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Couch to 5K Training Plan (Free PDF Printable)

Couch to 5K Training Plan (Free PDF Printable)

Hello! Welcome! Glad you’re here. If you’re reading this, it means you’ve taken one of the biggest steps in completing a 5k race: you took action. You’re doing your research, you’re seeing what it takes, you’re laying a foundation and looking for a systematic plan to achieve your goal. That’s half the battle! I have to say—as humbly as possible—that I believe you’ve come to the right place.

Before we get started, I want to make sure you know what this plan is and what it isn’t. Its sole aim is to get you ready to run a 5k race from start to finish. This isn’t a plan to improve your 5k time or maximize speed. This is a true “Couch to 5k” program in that you can go from someone who pretty much spends all their free time on the couch to training for and completing a 5k race. From sedentary to superhuman!

Your Couch to 5K Schedule

One of my challenges is to create plans that can be adapted to your specific race plans. In an ideal world, you would select a race that is 12 weeks away. In my opinion, that seems to be the magic amount of time, close enough to race day to motivate you to start doing the work, but not so far into the future that there’s no sense of urgency.

I’ll provide plans for 8 weeks and 4 weeks too, but those lengths are more difficult. In those plans, you’ll have to ask your body to adapt to the workload more quickly than it may want to. And with that speedy build-up comes a higher risk of injury or mental burnout. So if you can, opt for a race that is 12 or more weeks out.

That said, if you have your heart set on that 4th of July or Turkey Day 5k and it’s only four weeks away, we want to support you in whatever goal you have that will get you out the door and running!

Couch to 5K Training Plans (PDF Printables)

At a high level, the 4 week plan will be a supersonic ramp-up in workload, the 8 week plan will be manageable but still quicker than what would be ideal. The 12 week plan is the sweet spot, giving you the appropriate amount of time to set you up for success. Alright, let’s get into a bit more nuance for each length of plan.

4 Weeks

For the 4 week plan, we’ll hit the ground running (pardon the pun) with immediate walk/run intervals. What’s a walk/run interval you might ask? It means you’ll alternate between walking and running at various durational intervals.

So you’re definitely going to need a watch! We’re also going to have to get you moving more days per week than you might want to right off the bat. Between walk/run intervals and alternate aerobic activities (cross training) days, you’ll be exercising 4-5 days per week for your first three weeks before taking the foot off the gas a little bit to rest and recover during race week.

Click HERE for the .pdf printable.

8 Weeks

For the 8 week plan, it’ll be a slower ramp up of walk/run intervals and we’ll be able to implement a great running tool that will really benefit you in your training: strides, which are a gradual acceleration from walking to jogging to running to nearly sprinting that lasts about 100 meters in length. If strides sound intimidating, don’t stress!

We won’t implement those until after about a month of training, once you’ve already made significant gains. Another tool we’ll use is a race day simulation run where you’ll simulate race day in practice.

Click HERE for the .pdf printable.

12 weeks

Here we go with the whole enchilada! I’ll walk you through a luxuriously reasonable build-up of weekly exercise volume. We’ll again implement walk/jog intervals, strides, cross training, a race day simulation, and we’ll do this in a progressive manner with two full training cycles of increasing volume followed by a down or rest week. This 12 week plan will maximize your fitness and ability to crush your 5k effort.

Click HERE for the .pdf printable.

Context for Workout Terms

Run – You know it when you see it. Officially, it’s the act of forward movement that causes both feet to be simultaneously off the ground at the same time—after your foot strikes the ground and pushes off. If one foot is always touching, you are actually walking. While running, find a pace or speed that you think you can maintain for the duration of the run interval. Relax, breathe, and enjoy!

Walk – Not an easy beach-combing stroll. Your walk intervals should be at a vigorous walk pace with arms swinging and effort expended. It should feel easier than your run portions but not dramatically so.

Intervals – These are really just segments of time. In the running context, you’ll be doing intervals of walking and running for various lengths of time. 4 x (2 minutes walking, 2 minutes running) means that you are going to do four sets of 2 minutes of walking followed by 2 minutes of running.

To really spell it out, this workout would be 2 minutes walking, 2 minutes running, 2 minutes walking, 2 minutes running, 2 minutes walking, 2 minutes running, 2 minutes walking, 2 minutes running. In total, 16 minutes of total exercise time.

Strides – Once you finish up your walk/run intervals, find a nice long straight stretch of smooth trail, road, or bike path. Strides should be done right after your run while your muscles are still nice and warm.

These should be about 100 meters in length or 30 seconds long. Spend about 10 meters or 6 seconds at each of the following phases: walk, fast walk, jog, run, fast run, sprint. The sprint should not be at 100% effort, that’s too risky, more like 90% of maximum speed.

Cross Training – Anything that gets your blood pumping and sweat flowing that isn’t running. These sessions are going to be important fitness builders but that shouldn’t beat up your body. Think yoga, zumba, mountain biking, lap swimming, swing dancing, nordic skiing, bouldering, stand-up paddle boarding, anything you like! Get out there and move with effort and it’ll count as cross-training.

Race Day Simulation – This isn’t just about the run, this is about going through all the motions of what you’ll do on race day. If your race starts at 7am, start your race day simulation at 7am. If you plan on eating a birthday cake flavored energy gel on race day, eat the same during your simulation.

Try to eat the same breakfast you intend on eating and wear the same clothes. If the food doesn’t sit well in your stomach or you discover that flashy race shirt you wanted to wear chafes your nipples, you dodged a bullet! Make the adjustments.

This race day simulation is all about getting you to think about the little details, listening to your body, testing your fitness, and mentally preparing for the big dance in a couple weeks down the road.

Couch to 5K Treadmill Tips

Okay, let’s talk about the dreadmill… I mean treadmill. Personally, I’m not in love with the idea of you doing a lot of your training on a treadmill. One of our pillars is that we want to mimic in training what we’ll face on race day.

If you do all your running indoors, with the temperature set at 70 degrees fahrenheit, while watching your favorite shows on Netflix, and getting constant cheers from your kids to keep you going, what’s going to happen on race day if it’s 35 degrees outside, the race doesn’t even allow you to wear headphones, and none of your family can be there to prod you along? I think you get my point.

However, I also totally understand that for some people, there are some days when it’s either the treadmill or nothing, and the treadmill is 100% definitely better than nothing!

The biggest piece of advice I have for the treadmill is to not just hop on, set it on 0.0% incline, input a singular pace like 5.0 mph and just slog it out. Instead, hit those incline and speed buttons as much as you can. Your race course will likely not be pancake flat so you’re going to want your calves to feel the burn of an uphill and your quads to manage the pounding of a downhill.

Couple pro tips: if you don’t have the discipline to get yourself to do the work, there are motivational boosters like and peloton classes with trained instructors that can lead you through specific workouts. But be a little cautious here, classes where peer-pressure exists tends to cause people to overdo it.

This is why I largely practice yoga alone. If I go to a yoga class, I inevitably overdue it and walk/limp away with one muscle strain or another. This rule also applies to running buddies. If you know you are a 12 minute per mile runner, I don’t recommend asking someone who runs 8 minute miles to join you on your walk/run intervals.

You’ll be working hard and they won’t even be breaking a sweat. Not exactly a motivational scenario!

Cross Training and Rest

A quick note on flexibility within the plan. One of the most important things to remember during your training is to listen to your body. Do not be afraid to skip a run or workout if you feel dead-tired or if you are experiencing a twinge of pain in your knee or foot. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and make sure you take care of yourself so you make it to that starting line.

One useful hack is to swap days. If you are scheduled for a run on Monday and a rest day on Tuesday, but it’s Sunday night and you feel like you might’ve caught a bug from your kid, take Monday off and push your run to Tuesday.

Don’t sweat it. Similarly, if your ankle is hurting you while you run but doesn’t bother you at all when riding a bike or nordic skiing, don’t run on that ankle! Instead, simulate the prescribed workout using one of your cross training methods as best you can. The worst thing you can do is try to push through pain and potentially get a serious injury.

This isn’t a personalized coaching experience so I’m relying on you to be smart and make those decisions that are in your best interests.


What’s a good 5K time for a beginner?

As much as I’ve tried to drive home that these plans are to simply get you from the couch to the finish line, I know some of you out there have that competitive voice in your head that wants a measurable benchmark of success.

It’s very difficult to categorize what a “good” time is for a beginner because we all have different backgrounds, physiologies, starting points, ages, and genetics. So just remember that first and foremost I want you to approach the race with a finish being a win. With that as your A-goal, any sort of time or objective beyond that should be secondary.

Honestly, a good 5k time is the time that the clock shows after you’ve done your best. If you’ve run a 5k before with a similar fitness level as you have now, maybe shoot to beat that time, but again, go easy on yourself if that doesn’t happen. The course you’re running this time around might be a little hillier, or the weather might be tough. Wind, snow, rain, or extreme heat can slow you down significantly.

One of the classic running barriers is the sub-30 minute 5k. To dip under 30 minutes you’ll need to run 9 minutes and 39 seconds per mile for 3.1 miles straight. You’ll know based on your training if that type of speed is within grasp. Or maybe sub-40 is more up your alley.

That would require 12 minutes and 52 seconds per mile. Think it over! Aim for a goal time if you think that’ll motivate you, but either way, please be happy with your finish and celebrate it!

How should I eat while doing a Couch to 5k plan?

If I were to answer this question in one-line, I’d say: eat as many calories as you need, but try to eat clean, avoiding highly processed foods when possible.

Food is fuel. Typically gas stations have three different levels of gas. Regular, mid-grade, and premium. All these are going to get your car moving, but the higher the quality, the better your engine is going to run, and the longer it’s going to last.

I understand many of you out there are attempting this 5k feat for the purpose of losing weight. And that will likely happen! But it’ll happen because of the hard work you put into your training. I don’t recommend that you combine this training plan with any sort of crash diet or calorie restriction of any kind. Your body needs the food to be able to do the work.

Personally, I try to implement the 80/20 rule. I’m good 80% of the time and I allow myself to bend and break my rules 20% of the time. You’re going to get out of this what you put in so be mindful of what you’re putting in your body, but don’t restrict. Choose quality and quantity!

An added bonus of eating good, unprocessed, whole foods, is that we tend to have less gastrointestinal distress. Turns out McDonald’s chicken nuggets and a bag of jalapeno chips won’t sit too nicely in the stomach while running. But a plate of delicious wild rice, salmon, and asparagus will give you the energy you need without all the added chemicals and preservatives.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to train with the same foods that you’ll consume on race day. Oftentimes there will be an aid station along the 5k race route that will hand out an electrolyte drink and energy gels. I recommend testing out the type of energy gel in training that they’ll be handing out on the course.

Also, if you usually eat a bagel and a banana before your weekend run, do the same on race day. Again, specificity is key to this is just another way to set yourself up for success.

My Closing Thoughts

Okay, so how are we feeling? Hopefully you’ve got a few of those good healthy butterflies flying around in the tummy, but you’re also drawing confidence from one of these concrete doable training plans, and you’re inspired to get out there and take your shot! I commend you for starting what can truly be a life-changing challenge.

Who knows, maybe this will just be the beginning for you. Perhaps there’s another 5k, a 10k, or even a half marathon on your horizon. There’s only one way to find out: commit to your plan, work hard, and see this through. And remember, be kind to yourself along the way and make it as fun as possible! You’ve got this.

Our other training plans:

Couch to 50k Training Plan (8, 12 and 20 Weeks Out)

100 Mile Run Training Plan (FREE Printable)

How To Prepare for a 50-Mile Run (Free Training Plan)

Free 12 Week Beginner 10k Training Plan

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