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Couch to 5K

Amanda Wendorff

Embarking on a transformative journey toward becoming a runner can feel a little daunting, but there are many resources out there to help you if you're looking to get started. For example, many beginner runners rely on the popular Couch to 5k® training plan, a simple, well-structured program that will help you build from brand-new runner to 5-kilometer race finisher.

This article will examine the Couch to 5k training plan, the good and the bad.  We’ll also include some tips for improving the plan so you can reach the start line of your 5k race feeling healthy, prepared, and proud of your journey. 

Specifically, we’ll answer the following questions:

  • What is the Couch to 5k Learn to Run program?
  • How long is the Couch to 5k program?
  • How does the Couch to 5k program work?
  • What are the pros and cons of the Couch to 5k plan?
  • What are some ways to improve upon the Couch to 5k plan?
  • Will you lose weight doing the Couch to 5k program?

What is the Couch to 5k Learn to Run Program?

Created in 1996 by Josh Clark, a running enthusiast and software engineer, and adapted by many running coaches and organizations, C25k is a popular running training program designed to help new runners build up to completing their first 5k run. 

The plan is designed for individuals with little to no running experience. So, if you're new to running and literally just coming off the couch, it’s an appropriate place to throw on some running shoes and start a fitness journey.

The Couch to 5k program follows a structured approach and increases running time gradually over a couple of months. It includes three days of running per week.

By the end of the Couch to 5k program, you should be prepared to run a 5k race. 

Man running 5k race beside an ocean with athletes and spectators in the distance.
Leighton is a software engineer in Australia and a loving dad to two young children (and his wife Carla). His best race result is a 5:31 half-IRONMAN, which is a personal best time. He's been training with MOTTIV since 2019!

How Long is the Couch to 5k Program?

The original Couch to 5k plan is nine weeks long. 

This duration allows you to build your running gradually and cautiously, which is particularly important if you're running for the first time. If your previous level of activity is low, your body needs plenty of time to adapt to the new load on the muscles and joints.

Various running groups and coaches have created versions of the Couch to 5k plan that vary from the classic nine-week duration. Those versions can be as short as four weeks. Short-duration plans, however, should only be attempted by runners who are already starting with a good base level of fitness. 

How Does the Couch to 5k Program Work?

The classic Couch to 5k program has a few basic features.

1) Three Weekly Workouts:

The Couch to 5k program consists of three weekly workouts for 9 weeks. 

2) Run-Walk Intervals

The workouts in the Couch to 5k program include both walking and running. During the early weeks, there is more walking than running; the running intervals are short and sweet.

For example, in the first week of the classic Couch to 5k program, the workouts are 25 minutes total: 5 minutes of brisk walking, followed by 20 minutes alternating 60 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking.

Each week, the Couch to 5k program gets progressively more difficult. The running intervals get longer, while the walking intervals get shorter and less frequent. 

When you progress to the ninth and final week, the total workouts become 35 minutes: 5 minutes of brisk walking, followed by 30 minutes of continuous jogging. 

3) Choose Your Paces

In a Couch to 5k program, there’s no worry about your running speed or goal paces. The plan encourages participants to complete the running segments with an easy jog, as slow as they need to go to finish the interval. 

A woman wearing sunglasses and MOTTIV clothing competes in a running race
Cindy Swaine is an age-group athlete from Canada who competes in triathlons and running races.  She's been using the MOTTIV app since 2020, to stay in shape during her retirement years!

What Are the Pros and Cons of the Couch to 5k Program?

Like any running program created for mass appeal, there are some great things about the Couch to 5k and some things we’d prefer to tweak. 

Pros of the Couch to 5k Plan

There are plenty of great things to say about C25k, and that’s the reason it’s such a popular plan for beginner runners. Specifically: 

The Couch to 5k Gets People Running

The Couch to 5k program has undoubtedly brought many new people to the sport. It’s simple and accessible.

Perhaps even more importantly, the program provides a foundation for a continued running journey. The nine-week running plan is long enough to make running a habit. When they finish the Couch to 5k plan, most new athletes identify as runners and want to continue.  

The Couch to 5k Plan Creates Structure

Many beginner runners have great aspirations to build their endurance and prepare for races but struggle with how to plan their training. The Couch to 5k program solves that problem by providing a doable and flexible structure.

The Couch to 5k Program Builds Running Volume Safely

It’s very important for beginner runners to build running mileage very slowly.  Running is a weight-bearing sport, which means that during running, your entire body weight is transferred from leg to leg as you move forward. 

Weight-bearing sports put a lot of pressure on the body’s bones and joints, increasing the risk of injury. Research shows that novice runners are more likely to be injured than experienced runners because their bodies are less accustomed to the pounding forces of running.

The Couch to 5k plan does an excellent job of starting newbies with a very modest amount of running,  gradually building the volume slowly and carefully so the athlete doesn't get injured. 

For example, the first three training runs in the plan are all the same: 5 minutes of brisk walking followed by 20 minutes alternating 60 seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking. That’s 8 minutes total of running, broken up into intervals.

The next week, the workouts progress slightly, starting with 5 minutes of brisk walking and then moving to 20 minutes, alternating 90 seconds of running with 2 minutes of walking. That workout will have you running for a total of 9 minutes, a very small increase from the week below. 

This gradual, patient plan allows runners the time to let their bodies adapt to running, which ultimately should prevent injury. 

Cons of the Couch to 5k Plan     

At the same time, there are some downsides to this plan.

The Couch to 5k Lacks Variation in Pace

The Couch to 5k program has no variation in the speed you should run. Every workout within the plan calls for jogging at whatever pace necessary to complete the duration.

While starting slowly is important for complete beginners, most new runners naturally gravitate towards a slow, shuffling stride that could eventually become a bad habit. Although this shuffling style is cardiovascularly easier, it is not efficient, and using it exclusively could lead to injury.

The Couch to 5k Plan Does Not Include Strength Training

Another major downside of the Couch to 5k plan is the absence of strength and mobility training.

Strength and mobility work are essential for all runners, particularly beginners. Strength training makes for healthier, faster, less injury-prone runners by improving run economy, strength, and overall health. 

You can read this article, where we share info on the benefits of strength training. 

The Couch to 5k Plan Can be Boring

Finally, the simplicity of the Couch to 5k plan can also work against it by being a bit boring. For many of the weeks in the plan, the same workout is repeated three times in a row; overall, there is not a lot of variation in the types of workouts. 

A smiling man gives a thumbs-up during triathlon while wearing MOTTIV clothing
Doug Gailey is an assistant city manager in Utah, USA. He has trained with MOTTIV since the app launched in 2017, consistently getting faster and qualifying for several IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship races, frequently notching new personal best times!

What Are Some Ways to Improve Running Form?

As we’ve noted above, the Couch to 5k plan has the potential to allow beginner runners to get into the habit of running in an inefficient, shuffling style. To counteract the risks of the shuffle-style run, there are a few things we’d suggest new runners add to the plan.

Running Drills

One of the best ways to improve your running economy and form is to incorporate running drills.  

Running drills are exercises designed to improve running form, efficiency, speed, and overall performance. The drills target various aspects of running mechanics, coordination, strength, and mobility. Some of the more popular drills include: 

  • High knees: Run in place or forward while focusing on quickly lifting the knees to waist height while maintaining an upright posture.
  • Butt kicks: Run in place or forward while focusing on quickly pulling the heels up to the glutes.
  • Skipping: Use the skipping style you learned as a child over a short distance, focusing either on jumping as high as you can or as far forward as you can.

Our favorite running drill combines some of the most popular running drills. To improve your running form and efficiency, try this progression every few minutes throughout your run: 

  1. Stand up straight and hop up and down in place
  2. Start doing quick butt kicks
  3. Lean forward from the ankles
  4. Start running again, and keep your foot turnover (running cadence) a little faster than normal

To read more about this drill and other training tips to improve your form, you can check out our “How to Start Running” guide HERE.

Speed Intervals

Another great way to improve speed, form, and running economy is to include some short, fast intervals in your training schedule. 

While absolute beginners should spend most of their running time at a slow, sustainable pace with a low heart rate, adding in small amounts of fast running is beneficial even for the newest runners. 

One of the best ways to increase run economy is by doing strides, which are short (up to 100 meters), fast efforts nearing your all-out sprint pace. Some of the benefits of short, fast runs like strides include: 

  • Reinforcing proper run form: When we run fast, the body tends to naturally run with good technique: tall posture, slight forward lean, fast turnover, etc.
  • Training the body to run more efficiently: Strides teach you to run with a fast turnover and longer strides. You'll benefit if you can incorporate some of those movements into your easy running.
  • Improving neuromuscular coordination: Strides help train the mind-body connection, improve muscle recruitment patterns, and activate fast-twitch muscle fibers.

With fast sprints/strides, it’s very important to ensure adequate recovery between each effort. For beginner runners, we suggest taking three to four full minutes of recovery (either walking or easy jogging) between sprints.

A 55 year old female finishing a running race wearing MOTTIV clothing
Beth Warren has been a runner for over 40 years, frequently competing in road races, trail races, and triathlons, and often hitting the podium in her age group. She love to show people that you don't have to stop being active or competitive as you age.

