I tried a Couch to 5K program for a month and it helped me get over my fear of running

The Couch to 5k program worked for me.

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The Couch to 5k program worked for me.
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Savanna Swain-Wilson

  • The Couch to 5k program aims to get you in good enough shape to finish a 3.1-mile run.
  • I found the program was easy to commit to as it only required three training sessions per week.
  • By the end of the program, I felt like I was in better shape compared to where I was when I started it.

Couch to 5k is a nine-week training program designed to help people transform a sedentary lifestyle into an active one.The popular exercise plan promises to get you in good enough shape to successfully finish a 3.1-mile run by the end of the program. According to Very Well Fit, many people consider a good 5K finishing time to be under 25 minutes or an average of eight minutes per mile.

Although there are many iterations of the popular Couch to 5K regiment, it’s said that a man named Josh Clark came up with the original idea for it back in 1996 when he became inspired to start running after a breakup. Having never considered himself a runner, Clark apparently felt empowered by how much easier the exercise got over several weeks of commitment. As a result, he wrote what might be the first version of the Couch to 5K as a means to motivate himself and others to get off the couch and get into shape.

I decided to give a try for a month because I love a wellness related challenge and I wanted to see if it really could help me get back into better shape. I told myself if I could stick it out for at least four and a half weeks (the halfway point), then I could make a judgment call about whether to continue for the full nine weeks.

Here is how the experience went for me.

Upon downloading the Couch to 5K app, I was impressed with how user-friendly it was

I chose Constance as my trainer.

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I chose Constance as my trainer.
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Savanna Swain-Wilson

On the app store, you’ll find many different versions of the program. Similarly, you can find printouts of the workouts all over the internet

I went with the Couch to 5K app by Active because it had overwhelmingly positive reviews and let you choose an animated trainer to keep you motivated. It cost $2.99 but there are several free version of the application available.

The app lets pick from five different trainers to guide you during your workout. I went with a trainer named Constance because she seemed like the perfect balance of assertive but encouraging.

The app also has an event tab which lets you see upcoming running events in your area. In addition, if you register with Active, you can connect with other Couch to 5k-ers.

Once I got started, I tried to run outside as often as possible

I tried to run outside when the weather was good enough.

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I tried to run outside when the weather was good enough.
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Savanna Swain-Wilson

I alternated running on the treadmill and outdoors depending on the weather. Unfortunately, it rained much more than I anticipated, though I did manage to get a few good outdoor runs. This may have affected the accuracy of my records, though I tried my best to record my treadmill data on the app.

For what it’s worth, Couch to 5K also has a treadmill program, but I felt running outside would keep me motivated.

With only 3 training sessions for each week of the program, I found the plan was easy to follow

I was feeling pretty good after my week two jog.

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I was feeling pretty good after my week two jog.
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Savanna Swain-Wilson

Couch to 5k is very straightforward. There are three workouts every week. It doesn’t explicitly tell you how often to run, so you could train three days in a row or every other day if you wanted to.

I decided to run every other day to give myself enough recovery time between each session.

I quickly understood why people say the Couch to 5K program is perfect for anyone who is not used to exercise, let alone jogging. The first two weeks of training were practically painless.

Week one alternates between eight one-minute jogs and 90-second walking intervals for 30 minutes. Subsequently, week two tacked on an additional 30 seconds to the jogging window while adding a full minute of walking time between each jog.

This structure allows a person ample time to catch their breath, which is great if they are totally new to running. It also helps makes the experience less intimidating by easing a person into jogging rather than having them start running immediately. For people whose current mile time is in the 12-to 13-minute range like myself, this is perfect.

Personally, I didn’t break a sweat a single time during my first two weeks on the program, but it was only going to get harder from there.

I started really feeling my workouts around week three

The treadmill helped me track how fast I was going.

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The treadmill helped me track how fast I was going.
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Savanna Swain-Wilson

The week three workouts added a three-minute jog to the end of the mix, which definitely got my blood flowing for the first time. I was pretty out of breath during the final three-minute jog intervals. I also started feeling the burn in my calves.

But it wasn’t until the fourth week that I felt like I was really experiencing a serious workout. The sessions started incorporating a mix of three-minute and five-minute jogging intervals for 31 minutes. I found myself losing my breath quite a bit, so I had to slow my running speed in order to comfortably finish the workout.

During this time I also trained a lot on the treadmill because a severe storm passed through my area. As a result, I used the incline and speeds features to give myself a little extra challenge.

The cool thing about using the treadmill for the program is you can actually see how fast you’re moving. For the days I trained indoors, I set my treadmill at an incline and walked at 4 miles per hour during my session. Whenever it was time to run, I felt most comfortable sustaining a jog of 5.7 miles per hour.

Week 5 was a real challenge and kept my heart rate elevated for the entire workout

I struggled through week five.

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I struggled through week five.
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Savanna Swain-Wilson

Despite my confidence, I was not prepared for week five. The workouts doubled in intensity by lengthening all the jogging windows to eight minutes long.

I actually pressed the pause button during the first workout for this week because I felt like my chest was going to explode four minutes into the second jogging interval. But I still pushed through.

By the third day, I noticed a massive change. Unlike week three, I was able to stay running for much longer without running out of breath.

To keep myself motivated, I tried to strategically time all the songs in my playlists to match the feel of the intervals.

At first, I didn’t like that I couldn’t adjust a pre-set time for my runs

The training sessions on Couch to 5K are consistently set to a specific length of time throughout the duration of the program. The first week features 30-minute workouts and the second week only adds one minute to the training. The third week drops to 28-minute sessions. The biggest drawback with this is once that timed session is over, so are those intervals. And so is the trainer. They hit you with a ceremonial “Great Job!” and disappear from your workout right as your five-minute cool-down finishes. Since you can’t shorten the cooldown time or lengthen the overall work out to push it back, it can be kind of annoying.

I soon realized, however, that this was part of the challenge

I was impressed with my progress.

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I was impressed with my progress.
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Savanna Swain-Wilson

My final stats may not be that impressive to a seasoned runner, but for me, they were a huge improvement. If the Couch to 5k program was all about the 5K itself, then it wouldn’t be concerned with time.

In that case, I could have easily logged multiple 5Ks into my app – they just would have taken over 45 minutes.

But the thing about the program is it’s not exclusively about being able to run a 5k. It’s a program that motivates people to become active and make exercise a regular part of their lives. The workout time limits exist to set a standard that is achievable for new runners. It’s what you do within that time limit that matters. In other words, it’s a regiment with an underlying system like most other exercise programs: You get whatever you give.

Once I understood this, I began pushing myself to jog faster during my training sessions. Toward the end of week five, when the jogging intervals became longer and difficult (seven minutes), I refrained from falling into my pattern of slowing down during that last minute.

At the end of the day, I feel like I am in much better shape compared to where I was when I started Couch to 5K

I’ll be frank: I still don’t love running. It helped me, however, learn to appreciate the exercise and feel much more confident.

The biggest improvement I saw for myself was that I feel like I can now comfortably sustain a jog without stopping for at least 10 minutes, whereas during week three I was out of breath during my three-minute intervals. I also saw an overall improvement in my mile time, which is a big deal for me. For the longest time, I couldn’t jog even a half mile without stopping to walk. Now I can comfortably do so without feeling exhausted.

I would refrain from calling the Couch to 5K plan a weight-loss strategy. For one, the runs weren’t very vigorous. I burned an average of 258 calories per run or just under 900 calories per week. According to Mayo Clinic, you need to burn 3,500 calories to shed a pound of fat.

For me personally, I made no changes to my diet at all and lost two pounds since I started Couch to 5k. I also feel like my calves have much more definition and overall my body feels lighter. As of right now, I plan to stick to my nine-week Couch to 5K plan, but I’m not sure if I’ll be signing up for any marathons any time soon.

In any case, I feel much more confident about adding running to my exercise plan and for me, that made the whole experience worth it. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to give it a try.