woman curled on couch contemplating a 5K


Tips for going from your couch to a 5K

Have your big ideas about training for a marathon during your time in quarantine actually turned into walks between your couch and the fridge as you binge watch the latest Netflix series? You could ride out the rest of quarantine as a couch potato or you could get out there and pound the pavement with a couch to 5K (five kilometer) running program. As a runner and a physical therapist for the RunSMART program, training for a 5k (which is 3.1 miles) is a great way to get active.

Start with a realistic plan

It may seem like a long way to walk, let alone run, especially if you're out of shape. But with an appropriate training plan, realistic goals and a little motivation the finish line is well within reach. Read on to learn how to make the transition from couch potato to 5K finisher.

  1. Set a goal. Determine what your goal is before you start a training program. Most of us start with a goal of getting in shape. However, competitiveness often kicks in during training, which is great for motivation but can aggravate problems during your training.
  2. Think about sustainability. For long term health benefits, find a fitness routine that is sustainable. This means finding something you enjoy and that your body tolerates (for example, if you have knee issues, running might not be a good lifetime exercise choice).
  3. Mix in other activities. Try a variety of activities like biking, swimming or golfing which helps keep your muscles balanced. Mixing up exercise can also help you stay motivated, giving you a break from running, but keeping you moving toward your goal.
  4. Plan for the weather. Factor in rain, snow, cold, heat, humidity and wind in your training plan. Be ready to make alternative plans for exercising indoors or at a different time of day.
  5. Expect some bumps in the road. You will experience setbacks, but try not to get discouraged. Even elite athletes have difficult training days or get sidelined by weather or injury.

Couch to 5K training plan

The starting line

If you choose a race date as motivation, pick one at least three months out. Start with 20 to 40 minute workouts, three to five days per week. Workouts should consist of:

  • 10 to 20 minutes of walking. Gradually increase the length of time, intensity and incline (number of hills) you walk. Walk at a pace that allows you to carry on a conversation and increase from there.
  • Increase the length of time and incline by 10 percent per week. That means if you started walking 15 minutes on week one, week two should be 16.5 minutes, week three should be just over 18 minutes and so on.
  • 10 minutes of strengthening exercises. Concentrate on strengthening your lower body with squats, lunges, side leg lifts and backward leg lifts. Do two sets of 10 reps each, every time you walk.
  • 10 minutes of stretching. Again concentrate on the lower body by stretching the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, gluts and pectoral muscles.

Mile marker: Two months prior to race

Start a walk-jog interval routine by incorporating some jogging with your walking:

  • Walk for five minutes and jog one minute for 12 to 36 minutes.
  • Gradually increase the amount of time spent jogging and decrease walking.
  • Work up to 10 minutes jogging and just one to two minutes walking.
  • Keep up the strengthening and stretching

Mile marker: One month prior to race

Gradually increase your total exercise time so that the distance you cover in that time frame is five kilometers. Continue to incorporate walk-jog intervals as needed:

  • Start by walking a half to one mile, then jogging one to two miles, followed by walking a half to one mile.
  • Work up to jogging the entire distance.

The finish line

The day of the race, don't start out too fast and use up all your energy. Listen to your body, if you can't run the entire distance don't be afraid to walk. The day's goal is simply to cross the finish line. Because, really, you've already won by motivating yourself to get up off the couch and sticking to your training plan.

Don't hesitate to consult with your sports medicine professionals with any specific questions or concerns. Find a doctor, physical therapist or athletic trainer who likes to work with runners.


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