Our Improved 5k Training Plans

While we are proponents of the Couch to 5k training plan for folks wanting to get off the couch and take up running, our approach for beginners actually improves upon C25k.

For new runners building up to a 5k in 9 weeks, our training plans (available at www.mymottiv.com) include a structure like this: 

  • Monday & Friday, 20 - 40 Minutes of Walk/Jog: These are typical walk-run workouts common in most learn-to-run training plans. Generally, you’ll start with more walk breaks than jogging, with the balance shifting towards jogging as the plan progresses.  The jogging portions of these workouts should be very easy, and you should start them with the butt kick running drill we discussed earlier in this article.
  • Wednesday, 20 - 40 Minutes Including Sprints: These workouts will have you doing some fast 100-meter strides with a lot of rest between each fast interval.
  • Sunday,  30 - 45 Minutes of Hike/Jog: These longer efforts incorporate hiking and jogging, teaching the body to sustain a high heart rate for a long period while also building up the durability of the legs.
  • Bonus Workout, 30 Minutes of Strength / Mobility: Completed on any day, 30 minutes of strength work focused on improving your core stability and overall mobility will reap excellent benefits.
  • WEEK 1:
  •   Monday: Walk/Run (30 mins)
  •     Alternate between walking for 2 minutes and running for as long as you can for this entire workout
  •   Tuesday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Wednesday: Sprints (30 mins)
  •     Warm Up: 4 minutes of easy jogging
  •     Sprints: Alternate between 10 seconds sprinting and 4 minutes walking or easy jogging until you reach 30 minutes total time
  •   Thursday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Friday: Strength 
  •     Perform each exercise 4 times total:
  •     10x Bodyweight Squats
  •     10x Lunges
  •     20 second plank
  •   Saturday: Hike (25 mins)
  •     Easy & steady jogging for as long as you can at the end of this hike 
  •   Sunday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  • WEEK 2:
  •   Monday: Walk/Run (30 mins)
  •     Alternate between walking for 1:45 minutes and running for 15 seconds longer than you did last week
  •   Tuesday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Wednesday: Sprints (30 mins)
  •     Warm Up: 3.5 minutes of easy jogging
  •     Sprints: Alternate between 10 seconds sprinting and 3.5 minutes walking or easy jogging until you reach 30 minutes total time
  •   Thursday: Rest Day
  • Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Friday: Strength 
  •     Perform each exercise 4 times total:
  •     10x Jump Squats
  •     10x Lunges
  •     30 second plank
  •   Saturday: Hike (27.5 mins)
  •     Easy & steady jog for 2 more minutes than you did last week
  •   Sunday: Rest Day 
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  • WEEK 3:
  •   Monday: Walk/Run (30 mins)
  •     Alternate between walking for 1:30 minutes and running for 15 seconds longer than you did last week
  •   Tuesday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Wednesday: Sprints (30 mins)
  •     Warm Up: 3 minutes of easy jogging
  •     Sprints: Alternate between 10 seconds sprinting and 3 minutes walking or easy jogging until you reach 30 minutes total time
  •   Thursday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Friday: Strength 
  •     Perform each exercise 4 times total:
  •     10x Jump Lunges
  •     30 second plank on left side
  •     30 second plank on left side
  •   Saturday: Hike (30 mins)
  •     Easy & steady jog for 2 more minutes than you did last week
  •   Sunday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  • WEEK 4:
  •   Monday: Walk/Run (30 mins)
  •     Alternate between walking for 1:15 minutes and running for 15 seconds longer than you did last week
  •   Tuesday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Wednesday: Sprints (30 mins)
  •     Warm Up: 2.5 minutes of easy jogging
  •     Sprints: Alternate between 10 seconds sprinting and 2.5 minutes walking or easy jogging until you reach 30 minutes total time
  •   Thursday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Friday: Strength 
  •     Perform each exercise 4 times total:
  •     10x Cossack Squats
  •     Scorpions
  •     20 second bridge pose
  •   Saturday: Hike (32.5 mins)
  •     Easy & steady jog for 2 more minutes than you did last week
  •   Sunday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  • WEEK 5:
  •   Monday: Walk/Run (30 mins)
  •     Alternate between walking for 1 minute and running for 15 seconds longer than you did last week
  •   Tuesday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Wednesday: Sprints (30 mins)
  •     Warm Up: 2 minutes of easy jogging
  •     Sprints: Alternate between 10 seconds sprinting and 2 minutes walking or easy jogging until you reach 30 minutes total time
  •   Thursday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Friday: Strength 
  •     Perform each exercise 4 times total:
  •     10x Cossack Weighted
  •     Scorpions
  •     30 second bridge pose
  •   Saturday: Hike (37.5 mins)
  •     Easy & steady jog for 2 more minutes than you did last week
  •   Sunday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  • WEEK 6:
  •   Monday: Walk/Run (30 mins)
  •     Alternate between walking for 45 seconds and running for 15 seconds longer than you did last week
  •   Tuesday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Wednesday: Sprints (30 mins)
  •     Warm Up: 2 minutes of easy jogging
  •     Sprints: Alternate between 15 seconds sprinting and 2 minutes walking or easy jogging until you reach 30 minutes total time
  •   Thursday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Friday: Strength 
  •     Perform each exercise 4 times total:
  •     10x Single Leg Deadlifts
  •     Scorpions
  •     2x Turkish Get ups
  •   Saturday: Hike (40 mins)
  •     Easy & steady jog for 2 more minutes than you did last week
  •   Sunday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  • WEEK 7:
  •   Monday: Walk/Run (30 mins)
  •     Alternate between walking for 30 seconds and running for 15 seconds longer than you did last week
  •   Tuesday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Wednesday: Sprints (30 mins)
  •     Warm Up: 1.5 minutes of easy jogging
  •     Sprints: Alternate between 15 seconds sprinting and 1.5 minutes walking or easy jogging until you reach 30 minutes total time
  •   Thursday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Friday: Strength 
  •     Perform each exercise 4 times total:
  •     10x Single Leg Deadlifts
  •     Scorpions
  •     3x Turkish Get ups
  •   Saturday: Hike (42.5 mins)
  •     Easy & steady jog for 2 more minutes than you did last week
  •   Sunday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  • WEEK 8:
  •   Monday: Walk/Run (30 mins)
  •     Alternate between walking for 15 seconds and running for 15 seconds longer than you did last week
  •   Tuesday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Wednesday: Sprints (30 mins)
  •     Warm Up: 1 minute of easy jogging
  •     Sprints: Alternate between 15 seconds sprinting and 1 minute walking or easy jogging until you reach 30 minutes total time
  •   Thursday: Rest Day
  •     Take the day off and rest up for the training to come
  •   Friday: Strength 
  •     10x jump ups
  •     10x single leg deads
  •     30 second plank all sides
  •     3 Turkish Get ups
  •   Saturday: Hike (45 mins)
  •     Easy & steady jog for 2 more minutes than you did last week
  •   Sunday: Rest Day

Can I Do Your Workouts On A Treadmill?

While you can absolutely spend your training time running on a treadmill, it's important understand that you won't be quite as prepared for an outdoor race if you train strictly indoors.

When you go for a run outside, your body is adapting to many factors including the weather and variations in the surface you're running on. For example, when you're outdoors and on uneven ground, you're not only building endurance but you're also strengthening the stabilizer muscles in your feet, legs and back.  On a treadmill, some of the force of each stride is absorbed by the machine, plus you're always running in a straight line on a perfectly flat surface, so you aren't strengthening those stabilizers.

Many athletes who train indoors find that when they eventually move outside, they feel less fit than they did when inside.  That's why it's important to train outside as much as possible as you follow the plan.

Will You Lose Weight Doing a Couch to 5k Training Plan?

Although many athletes will experience weight loss as they start running more, completing the Couch to 5k plan does not guarantee you’ll drop weight. Your daily diet affects your body weight more than anything!

For many athletes, completing a Couch to 5k plan is part of an overall commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Starting to run regularly may inspire you to make other healthy choices, such as eating less or incorporating more fruits and vegetables. Those dietary choices are where the changes really happen. 

If weight loss is a goal for you, be careful not to significantly increase your calories as you begin running. While starting to run is a huge step towards general health, most beginner runner programs recommend less than an hour of training per day, which is not enough time to burn very many calories.  

Wrap-Up 

The Couch to 5k running plan helped thousands, if not millions, of people to get running. For the most part, it's simple, well-structured, and effective. 

However, that’s not to say the Couch to 5k plan is perfect. We’ve found plenty of ways we think the plan can be improved upon, specifically adding some speed and strength components, as well as a little variety to keep things interesting. 

In this article, we’ve discussed the following:

  • The basics of the Couch to 5k program
  • The pros and cons of the Couch to 5k program
  • The benefits of speed and strength work for new runners
  • What you should expect in terms of your body weight when doing a Couch to 5k plan

Ultimately, we want to see more people making decisions to transform their health and wellness. Getting into an exercise routine, no matter which plan you choose, is a huge step toward that transformation!

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Amanda Wendorff

| AUTHOR

Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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