Couch to 5K Training Plan (C25K): How Does It Work?

So you want to start running and you’ve targeted the 5K. Great place to start! But it can seem like a massive undertaking if you’ve never done it before.

Running is often presented as an intimidating, challenging sport to enter, but there’s one popular training plan that aims to make it as accessible as possible: The Couch to 5K.

The Couch to 5K is a famous running plan designed to take beginners from – you guessed it – the couch to completing a 5 – all within 9 weeks! This plan became particularly popular in the UK during the Covid pandemic and has even been co-opted by the NHS.

This comprehensive guide will dive deep into the Couch to 5K training plan to see all it has to offer. Pull on those running shoes and training shorts, and let’s get going!

What Is The Couch to 5K (C25K)?

Couch to 5K plan for runners

The Couch to 5K training plan was invented by Josh Clark of CoolRunning and aims to bring absolute beginners to a high enough level to comfortably run a 5-kilometer “marathon.” 

These days, “Couch to 5K” (or C25K) refers to a generic category of training plans made for beginners. The time it takes to complete one of these plans varies based on the plan itself – some can take 6 weeks, while others might take 12. 

Clark’s original plan is said to take 9 weeks to complete. 

Here’s how it works:

The program makes use of an incredibly popular concept known as interval training. This involves running at various speeds throughout a single running session. Couch to 5K spells out exactly what a trainee should be doing every day for the duration of the program.

By monitoring and regulating your pacing, your body adapts to different speeds, while your lungs and heart adapt to varying degrees of effort. As a result, they become stronger, and you become a better runner. In the end, you’ll burn more calories and be better prepared for a race. 

It’s Not a Weight Loss Program

Many people are under the common misconception that running will cause weight loss. If you are trying to shed some extra pounds and are brand new to the world of fitness and health, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by where to begin and how to train. 

Running often seems like the easiest answer, especially compared to other, more involved methods like going to the gym or hiring a personal trainer. Unfortunately, as much as we all wish it were the case, running is not a foolproof way to lose weight. But it can certainly help.

It’s Accessible

The great thing about Couch to 5K is that it’s free (or available through an affordable app) and extremely approachable. 

Clark designed the program to appeal to those who feel overwhelmed by more intensive training plans like Crossfit. It feels like something you can actually do, which is the first and most important step in any fitness journey. 

Running 5km Isn’t as Difficult as It Sounds

Running a 5km “marathon” is an attainable goal for pretty much everyone. The distance is short enough that, with some dedicated training, you’ll be able to pull it off – even if you have to walk during some parts. 

What’s more, there’s often a 5km run taking place every weekend in every part of the world. Look for charity events and fundraisers, and don’t forget your local Parkrun. And, if you have friends who also want to get into running, then it can be a great group activity. 

NHS Couch to 5K plan
Even the UK’s NHS has co-opted the Couch to 5K training plan

Does Couch to 5K Work? 

This is the question that you likely came here to answer. The Couch to 5K training program will certainly help you run a 5K if you stick to the training schedule for the duration of the program. 

In terms of weight loss, it might help you lose some weight if you’re eating healthily and exercising diligently. It can lead to long-term health benefits, like improved lung capacity and aerobic strength, but it’ll be up to you to maintain those benefits. 

Lose Weight with Dedicated Exercise and the Right Diet

It’s very enticing to think that running every day will help you lose weight, but the science doesn’t back the fantasy. In fact, it debunks it. 

Time Magazine pointed this out several years ago and received significant backlash. Unfortunately, many people gain weight after starting an exercise program, leading to complete hopelessness. 

Nutrition is 90% of the battle when it comes to weight loss or burning the belly fat. You won’t see yourself making any progress if you go for a mile run, then binge on unhealthy calories as a “reward.”

Who Is the Program For?

Couch to 5K
The Couch to 5K is suitable for most beginner runners

Couch to 5K is for everyone, and we don’t say that lightly. Whether you’ve never run a mile or want to live a more active lifestyle, this training program provides an easy, free way to improve your overall health. 

Of course, it helps if you actually like running. Everyone wants to look great and be in shape, but it’s another story to put in the work to achieve those results. 

Unfortunately, getting in shape can be difficult – if it were easy, we’d all look like supermodels! Instead, 70% of Americans are overweight, and 30% are obese. 

Running a 5km race is a worthwhile goal and an amazing achievement, but it’s only one of the thousands of methods for getting in shape. If you start the Couch to 5K program and find that, two weeks in, you’re miserable, then don’t push yourself. If you dislike running, this program isn’t for you. 

It’s not a character flaw, and as we mentioned earlier, there are plenty of other ways to get yourself in shape that don’t involve running. 

The Benefits of C25K

If you’ve done any research into running, you’ll know that there are plenty of benefits to the activity. For starters, it’s one of the easier ways to boost your health. 

You don’t need much equipment to start running. All you need is a good pair of running shoes that fit your foot type to ensure you’re comfortable throughout your run. Some good athletic pants help, as they can prevent chafing and general discomfort. 

Regular running works wonders for the lungs and heart, strengthening and improving your aerobic capacity. And, while they are slight, there are weight loss benefits that come from running, especially if you’re following a healthy and balanced diet. 

