About 60 million Americans are runners, and about a quarter of them state that getting enough exercise is the main reason they started. For people who want to run, getting going can be difficult. With every new exercise, the best approach is to start slowly, and work up to more intense sessions. Couch to 5K is a beginner's running program that helps people new to the sport work their way up from being sedentary to running a five kilometers or just over three miles in only nine weeks.

How Does Couch to 5K Work?

When starting a new exercise, it is easy to overdo it. New runners often find that they do not know how to begin, which can lead to giving up. Working up to 5 kilometers in just over two months means incorporating simple workouts that advance every week. Because the plan is so structured, it is easy to follow and feels achievable, motivating users to keep going.

New Runner Beginner Betsie Van Der Meer / Getty Images


Why Intervals?

Couch to 5K uses structured intervals of walking and running to increase the athlete's ability. The length of each run increases as the weeks progress, slowly getting the body used to further distances. Most guides incorporate interval training, which studies show improves endurance, power, and strength in trained trail runners.

Interval Training Run Ezra Bailey / Getty Images


Physical Benefits of Running

Learning how to run with a couch to 5k method has a lot of physical benefits. Running has been shown to reduce mortality risk compared to non-runners. In those who run regularly, the risk of cardiovascular mortality is 50 percent less than non-runners. Even running only five to 10 minutes a day at slow speeds lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Physical Benefits Running Robert Decelis Ltd / Getty Images


Mental Benefits of Running

Not only does running decrease anxiety and stress, but more and more evidence shows that it may delay or prevent memory loss and neurodegenerative disease. One study showed older adults who exercised more had a one to two percent increase in the volume of the hippocampus, and young adults demonstrated improved cognitive function.

Mental Health Benefits Eternity in an Instant / Getty Images


Weeks 1 Through 5

On the road to running 5 kilometers, each week has three runs that start with a brisk five-minute warm-up walk. The program proceeds as follows:

  • Week 1: Alternate 1 minute of running with 1.5 minutes of walking for 20 minutes
  • Week 2: Alternate 1.5 minutes of running with 2 minutes of walking for 20 minutes
  • Week 3: Run 1.5 minutes, walk 1.5 minutes, run 3 minutes, walk 3 minutes. Repeat.
  • Week 4: Run 3 minutes, walk 1.5 minutes, run 5 minutes, walk 2.5 minutes, run 3 minutes, walk 1.5 minutes, run 5 minutes.
  • Week 5:
    • Run 1: Run 5 minutes, walk 3 minutes, run 5 minutes, walk 3 minutes, run 5 minutes.
    • Run 2: Run 8 minutes, walk 5 minutes, run 8 minutes.
    • Run 3: Run 20 minutes.

Beginning Week One LWA / Getty Images


Weeks 6 through 9

In weeks six through nine, the schedule remains at three runs a week, each with a brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then

  • Week 6:
    • Run 1: Run 5 minutes, walk 3 minutes, run 8 minutes, walk 3 minutes, run 5 minutes.
    • Run 2: Run 10 minutes, walk 3 minutes, run 10 minutes.
    • Run 3: Run 25 minutes.

  • Week 7: Run 25 minutes.
  • Week 8: Run 28 minutes.
  • Week 9: Run 30 minutes.

Week Six Nine Betsie Van Der Meer / Getty Images


A Program for Anyone

A slow build-up to 5 kilometers or 3 miles is great for recreational runners. That is, someone who has limited time to train and who has to work their training around other activities and a busy schedule. Recreational runners are also considered those who do not have the genetic predisposition for running that professional endurance runners and athletes do.

Anyone Newbie Recreational Runner LWA / Getty Images


Resting and Advancing to the Next Week

The pace of this program has been tested by thousands of beginner runners, but the person completing the program can repeat weeks or runs as necessary. Rest days are also key, as they reduce the chance of injury and give the joints time to rest and repair between runs.

Rest Day Walking adamkaz / Getty Images


Avoiding Injury

New runners completing a couch to 5K program should be diligent to avoid injury. Wearing the right shoes is essential. It is best to go to a running store and to get fitted for a pair of shoes with good support for one's foot and stride type. Start every run with a warm-up and end with a cool-down. Build up slowly, and do not be afraid to repeat a week or a run length if necessary.

Good Running Shoes playb / Getty Images


Listen to Your Body

If you start to develop pain when doing a couch to 5K — or any fitness — program, listen to your body. Pain that persists or worsens as you exercise may be a sign that something is wrong. Stop what you're doing and, if the pain continues, consider contacting your doctor.

Listen To Your Body Marco VDM / Getty Images


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