Couch to 5K: tips for new runners

Expert advice to get you started on the Couch to 5K running plan, including what to wear, warming up and nutrition.

What to wear

If you haven’t exercised for a while, chances are you may not have any suitable clothing. Don’t let this be an excuse – once you have the outfit sorted, you’re far more likely to feel motivated to get out there and use it.

You need a pair of running shoes. Shop around and find sales staff with some technical knowledge. A decent pair of running shoes can cost as little as £30 to £40. Running socks can also help reduce your risk of blisters.

As for clothing, you don't really need technical gear. You just need something loose and comfortable in a breathable material, like cotton. If you keep running regularly after completing Couch to 5K, then some specialist clothing would be a good investment.

Women should also consider buying a sports bra, which are sturdier than a regular bra and will provide additional support. Normal bras reduce breast movement by around 30%, but a good sports bra achieves closer to 55%. 

Get tips on what to wear when running in the cold.

Warming up and down

Each Couch to 5K run includes a five-minute walk at the beginning and end of the session. Don't just go out the front door and start running, make sure you go through the preparatory brisk walking stage. As for stretching before a run, opinion is divided on whether this is necessary or even helpful.

For a warm-down, the worst thing you can do is stop running and immediately sit down, so keep walking until you’re fully recovered.

You may want to put on an extra layer of clothing while cooling down, this will stop you getting cold. For tips on cooling down exercises, read how to stretch after exercise.

How to run

Good running technique will help make your runs feel less tiring, reduce your risk of injury and ultimately be more enjoyable.

Avoid striking the ground with your heel or your forefoot first. Landing on the middle of your foot is the safest way to land for most recreational runners. Your foot should land below your hips - not right out in front of you.

For more on running technique, read How to run.

Eating and drinking

It’s important to make sure you have energy for your run, but don’t overdo it. Avoid having a large meal within two hours of your run. You need your blood to be in your muscles, not your digestive system. However, a light snack, such as a banana, before to running is fine.

As for water, provided you are drinking enough water throughout the day, this should not be problem. Some people like to have a water bottle with them on their run. If you’re thirsty, drink – just not too much.

Find out more in food for sport.

Fitting it in and staying on track

If you have decided to take on the challenge of Couch to 5K, you are probably making a commitment to becoming more active. This is great and is so important for your health. But making a change like this will require effort and dedication.

"When you decide to start Couch to 5K, you need to examine all the potential barriers that could get in the way and work out in advance how you’re going to deal with them," explains Robin Gargrave of Central YMCA, the activity for health charity. "Once you’ve done that, you can start to commit some time and I would put that in your diary or have a chart on the wall. You could even put some reminders up on the fridge to remind you of the benefits – anything that might trigger you."

Robin also recommends persuading a friend or relative to get in on the action and get fit, too. "Running with a buddy can really help. Family members need at least to be supportive – it would be fantastic if they can buddy you and come along for a run."

Finally, Robin advises that you accept in advance that you will encounter setbacks in your Couch to 5K journey. You might have a hectic week at work, be away from home, or even experience illness or injury. "If you’re feeling under the weather – particularly if you have a temperature, do not run," warns Robin. "It could be dangerous. But lapse is not failure. Everyone lapses, just don’t give up. It doesn’t matter – as long as you get back on the programme."

Page last reviewed: 15/09/2012

Next review due: 15/09/2014

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Comments

The 16 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

bootyliciousK said on 04 January 2014

I have just completed my very first run and I feel amazing!! I am 28 5ft6 and 15st 2lbs!! I am very much on the obese side of the BMI scale. Towards the end of 2013 my weight and poor fitness began to consume me. I got into running summer just gone but wasn't consistent. I came across this C25K as I have signed up to do a 5K run in April and I now feel confident I will achieve it! I know it's a journey but it's exciting to see that others have done it and with these podcasts I will too :-D

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User764183 said on 12 April 2013

"A decent pair of running shoes can cost as little as £30 to £40." Sorry, but that's a fortune. What should I look for in a trainer?

"...the worst thing you can do is stop running and immediately sit down." Why?

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NaughtyNanna said on 12 April 2013

I am 58 with quite a few health problems and am so grateful for this programme. I have just completed the 1st run of week 2 and can't believe I actually did it! The podcasts are so helpful and Laura is so encouraging, especially coming up to the last run of a session, when you feel like you can't keep going!! I feel a bit self conscious as I am just running round our block, so see a lot of neighbours, but they havnt made any negative comments!

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Reebinoc said on 29 October 2012

I have been following this programme which is really good. I was unable to complete the last 5 minute run on week 4 so did it again and success completed without stopping. Have found the 3rd run of week 5 a little difficult but we re-run again to complete. Be persistent and you will complete it.

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RachNJ said on 24 July 2012

I've just completed week 3 of Couch to 5k and have been following the heel-first-strike based on the advice in the podcast, but it does feel a bit unnatural.

today i see this : http://lifehacker.com/5928598/learn-the-proper-running-technique-in-30-seconds which recommends the forefoot striking first.

I am confused now, please help. I hope it doesnt translate to a confused running gait :(

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Nix1970 said on 11 July 2012

Week 2 done :) Found it hard going today especially in the lower calf muscles. Any tips?

May trade in my trainers and start wearing my Vibrams again, maybe that will help.

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darkstar_ said on 03 June 2012

Heel running is very bad for you, except for short distances and very slowly. It puts enormous compressive loads into your leg, which is why dodgy knees are common amongst "runners".

Landing on ones heels makes if impossible to adjust for variations in ground shape/texture/stiffness. Even on a bouncy treadmill it imposes 3.5x bodyweight transient compressive loads into your leg.

Homo Sapiens is designed to run landing on the forefoot[Lieberman et al + passim].

1989 study [can't remember authors] showed that shod runners got many indirect force injuries because they could not feel the ground properly.

This is why proper runners don't run this way. We all land with our weight on the forefoot.

As it is I and my peers run lightly, we don't put large transients into our legs so we run quickly and efficiently for the whole of our lives.

To rehabilitate to this level takes work. Decades of indolence take a long time to undo. It takes about six months to a year of work to return the calves/feet to the state that they should have been in had one been running since childhood. There is no other way.

When you can do this then you will be able to run on any surface+distance and enjoy the view. 5k, 10k, 100k, whatever.

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darkstar_ said on 03 June 2012

Steve,

I am with Justin et al: Do not run on your heels, except a) very slowly and b) short distances. Your objective is to rehabilitate

As you up the pace+mileage it puts increasingly large loads in your joints and so it's a tossup as to which fails first, but usually knees.

What the competent runners do is to land with the force through the forefoot. Even if it looks like the shoe heel touches first the weight is on the toe. Wearing heel-running shoes for this just obstructs one's technique. This is why most runners are so slow [Lieberman et al 2010].

We are designed to land on our forefoot. Anybody born before 1970 would have had to run that way at school because there weren't any heel-running shoes available.

Before the 1980s we all ran in flat shoes.

The wide path is to get heel-running shoes. There is lots of pseudoscience (i.e. no peer review support) to sell these shoes which centres around the articulation of the foot/ankle bones when you misuse them.

If you land correctly the foot touches first at the front medial edge (around little toe). This is because the ankle is not a straight lateral hinge but is angled. As one loads the foot and moves over the top the foot rotates medially. Finally the load is on the ball of the foot (base of big toe) for the pushoff.

The narrow path is to rehabilitate your body to do it right. This takes dedication: you will endure six months to a year of post exercise soreness in your calves as you undo the decades of indolence.

The fastest children runners I see are girls in ballet pumps. They can easily outpace their brothers in trainers. This is because their shoes don't obstruct the proper articulation of the foot.

Enjoy running. I do lots of cross-county and land lightly. I don't own an iPod, I run like a ghost and enjoy the view.

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rumbltum said on 26 March 2012

@Justin

Gorgonzola doesn't have holes, it is a blue cheese. You are thinking of Edam.

But I wouldn't want my superior knowledge of cheese to put you off trying it ;)

Quid pro quo - just saying.

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Cantankerous said on 09 September 2011

I've found the Get Running iPhone app a great help in the c25k challenge as it prompts you when run and when to walk with a reassuring voice. She also gives a little encouragement when you are nearing the end of a section of running, just enough to keep you (well me) running.

If you lapse a bit then it just shifts the dates on which you are supposed to run.

It is working for me, I'm on week 7 and I started as a real couch potato.

Alex

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pinkystan said on 14 August 2011

I've found the whole programme, including the advice and guidance on these pages, completely life-changing. For people who are new to running, it's a brilliant tool to get them active. I don't think you need to necessarily get so worked up about it, Justin, as it's not about competition and what your best 5k time is - it's about building up your fitness to be able to actually complete 5k.

Lucy

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ClareBur said on 21 January 2011

To Susie55

You might want to check out if there are any GP exercise referral schemes in your area - they're for people with health conditions who want to start or get back into exercising. They all work slightly differently from area to area, but from what I know of the scheme round here, your GP fills out a form and then you get a one to one assessment at the start with a trainer who is experienced in developing programmes for people with health conditions and together you map out a programme which is realistic for you and meets your goals and combines a range of activities to keep you motivated and to work different muscles etc (e.g. gym cardio and weights, swimming, whatever). They then follow you up at the mid point of the scheme and at the end of the 12 weeks and then suggest ways you could keep going after the scheme. The assessment and the activities you do on the scheme (and in some places after the scheme) are subsidised. The great thing is that you get a tailored programme suitable for someone with your health conditions, subsidised activities and someone there to support you - and to check up on you if you stop turning up!

Best wishes
Clare

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susie55 said on 17 January 2011

ok what about if you have multiple illnesses iwould love to be fitter but how

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Onemanandhisdog said on 29 December 2010

Sorry steve but I am with Justin. I don know him but everything he has said is spot on . I am sorry to say but this nhs article and advice is flawed

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Steven Shukor said on 05 November 2010

Hi Justin,

Thanks for your comment. We have checked the accuracy of the advice on running technique and stretching with our fitness experts and we are satisfied that this is the best advice for people who are new to running.

Steven, Live Well editor

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Justin_ said on 03 November 2010

>You should always land on your heels and push through on to your toes – don’t prance and pull your knees up high and land on your toes

This is very poor advice. Landing on the heel is contrary to correct biomechanics. If it's a good thing, why do Paula Radcliffe and Haille Gebrasellassie land on the balls of their feet? True, it takes time (several months of building up mileage very gently) to get the strength to land solely on the ball of the foot, but numerous studies (Harvard University conducted one, showing the joints receive 4-5 times less shock when FF striking) prove it's less unjurious long-term (note the use of long term - convert gradually if you're a heel striker).

This article has more holes in it than a Gorgonzola cheese. A government-backed authority really should do better homework than this. There is no mention of the 10% rule - break this and you really will get INJURED: never increase your mileage by more than 10% in a given week.

>The jury is still out on stretching

The jury isn't out on pre-run stretching: numerous studies prove it tears micro-fibres - it's bad news. Nor is it out on post-run stretching (something all experienced runners do)...all runners get tight muscles after a run - these can create major injuries if not dealt with. A regime of gentle (ease yourself gently into the stretch, slowly - never jerking or forcing, until you feel the stretch) static stretching is essential after a run (NOT before).

Going back to biomechanics: if you're comfortable as a heel striker, that's fine. However, the majority of heel strikers over-stride, which causes Shin Splints and knee issues. Make sure to Google 'POSE running' and 'Chi Running' - there's also Gordon Pirie's free book (Google his name).

Who wrote this? What's his best 5K time?

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