Studies have found that running increases bone density, helping to deter conditions like osteoporosis. 

And those are just the physical benefits. Running can work wonders for mental health, improving confidence and providing mental clarity. It’s a great stress reliever and can combat depression and anxiety – which is likely why the Couch to 5K program became so popular during quarantine. 

How the Couch to 5K Training Plan Works

The Couch to 5K training plan was designed to help inexperienced runners get into a regular exercise routine. The plan’s main goal isn’t necessarily to run a 5K but rather to give you an objective to help you stay on track. 

Before You Start

You should have a general checkup with your physician before starting the Couch to 5K plan. Your doctor can tell you if running is right for you or whether you should consider another exercise plan based on your health. 

After you’ve been given the green light, you can hit the ground running, literally. Plan to have a day off between your workouts and take two rest days after your third workout every week (for example, run on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). 

Below we take a look at how your weekly mileage will scale up with the C25K plan:

Brief Overview

Week 1 – The first week is a gentle intro to the program, beginning with a 5-minute walk to help you warm up. Afterward, you’ll run for 60 seconds, then walk for another 90 seconds, repeating this pattern for 20 minutes.

Week 2 – As with the previous week, you’ll start your Week 2 exercises with a brisk 5-minute walk to warm up. Then, alternate between 90 seconds of running and 120 seconds of walking for 20 minutes.

Week 3 – The 5-minute warm-up walk is still essential in Week 3. You’ll follow it with two repetitions of 90 seconds spent running and 90 seconds spent walking. 

Week 4 – Once again, you’ll perform a 5-minute walk to warm up in Week 4. This time, after you’ve finished your walk, you’ll spend 3 minutes running, followed by 90 seconds of walking. Then, you’ll run for another 5 minutes and walk for 2.5 minutes. You’ll run for another three minutes, walk for the next 90 seconds, then finally run for your final 5 minutes.

Week 5 – The program adds some more variety in Week 5, with three different workouts for the week:

  1. For your first run, you will warm up with a 5-minute walk. You’ll then spend the next 5 minutes running and the following 3 minutes walking. Again, run for 5 minutes, and walk for 3 minutes. You’ll finish this day’s workout with a 5-minute run.
  2. The next run, as usual, starts with a 5-minute walk to warm up. Then, you’ll run for 8 minutes, and walk for the next 5 minutes. Finally, you’ll finish this run with 8 minutes of running.
  3. The last run of this week starts with the same 5-minute warm-up walk. The difference is that after you’ve warmed up, you’ll run for 20 consecutive minutes without walking in between.

Week 6 – The variation theme continues into Week 6, which also involves three different exercises.

  1. Your first run will start with a brisk 5-minute walk to get the blood pumping. You’ll then run for 5 minutes, walk for 3 minutes, run for another 8 minutes, walk for another 3 minutes, then finally run for the final 5 minutes.
  2. The second run involves the same warm-up of a 5-minute walk, after which you’ll run for 10 minutes. Then, walk for 3 minutes, and spend the last 10 minutes running.
  3. For the third and final run of the week, you’ll walk for 5 minutes to start, after which you’ll run for 25 minutes with no walking breaks.

Week 7 – This week, you’ll do the usual 5-minute warm-up run, then follow it up with 25 minutes of continuous running.

Week 8 – By now, you’ll have prepared for solid running segments without taking any walking breaks. Week 8 begins with the 5-minute walk to warm up, then 28 minutes of running.

Week 9 – The final week! For the runs in Week 9, you’ll begin with your usual warm-up walk, followed by 30 minutes of continuous running. 

If you’ve followed the training plan closely to this point, then in Week 9, you’ll feel more than ready to achieve your goal. When you do, don’t forget to stop and reflect on your achievement!

Weeks 1 – 3

During the first few weeks, your workout will start with a steady warm-up walk of 5 minutes. Stretching is recommended before and after each training session to ensure your muscles don’t tense up. 

Workouts in the first two weeks last just 20 minutes and involve switching between jogging and walking for short periods of 1 to 2 minutes. In the third week, you’ll have the option of monitoring your progress by distance within the time, using easy periods of walking and jogging. 

By the end of your third week, you should feel like you’ve made significant progress and that you’re able to jog for a good length of time before slowing down. 

Week 4

By the fourth week of Couch to 5K, you should see your average mileage increase to 2 miles, or 3.3k, in just over 20 minutes. You should be able to maintain this standard in each of the three workouts you do per week.

For the average couch potato, being able to run nearly 10km weekly is more than enough motivation to keep going. 

Weeks 5 – 6

By the time you’ve reached the 5th week, it’ll be time to challenge yourself to reduce your time walking during your workouts and increase your time running. The third weekly workout of weeks 5 and 6 are purely jogging-based. 

During this time, your distance will increase to 2.25 miles, or 3.6km, in around 25 minutes. 

Weeks 7 – 9

In the final three weeks of the Couch to 5K plan, the walking segments fall away altogether. At this stage, new runners will find themselves being able to run just under 5km in the final week. This will be a significant improvement from the 4km you’d run just two weeks before. 

Using a Treadmill for Couch to 5K – Does It Work?

The short answer: yes! If you have access to a treadmill in your home or at a nearby gym, it can be a great option for the Couch to 5K training plan. 

Running on a treadmill has the unique advantage of allowing you to measure and control your pace. You won’t have to worry about bad weather interrupting your training, making it easier to slot exercise into your busy schedule. 

If you plan on training using a treadmill, be sure to follow these simple rules:

  • Understand the main controls – You must understand how to work the settings on a treadmill, such as the speed and incline, before you start exercising. With the Couch to 5K program, you won’t have to use any other features.
  • Wear the emergency cord – There should be a red cable on the treadmill’s control panel. This is the emergency cord, and it should be clipped to your clothing any time you’re on the treadmill. It will instantly stop the machine if you trip while running. 
  • Warm up properly – Failure to do so could result in lasting discomfort or injuries.
  • Slow to a stop – When you’re done running and it’s time to get off, gradually slow the treadmill down to a slow pace. Preferably, you should stop it completely before you get off.
  • Use the handrails – When getting on and off the treadmill, be sure to use the handrails to stop yourself from tripping or falling.

The Couch to 5K App

The focal point of the Couch to 5K workout is the free NHS app. It’s an incredible resource, and it’s free

Other than providing a comprehensive outline of the program’s structure – which gradually helps you build your strength – there are plenty of other great features about the app. Here’s a quick overview:

Choose Your Trainer

One of the app’s more interesting features is that it allows you to choose the voice of your ‘trainer.’ You can choose between Laura, the original voice of the app, or a few other names you might recommend from BBC’s Get Inspired. 

Some popular picks include Michael Johnson, Sanjeev Kohli, Sarah Millican, and Jo Wiley. Regardless of which voice you choose, the trainer is positive without being condescending and motivational without pushing you past your limits. 

You can change your trainer at any time, or keep the same voice throughout your Couch to 5K journey. 

Play Music

While the Couch to 5K app is open, you can still play music from another app like Spotify or Apple Music. When the trainer has something to tell you, your music volume will decrease momentarily so you can hear them. 

They’ll tell you when to walk or run and how long you have left in your training session. 


Perhaps the strongest feature of the Couch to 5K app is that it’s incredibly simple and easy to understand. It provides you with your training schedule, goals to keep up with, and alerts for when it’s time to walk or run.

While you can’t measure your traveled distance or track your weight through the app, plenty of other resources let you do those things. 

NHS 5K drive

How to Make the Most of Couch to 5K

Here are some of our best tips to help you get the most out of your training experience when following the Couch to 5K program:

Move at Your Own Pace

We’re not just talking about your running speed here, but rather the pace at which you’re following the actual training program. When you start, you might not have the energy or stamina to run three times a week. 

It’s perfectly fine to do each week of the training program in 8 – 10 days rather than 7. If you do this, you can also repeat weeks to ensure you’re getting the most out of the Couch to 5K program while building your stamina. 

Find a Time That Works for You

When you’re following this training program, you will need 30 minutes to dedicate to running three times a week. 

If you’re not a morning person, don’t try to push yourself to wake up early and get your runs out of the way for the day. If you find yourself drained in the evenings, you don’t want to further exhaust yourself with exercise on days when you want to tumble into bed. 

That said, morning running sessions tend to work best for exercise programs. You don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to do them, either. Start by waking up 40 minutes earlier than you would. Spend 10 – 15 minutes getting ready for your run, then hit the road.

Running in the morning helps get the blood pumping and wakes you up for the day, helping you feel energized for the rest of the day. 

If you absolutely can’t do mornings, then consider evening runs. The night air is often cooler, which makes running feel far more comfortable. You’ll sweat less and be a little more tired by the time you go to bed, helping you fall asleep quicker and achieve a more restful night’s sleep. 

Have Clear Goals

Goal-setting applies to any exercise regimen you’re following, and even though there’s a very clear goal with the Couch to 5K program (to run 5km), it helps to have your own goals, too. Make sure you know what you want to get out of running and why you’re running in the first place.

If your primary goal is to use Couch to 5K to lose weight as fast as possible, you should consider working with another program. If your goal is to learn to run further and improve your fitness, then this is the routine for you. 

Have Good Gear

There is nothing more important than having a good pair of running shoes. A cheap pair of shoes might work well for about a month, but their poor construction and lack of cushioning can cause some serious problems for your legs and feet down the line. 

Cheap shoes also do not last as long, and you’ll burn through them quickly. Instead, invest in a good pair of runners from a trusted brand like New Balance, Nike, or Adidas, and reap the rewards of having cushioned, comfortable feet throughout your runs. 

Listen to Motivating Music

There’s a reason you always see runners with earphones in their ears. Listening to music that you enjoy is motivating and helps distract you from the effort you’re putting into your runs. Make a playlist filled with energetic songs that you love to keep you motivated through your runs.

Try C25K Today!

If you want to improve your overall health and boost your confidence, then be sure to keep the Couch to 5K program on your radar. It’s a great way to get into running and is an accessible method of improving your health, fitness, and general well-being. 

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

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