If you’re new to exercise, running five kilometres may sound quite daunting. Lack of time, feeling nervous about being out in public or not having the right training gear can discourage some people. But if you follow the Couch to 5k guide below it can be fun, great for your wellbeing and even something to enjoy with your family.
What is Couch to 5k?
The programme was designed by Josh Clark in 1996 to help his mum become more active. It’s since been adopted by the NHS as a safe, effective way to work up to running through a mixture of jogging and walking. It involves training three times a week, with rest days in between, for nine weeks - until you’re able to run 5k.
Couch to 5k is a running plan for complete beginners, so often the biggest challenge facing a new runner is where to begin. It’s easy to feel defeated early on if you try to do too much, too soon.
The running programme is ideal as it breaks down the exercise into manageable chunks, with the first week’s schedule including just one minute of running at a time. This means more realistic expectations and achievable fitness goals. This mixture of running and walking slowly builds up stamina and fitness which is further developed throughout the running plan.
Who is Couch to 5k for?
Everyone – whether you’ve never run before or simply want to improve your general fitness. If you’re lucky enough to own a treadmill, the programme will work as well on a machine. However, for most of us, it will involve running outside.
Running is one of the few exercises that require very little equipment, most of which you probably already have. A good pair of running shoes or comfortable trainers, shorts or leggings, a comfortable sports shirt and well-fitting sports bra for women are the essentials for the Couch to 5k running programme.
What are the benefits of running?
Running is great for your physical and mental health. It can help you lose weight – in conjunction with a healthy diet – which can reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
Regular running will improve the health of your heart and lungs, develop your muscles and help with weight loss. There’s also evidence that regular exercise may increase bone density to help protect against diseases such as osteoporosis.
Physical exercise is also shown to be beneficial for mental health. Not only is it a good stress reliever, having an achievable goal to work towards can give you a real confidence boost. Running regularly and sticking to an exercise schedule such as Couch to 5k also helps relieve stress and battle depression.
How do I get started?
1. The first step is to check your general level of fitness. To get the most from the programme, you should make sure that you’re able to comfortably walk for 15 minutes. If you’re completely new to exercise, the NHS website provides some guidance on walking for health. If you’re used to walking, but new to running, it also includes some helpful advice on running for beginners.
Don’t start any exercise regime if you’re unwell or injured. If you have any health concerns, speak to your GP before you commit.
2. Make sure your kit is fit for purpose and dress for the weather – if you’re too warm or too cold, you won’t enjoy your exercise. Runners Need has some great advice on what to wear when you’re running, whatever the season.
Having good footwear is crucial. Many sports outlets are offering a free online gait analysis during the lockdown to help you find the correct trainers.
3. Subscribe to the weekly Couch to 5k podcasts to your computer or mobile device. Download them using iTunes, Stitcher or your usual podcast provider.
4. Download the Couch to 5k app
5. Plan time for your training. If you’re working from home, you may be able to use your usual commuting time or your lunchbreak to complete your run.
6. Plan your route – stick to familiar surroundings. A circular route, rather than an out and back, means that you’ll never be too far from home in an emergency.
7. Stay safe - be careful if you’re wearing headphones and crossing busy roads; and if you must run at night, try to run in well-lit areas, wear hi-vis clothing and carry a headtorch.
8. Stay well fuelled and hydrated. Maintaining a balanced diet and drinking plenty of fluids, whatever your activity level, will help you get the most from your training.
Things to remember
Make sure you’re following the Government’s guidance on social distancing by avoiding running in busy areas.
Don’t overdo it; you’re likely to get injured or become overwhelmed and give up. Create realistic expectations so that your goal feels achievable. If you miss a day, just get right back on track the following day. And if you’re not ready to move onto the next stage, it’s okay to repeat the week.
The Couch to 5k running plan is intended to get you out of the house and comfortably running distances of 5k over nine weeks. You may lose weight during the running program but bear in mind that it’s not been designed specifically for this and, if you’re mostly focused on losing weight, a specialised weight loss exercise plan may be better suited for you.
How can my family get involved?
Running doesn’t have to be a lonely activity; with a bit of imagination, it can involve the whole family. For example, you could combine it with your daily dog walk or, if you have young children, they can:
- Ride their bikes alongside you (if you’re in a quiet, traffic-free area)
- Track you on a GPS running app such as Strava or Map My Fitness if they’re at home
- Make a chart for the kitchen fridge and check off your training days
However you train, it’s important to remember to enjoy the experience of getting fitter and the health benefits it brings. For more information about Couch to 5k, visit the NHS website.
What next after completing the C25k programme?
After completing the Couch to 5k running programme, it’s important not to slip back into old habits and to ensure you keep up regular running. This can be done by creating your own running calendar or trying new things to diversify your exercise routine to keep it interesting.
The NHS website recommends trying out new running routes to change your scenery, joining a running club park run or trying a completely new sport. Why not put your new legs to good use on the football pitch, or try out the NHS strength and flex exercise plan?
NHS - Live Well
Published on 01 May 2020