How to Start a Couch-to-5K Program

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on August 06, 2019
From the WebMD Archives
mature couple jogging

mature couple jogging

With an abundance of couch-to-5K programs at your fingertips, from smartphone apps to beginner groups, it's easier than ever to start running.

Not Active Now? Not a Problem

"A couch-to-5K program is an excellent way to ease yourself into an active lifestyle," says USA Track and Field-certified running coach Steve Carmichael, creator of They're designed with beginners in mind to gradually build your endurance. You simply follow an 8- to 12-week plan with 30 to 45 minutes of walk/run intervals, three times a week. You start off super easy, walking most of the time. Then every week, you run a bit more and walk a bit less. And as you get better, you still get walking breaks. "There's never any shame in walking," says Carmichael. "Even experienced runners take walking breaks from time to time."

In the Zone

You'll be surprised how fast it works. "After a couple of weeks, you'll start to see noticeable improvement, and you'll keep seeing improvement as you go," says Carmichael. Your breathing will become more natural. Running will feel easier. You won't need to walk as often or as long.

If you're not very active now, plan to enter your first race 2 to 3 months after you start. If you're already active, it can work even faster -- in as little as 4 to 6 weeks.

Start Here

You can find a couch-to-5K program on your smartphone -- try apps such as Active Network's Couch to 5K app or C25K 5K Trainer by Zen Labs -- online, or on social media (search for Facebook groups).

If you're a beginner, consider joining a local running club's couch-to-5K program, which may offer individualized plans, one-to-one guidance, and peer support.

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Steve Carmichael, USA Track and Field/Road Runners Club of America-certified running coach.

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