute – repeat 10 times
  • Run Two – Run for 1 minute, walk for 1 minute – repeat 10 times
  • Run Three- Run for 1 minute, walk for 1 minute – repeat 10 times

Week Two

  • Run One – Run for 2 minutes, walk for 2 minutes – repeat 6 times
  • Run Two – Run for 2 minutes, walk for 2 minutes – repeat 6 times
  • Run Three – Run for 2 minutes, walk for 2 minutes – repeat 6 times

Week Three

  • Run One – Run for 3 minutes, walk for 2 minutes – repeat 5 times
  • Run Two – Run for 3 minutes, walk for 2 minutes – repeat 5 times
  • Run Three – Run for 3 minutes, walk for 2 minutes – repeat 5 times

Week Four

  • Run One – Run for 5 minutes, walk for 3 minute – repeat 3 times
  • Run Two – Run for 5 minutes, walk for 3 minute – repeat 3 times
  • Run Three – Run for 5 minutes, walk for 3 minute – repeat 3 times

Week Five

  • Run One – Run for 8 minutes, walk for 3 minutes – repeat 2 times
  • Run Two – Run for 8 minutes, walk for 3 minutes – repeat 2 times
  • Run Three – Run for 8 minutes, walk for 3 minutes – repeat 2 times

Week Six

  • Run One – Run for 10 minutes, walk for 3 minutes – repeat 2 times
  • Run Two – Run for 10 minutes, walk for 3 minutes – repeat 2 times
  • Run Three – Run for 10 minutes, walk for 3 minutes – repeat 2 times

Week Seven

  • Run One – Run for 12 minutes, walk for 2 minutes- repeat 2 times
  • Run Two – Run for 15 minutes, walk for 1 minute – repeat 2 times
  • Run Three – Run for 20 minutes

Week Eight

  • Run One – Run for 20 minutes
  • Run Two – Run for 20 minutes
  • Run Three – Run for 25 minutes

Week Nine

  • Run One – Run for 25 minutes
  • Run Two – Run for 25 minutes
  • Run Three – Run for 30 minutes

Week Ten

  • Run One – Run for 30 minutes
  • Run Two – Run for 30 minutes
  • Run Three – Run a 5k race

Top Tips For Success

Now you know the details of the training plan, here are some top tips to help you succeed.


Try and stick to a particular time of day to go for a run. This could be before work, on a lunch break, or in the evening. Running at the same time will help to make it into a habit, and motivating yourself to get out will be easier.


You are not supposed to be running at a sprinting pace- it is a light jog that feels like an effort but is sustainable. The guided audio on the app will give you more advice on this.


Good form is important for performance and to help prevent injury. Make sure you keep your head up and chin lifted a little, and don’t look down. Straighten your back and push your shoulders slightly back.

Don’t let your arms cross in front of your body, keep them relaxed by your sides with a gentle swing. Don’t throw your legs out too far in front of you and make sure your knees are softly bent.


Running is just as much of a mental challenge as a physical one. Try to stay positive and approach your training plan with a can-do attitude. If you have a run that didn’t go well, stay positive and try again next time – perseverance is key.

Running is a great way to improve your mental health. When you are running, try to let go of the stresses and pressures that you carry with you throughout the day.

Focus on your body, your breath, the scenery, the music – let running be a form of mindfulness practice. When you notice your mind drifting back to work stress or anxious thoughts, gently bring your attention back to your body and how it feels.


Once you are around halfway or two thirds of the way through the training plan, you can sign up to a 5k race. This will help to give you the motivation that you need to stay on top of your training and complete the programme.

It will also be good to have a goal to work towards, and you might even find yourself getting excited about it.

Whilst you are training you can visualize what it will be like to cross the finish line of your first race, and how you might celebrate your achievement.

There are lots of free races, like Parkrun, that you can get involved in.

You could also race for charity and raise money for a good cause. You will be surprised at how much motivation you will have if you are running to raise money and you have the support of your sponsors.

Run With Others

Some people prefer to run alone, but if you are finding it lonely or dull then find a running buddy or a running group to keep you motivated.

Perhaps you have a friend who also likes running, or you could join an established group and meet some new friends.

Not only is running with others a great way to socialize, you will also learn a lot. You will be running alongside people of different experience levels, each with their own tips and tricks for success.

They might recommend a breathing technique, a new stretch for your cool down, or a product that will really help you.

Running groups are very supportive – if you are struggling to stay motivated your running group will be there to encourage you. When you achieve a personal best then your group will be there to congratulate you and celebrate with you.

Listen To Your Body

Your body will ache, especially in the beginning when it is not used to physical exertion. You will be using new muscles and your body will feel fatigued.

The more you run, the more you will learn to listen to your body and figure out what it needs. Perhaps you need to stretch more before or after your runs. You might need an extra rest day to recover from a particularly tough run.

If you notice an ongoing pain that recurs every time you run or doesn’t go away in between runs then you may have an injury. Make sure you rest when you are injured and seek medical advice when you need it.

You should never run with an injury or you could make it worse.

Don’t Compare Yourself

The competition in running should be the old you vs the new you – as long as you are sticking with it and making progress then it doesn’t matter how you compare to other people.

Everyone has different bodies at their own natural pace. Some people are built for endurance and others for speed.

Some people like to go as fast as they can and others like to slow down and enjoy the scenery. Do your own thing and don’t compare yourself to others.

Preparing For Race Day

You need to make sure that you are well prepared for your first race. Check out the course and see what kind of inclines, declines and terrains are included.

If you have been running on a flat road and your race includes a big hill then you will need to do a bit of hill training in order to prepare.

Make sure you rest on the day before your race. Drink plenty of water and eat high energy foods.

On the morning of the run eat something light with slow energy release, and leave plenty of time for it to digest before you run. Make sure you are hydrated.

The warm up is important. Your muscles should be warm and ready for exercise. Stretching before the race will also help to improve your performance.

You should always check the weather to make sure that you are wearing the right running gear to stay cool, dry and comfortable during the race.

What Next?

Once you have completed the programme and ran your first 5k race, what do you do next? You could stick to 5k and work on your speed with pace training.

You could increase your distance to 10k and prepare for a longer style of race. Or you could keep running as a hobby and do whatever you fancy.


Couch to 5k is an excellent training programme to get beginners to a level where they can run 5k without stopping.

Richard Harris