Couch to 5K: The popular workout that’s cheap, easy and totally inspiring

Metro Creative
Posted Aug. 02, 2012, at 9:12 a.m.

Noticed a huge surge of fitness updates on Facebook? I have. First, it was a few of my friends, and then suddenly everyone was posting news about runs, races and miles covered. The reason? They’d inspired one another to try the popular Couch to 5K program. Even Jimmy Fallon has joined in. The Late Night host tweeted, “I did Day 2 even though I skipped 5 days to do it. Gonna finish this. #C25Kupdate.”

Interested? Intrigued? Intimidated? I was, too. So I checked it out myself.

Step one: On your mark

Download a Couch to 5K app for your phone (see links below for a few options). If you don’t have a smartphone, you can print out the schedule and then keep track on your own with a stopwatch.

Step two: Get set

Find time in your schedule to run three times a week. The workouts will increase in difficulty each week. For example, during week one, you’ll complete a five-minute warm-up walk, and then alternate between a minute of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Week two kicks off with another five-minute warm-up walk but with 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for 20 minutes. During your runs, you can listen to your own music. The app’s “trainer” will break in with updates letting you know when you’ve hit the halfway mark, and whew, when you’re done and it’s time to cool down.

Step three: Go!

Um, actually, the above is pretty much it. After nine weeks, you’ll have gone from someone who runs the length of half a Justin Bieber song to someone who runs for 30 minutes straight. According to Clare Haygood, a nonrunner-turned-runner and Couch to 5K fan, the ramp-up is great. “I love that it starts super slow and lets a complete nonrunner like me, who used to get a stitch in my side after just running down the block, condition myself to run for long distances.”

The cons

According to Clare, the maximum run time is 30 minutes, but her first 5K race took her about 35 minutes to complete. “The program never had me doing a 5K — more like a 4K or so,” she says.

This is dependent on how fast you run, but most beginning runners aren’t speeding down the road, so point taken. Her second complaint is that around week six, “the program jumps dramatically to 20 minutes of running straight through. When before that, the longest it had you running without a break was 10 minutes. It had some kind of tough jumps like this. I think if it gave you 10 or 11 weeks instead of nine, a little of that bumpiness could be smoothed out.”

Lise Carrigg, another new running convert, concurs. “I loved the app,” Lise says, “and loved how I could listen to my own music and still hear the walk/run prompts, but I agree that I could have used another one to two weeks to get up to speed.”

Minor complaints aside, both women are super happy with the Couch to 5K regimen. Both run regularly now. Clare does a 5K every time, and Lise is joining a 10K training group. As for me? I’m already halfway through and totally inspired! (Next step: signing up for a 5K!)

Get on Board

The app Clare and I both use is a version of Couch-to-5K (99 cents) for Android and iPhone. So far, it’s been great, except for some reason I have to reselect my music picks each time I start a new run, and Clare reports that though it plays music from iTunes without a hitch, “if I switched around to certain podcasts or another app to listen to something different, the voice would fail to come up and let me know when to run/walk. It would appear on the screen, but I wouldn’t be able to hear it.” If you’d prefer not to pay a cent, there’s also a C25K (free) for iPhone version. This is Lise’s chosen app, and she has no beef whatsoever. If you’ve mastered the 5K, you can download 10K Runner: Couch to 5K to 10K Workout ($3.99) for iPhone. Or, go old-school and bookmark the schedule online.

If you’re a fan of group motivation, you don’t have to run alone. You can meet other fans by joining The Couch-to-5K Running Plan Facebook group, or get involved with a C25K running group, something that made the whole Couch to 5K experience better for Lise. “I really needed that accountability,” she says. “So we did one run as a group, and then our homework was to do the other two weekly runs on our own.” Find a running group near you for face-to-face motivation with the Road Runners Club of America or at Meetup.com.

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Andrea Pyros lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, where she raises her two kids and writes for http://theinsider.retailmenot.com/, the online magazine of RetailMeNot, an online coupon site.

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