The couch to 5k program gets you running 5k in 30 minutes over a 9-week plan, by gradually increasing distance and total time running (instead of walking) each week. If you’re out of shape and want to improve your fitness, or never worked out, the program would be a great way for you to get fitter at a pace that won’t leave you with injuries. It’s gradual and steady, giving you the control even to repeat a particular run if you want to.
I’ve completed couch-5k a few times. The second time was straight after I’d completed the first, and I focused on speed.
- How do I start the Couch to 5K program?
- What’s the best time of day to run for beginners?
- Can I listen to music?
- Is it okay to skip rest days in the Couch to 5K program?
- What should I eat before and after a run?
- How do I deal with muscle soreness or injuries during the program?
- Can I repeat weeks in the Couch to 5K program if I find them challenging?
- How do I stay motivated throughout the Couch to 5K program?
- What should I do if I miss a run or fall behind in the program?
- Do I need special running shoes for Couch to 5K?
- Safety tips when running
How do I start the Couch to 5K program?
Download the app and have a look through it to make sure you’re comfortable with how it works. I used the NHS app but there are plenty around (I would recommend the NHS one). You’ll need running gear (trainers are your top priority; more on that later) and know where you want to run.
Setting expectations is important! See my article on what to expect during your couch to 5k plan.
What’s the best time of day to run for beginners?
This is completely dependent on you and your schedule. It might mean you need to wake up earlier or go out as soon as you get home from work. At weekends, I go an hour after breakfast. I work from home and sometimes squeeze one in on my lunch break mid-week.
Always make sure you have the energy but not straight away after food, or you might get a stitch. You’ll probably have a preference once you start running and get familiar with certain times of the day.
Here’s my advice on how to go for a run in your lunch break.
Can I listen to music?
Yes, you can. The app has alerts that talk out loud when you hit milestones, so your music will reduce in volume when that happens. I’d recommend prepping some playlists so you have options depending on what mood you’re in.
Is it okay to skip rest days in the Couch to 5K program?
If you want to skip rest days then nothing is stopping you! I did this when I felt ready. I’d suggest only doing it if you feel good and strong. Make sure to stretch before and after. Injuries will stop you from working out for weeks (at a minimum!) so only skip if you feel okay to do so. I wouldn’t skip rest days until you’re well into the program.
Ensure you’re properly ready. If you run too much too soon, you might burn yourself out and put yourself off from continuing. It’s best to take it steady and pace yourself. You might also give yourself injuries which will harm your fitness long term.
What should I eat before and after a run?
I eat my normal breakfast which is protein yoghurt, strawberries and granola. I tend to have a little less when I’m going for a run. I don’t change what I eat on run days vs non-run days, but that’s not to say you can’t. Carbs are best to give you energy, so think porridge, granola, bananas, toast with peanut butter, and bagels.
You don’t want too much food, or stodgy food that’ll not sit well and give you cramps.
I tend to eat breakfast then after around 50 minutes, I start to get ready by warming up which is a great way for me to see if my body is ready for running. If I warm up and get cramps, I’ll give it another 15 minutes before starting to warm up again.
I also have a coffee with my breakfast as well as water that contains electrolytes. Electrolytes help muscles and nerves function properly which you want when running. I have half a flavoured tab in a huge water bottle which is enough for me before and after I come back. I don’t tend to take a bottle with me but if I did longer runs, I might. I buy mine from Amazon, and they’re usually around £5-6 for a tube of 20: See here for High 5 hydration electrolyte tablets.
How do I deal with muscle soreness or injuries during the program?
This is one of the biggest flaws with the Couch to 5k program in my opinion. It doesn’t mention or suggest ANY pre or post-running stretches. They are SO important to warm your body and stretch it afterwards. I’ve neglected stretching before and had all sorts of problems, so now I prioritise it, which has reduced injuries. Yes, it turns a 20min run into 40mins with all the stretching, but it’s worth it.
My favourite stretches pre-run are below. They work well for me, but I would recommend watching YouTube videos and finding several that feel good to you. Make sure to find an exercise for each leg muscle group.
- Forward, side and reverse lunges
- Run on the spot
- High kicks
- Calf raises
- Leg swings (front/back, and left/right)
Here’s a good video with good reviews:
This is a Tiktok video that has some great stretches:
I’ve personally suffered with my IT band (Iliotibial band) around the outside of my knees. The pain is horrible but simple stretches got rid of it.
I’ve also struggled with shin splints, which is pain down the front side of my lower legs. It’s caused by overuse of the muscle and very common with runners.
Here are the ice packs on Amazon I use above.
I’d also recommend massage guns and foam rollers. I use both after each run. If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend just the roller. It reduces soreness by I’d guess, at least 70%. I have the Bob and Brad mini massage gun and the basic Amazon large foam roller (below).
Can I repeat weeks in the Couch to 5K program if I find them challenging?
Yes – you go back into the week in the app you want to repeat. I did this often when I’d not been as active – maybe I’d been ill or simply didn’t feel like I could face the next run yet. Sometimes I went back 2 or even 3 runs if I felt like my fitness had reduced and I’d really struggle. If you make yourself do too much, you might not enjoy it, which reduces the motivation to go out again.
How do I stay motivated throughout the Couch to 5K program?
You need to make sure you find it enjoyable, make sure it fits in around your life, and try to make it a habit. It’s personal and tailored to you.
I don’t find running with someone, having a buddy or running in a group motivational – I prefer to run alone. You might be the opposite and find it motivating!
Enjoyable – I love to go. It gives me time to think, get my steps in and fresh air. I listen to music and get to see around where I live, which is beautiful country views.
Habit – I look forward to weekends more now because I know one of the days I’m going to run. This is a habit I’ve formed, so even sometimes without thinking, I make plans knowing I’m running in the morning. This means extra time to stretch, shower etc. Similar to when I run in the week on my run, I know I need to plan my food and get it ready that day because I won’t have time to cook on my lunch break.
What should I do if I miss a run or fall behind in the program?
I did this a few times due to being ill or going on holiday. You can simply repeat a previous run! I would go back 2 or 3 to make sure you ease yourself back in, which will help to reduce any potential injuries.
Do I need special running shoes for Couch to 5K?
I don’t want to put you off, but I would say yes. You ideally should go to a running shop and get your gait measured (how you land/where your weight is distributed to reduce injury) but in the real world, who wants to spend £80+ on trainers when you aren’t sure you’ll enjoy running? I would suggest buying trainers with a money-back guarantee so you can return them if you don’t like running. If you aren’t being checked out properly, I’d go with trainers with amazing all-around cushioning, such as the ASICS novablast. I wear the ASICS novablast 3 Naginos for running. The heel has a huge cushioned heel – so comfy and I find them great for running on hard floors, like pavement.
Getting your gait measured
To measure your gait, you can visit a fitness place, or store, and run on a treadmill. They’ll take a video of your legs and feet whilst running in trainers, then analyse it and suggest better/more supportive trainers. See more info about that here: read more about getting your gait checked. You can do it at home too then buy trainers online.
If you decide not to continue with your running journey, you can always sell the trainers or keep them for walking/gardening. It’s a pretty big investment upfront but I wouldn’t recommend running without proper supportive trainers due to injuries that’ll (most likely) happen without the proper support.
Safety tips when running
I’ve written an article on tips on how to stay safe. Feel free to check it out here: top safety tips for runners. My main tips are:
- tell someone where you are going, and when you’ll be back
- send someone your tracking info (Garmin Livetrack or Google maps)
- wear bright colours and a luminous vest
- don’t go in the dark
- don’t go in areas that aren’t safe
- go in daylight and in a group
• • •
Thanks for reading :) This article is tagged with: