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Couch To 5K Program (It Doesn’t Work For Everyone)

It’s a crazy world. The Couch to 5K program was invented by Josh Clark the founder of a design agency. No sports science degree, no coaching experience, yet he came up with a running program that’s helped millions of people around the world become runners.

The brilliance of the program lies in its slow build-up. It really is a schedule that can turn even the most reluctant runner into a total convert.

Most people start the Couch to 5K program to lose weight. So what is the weight loss on Couch to 5K? What can you expect?

  • Couch to 5K is a program to take you from zero to running 5K in 9 weeks. It’s not a weight loss program.
  • You will get fitter, but if your diet remains unchanged, you need to run 35 miles to lose one pound of fat.
  • Even by week 9, the Couch To 5K Plan is only 90 minutes of running per week. For most beginners, that’s less than 9 miles. Not enough to burn one pound of fat.

Does that mean I’m dishing Couch to 5K? Not at all! It’s a great way to start exercising, especially if the last time you ran was years ago when you still wore gym skirts and white ankle socks.

It’s just that it’s going to take more than Couch to 5K for weight loss. You need to tackle your diet.

Combine Couch to 5K with a healthy eating plan swopping high fat, high sugar foods for lean protein, whole grains, and heaps of fresh fruit and vegetables.

This post contains affiliate links. This means I receive a commission if you make a purchase through my links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read my disclaimer for more information.

couch to 5K

✅ A motivational book for new runners is this Beginner’s Luck Guide For Non-Runners. It’s especially good if you have tried and failed in the past to make running stick.

What Is The Couch To 5K Program?

Josh Clark posted the original Couch to 5K plan on a blog called Cool Running back in 1996. Sadly the blog no longer exists.

The original running program has been copied and modified by thousands of running blogs. There are 6 and 12-week versions and I’ve included my own Couch to 5K in 6 weeks plan at the end of this post. The original Couch to 5K plan goes from zero to running 5K non-stop in just 9 weeks.

This 9 week plan is such a successful exercise motivator it’s been adopted by the UK NHS – part of their bid to tackle obesity and boost health.

So what’s in the program?

The plan is really simple. Not surprising really when you think about how it came about. Josh Clark just scribbled down the run-walk schedule and gave it that terrific name.

You have to wonder. If he’d called it Run-Walk To 5K Plan would it have been anywhere near as popular?

Yet there’s nothing wrong with simplicity. The power of the schedule is you just have to alternate running and walking for set time periods.

For the first week you’re alternating 60 seconds of running, (he called it jogging), with 90 seconds of walking for 8 repetitions. That’s just 20 minutes of exercise plus a five minute warm up walk completed three times a week.

It’s interval training in its most basic form and there’s nothing wrong with that. Most people instinctively start running this way – I know I did.

Intervals are a terrific way to get better at running and just about all runners who want to get faster will work intervals into their training schedule.

But fair dues, Josh Clark made up a schedule, stuck it on the fledgling internet with a kick-ass name and the rest as they say is history.

How Do I Start Couch To 5K?

The best way is to download the NHS app. It’s free and it’s going to give you tons of motivation to help you stick to the plan over the next 9 weeks. You don’t need to be in the UK to join the program.

If you prefer a US version, Active Network has taken over from the original Cool Running blog and you can buy their app for $2.99. A small fee to transform your fitness.

I found the original Couch to 5K Program here. Just print it out and get started. There are three workouts a week so take a rest day between workouts and an extra day off at the end of your week.

It’s best to still be active on your rest days. Walk or cycle for 20 minutes. Strength training or swimming is also good. Anything that keeps you moving.

The schedule goes from walk-run intervals for the first 6 weeks to continuous running, (jogging), for the last 3 weeks. In a way it’s a shame those last weeks abandon interval training but more on that later.

couch to 5K weight loss

Do Couch To 5K Programs Work?

This is the big fat question! Just because Couch To 5K works for a lot of people it doesn’t mean it’s going to be everything to everybody.

The problem is not everyone doing Couch To 5K is at the same starting point and not everyone has the same goals. It’s like having a sticking plaster that comes in one size only. Know what I mean?

So here’s a few reasons why the Couch To 5K Program may not work for you:

1. It’s Just Too Hard

The great strength of the Couch To 5K Program is its gradual build up but you’re still launching into running in the first week. Those intervals of 60 seconds run, 90 seconds walk will just be too hard for some people.

If you have a big weight problem or you haven’t exercised in years, don’t try and run. It’s just a short cut to getting disillusioned or injured or both.

I don’t get all those Biggest Loser type programs where really out of shape people are suddenly duped into running. What happened to don’t run before you can walk?

Some people will be better off starting with a power walking program. You can switch out the running sections of the Couch To 5K Program with fast-paced walking. Or just build up the length of daily walks until you can walk 10,000 steps a day. You may find my Walking for Weight Loss Challenge is a good place to start.

2. The Build Up Is Too Fast

For some people it’s better to take a couple of weeks preparing to start the Couch To 5K Program. Go out for fast paced walks and try a little easy running. That way, when you start the program, it won’t be such a shock to your body.

Be prepared to repeat weeks if you’re not ready to move on. The program should be do-able not demoralising. If you find a session is too hard drop back a week or switch out some of the run sections for walking.

There isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to running. As long as you’re making progress, running further or faster, feel free to adapt the program. 9 weeks to 5K or 18 weeks to 5K. It doesn’t matter. The aim of the plan is to get fitter and build a lifelong habit of exercise.

3. It’s Just Too Easy

Yes you read that right. It may not be fair but not everyone’s starting at the same fitness level.

Some people will find Couch To 5K too easy – especially if they’ve run in the past, walk regularly or do other types of fitness workouts.

One solution is to skip ahead with the program or find a more demanding training plan. Try following the Couch to 5K in 6 weeks plan below. If it gets too much, repeat a week.

Another option is to set yourself a target such as running 5 miles a day, and build up to that level slowly. Maybe alternate walk one mile, run one mile for the first few weeks.

Listen to your body and make sure you don’t over do it. Getting injured will just send you right back to square one.

4. You Don’t Lose Any Weight

A lot of beginner runners start off with the goal of losing weight. Some of them fall in love with running and keep it up anyway, some lose weight and for some weight loss just doesn’t happen.

So how can you not lose weight running? The problem is exercise is only one part of the equation. If you want to lose weight you have to watch what you eat.

You need to run 35 miles to burn just one pound of fat. Even by week 9, the Couch To 5K Plan is only 90 minutes of running per week. For most beginners, that’s less than 9 miles.

There’s a lot of different factors at play here, your weight, gender and metabolism. The Couch To 5K Program will help you lose weight but eventually you’ll need to control the calories you eat.

Unless you have a very high metabolism – think growing teenager – you can’t eat everything in sight and expect to lose weight. Which is a problem because running can make you really hungry!

You can read more here about how to lose weight running but the best advice is to hydrate fully after your run and swap out sugary treats and high fat foods for fruit, vegetables and lean protein.

5. It’s Not Varied Enough

The last 3 weeks of the Couch To 5K Program are just steady running. The distances get slightly further but you’re not varying your training.

Now maybe you’re running these sessions harder and faster, but I suspect most runners are just running at a steady slow pace.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that but it would be good to add some speed play. Runners call this fartlek, it’s the Swedish word for speed play.

Think of it as free form interval training where you run harder for a minute or two then back off to an easier pace. Keep repeating, tuning into your body to know when to push and when to ease up.

Try making one of your weekly sessions a fartlek session in those last three weeks of the Couch To 5K Program. It’s a good way to up the intensity and make sure your running is still improving.

6. There Are No Strength Sessions

Building strength is important to avoid injury when you’re a beginner runner. It’s also a short cut to getting the body you always wanted.

These essential exercises work well. Yoga for runners is also a great way to build strength and avoid muscle imbalance. Try and make time for one strength session every week. You’ll soon start to see the benefits.

couch to 5K program

Couch To 5K in 6 Weeks Plan

This is my suggestion for going from Couch to 5K in 6 weeks. I’ve included it for people with a history of running or for those who are active at other sports and feel the original plan is too slow. It could also work for runners returning to fitness after an injury layoff.

To keep things easy and so that the only equipment you need is a watch, (and a good pair of running shoes), this Couch To 5K Plan in 6 weeks is based on time spent exercising rather than distance.

Most new runners will take 30 to 40 minutes for a 5K so this plan is based on building up to running continuously for 30 minutes.

As a rule of thumb most people can complete races 2.5 times their regular training run. So if you’re finding it relatively easy to run for 12-15 minutes plus by the end of the 6 weeks, you should manage to get round 5K without stopping.

I’ve included a 5 minute warmup walk for the first week. After the first week you may feel able to break into a run during your 5 minute warm up.

Week 1

  • Day 1: Brisk five minute warmup walk, then do 8 repetitions of the following: 60 seconds of running, 90 seconds of walking.
  • Day 2: Active rest. Make sure you walk during the day or cross-train.
  • Day 3: Brisk five minute warmup walk, then do 10 repetitions of the following: 60 seconds of running, 60 seconds of walking.
  • Day 4: Active rest.
  • Day 5: Brisk five minute warmup walk, then do 10 repetitions of the following: 60 seconds of running, 60 seconds of walking.
  • Day 6: Active rest.
  • Day 7: Active rest.

Week 2

  • Day 1: Warmup five minutes, then do 8 repetitions of 2 minutes running, 1 minute walking.
  • Day 2: Active rest.
  • Day 3: Warmup five minutes, then do 6 repetitions of 3 minutes running, 1 minute walking.
  • Day 4: Active rest.
  • Day 5: Warmup five minutes, then do 6 repetitions of 3 minutes running, 1 minute walking.
  • Day 6: Active rest.
  • Day 7: Active rest.

Week 3

  • Day 1: Warmup five minutes, then do 4 repetitions of 5 minutes running, 2 minute walking.
  • Day 2: Active rest.
  • Day 3: Warmup five minutes, then do 10 repetitions of 2 minutes running, 1 minute walking.
  • Day 4: Active rest.
  • