From Couch to 5K – A Simple Training Plan

Written by Jan Howard.

The running boom has officially hit the U.S.!  A recent search of the web found that in 2012, the total number of running events in the U.S. alone exceeded 26,000.  Of those races, 6.2 million participants competed in the 5k distance, or 3.1 miles, making it the most popular race distance by far.  In fact, a search of local AZ 5k races will net more than 600 results for the coming year alone.  Why has running become such a popular fitness choice for so many?  A lot could have to do with increased public awareness and desire to stay healthy.  As more and more people understand the importance of an active lifestyle, not only as a measure of prevention of numerous “lifestyle diseases,” but as a form of stress reduction, running becomes a natural choice.  First, it requires very little in the way of equipment.  In spite of all the techno-gear available, all one really needs is a good pair of shoes.  The rest is pretty optional and open to interpretation.   Also, running, unlike other sports, has very few “rules.”  There are no plays to learn, no positions.  As humans, we have the innate ability to put one foot in front of the other.  Set aside all the advice out there about running form, shoes, intervals, splits, heart rate, etc., etc., and remember when you were a child.  Running was fun.  Running was pure.  And it got you where you wanted to be a lot faster!  On many levels, those who discover running find that it is a great way to feel like a kid again, and discover the sense of freedom, strength, empowerment, and self-improvement that it can provide.

The 5k has become such a popular distance for novice and experienced runners alike, as it is not only an achievable distance for a beginning runner or walker, but also a great way for more experienced runners to race at a more competitive level.  Training for a 5k is relatively easy and does not require as much time as other popular distances, such as the marathon or half marathon ~ an important consideration for so many people today.  For most people, a 5k can be achieved with as little as about 8 weeks of training.  A good 5k training plan should include not just running/walking, but a day or two of functional strength training, as well as some comprehensive flexibility exercises.  Both strength and flexibility are critical to any running program as a means of injury prevention and as a way to run more efficiently.  In addition, every good training plan should include at least one day of complete rest.  This rest day is critical to allow the body to recover from the work it has done, adapt to the stresses of training, and get stronger.

The Training Plan
The following is a general 8-week training plan for a novice runner/walker, designed to build the aerobic base needed to complete a 5k.  If you are new to exercise, please get your doctor’s okay before beginning any training program.  This plan includes mileage that can be done as either running or walking.  It’s important keep all mileage at an intensity that allows for conversation, which is about 75-80% of max effort.  This may be walking, running, or any combination of both, depending on current fitness levels.  One day each week is designated for time and not distance, and should be at very low intensity (walking), as a form of “active recovery” and as a way to increase endurance by increasing time spent on your feet without the increased impact of running.   Two days each week are dedicated to strengthening and/or stretching.  Because each individual has different needs with regards to strength & flexibility, there is no standard exercise protocol that is prescribed for these days.  In order to ensure you are not only doing the right exercises for your level of fitness, but also to make sure you are performing them with correct form and progressing at an appropriate level, please contact any of our FAST locations for details on many options, including individual fitness assessments, adult group classes, and personal training. And don’t forget that day of rest!


5K Plan copy


Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training (FAST) is empowered by Foothills Therapy Partners (FTP).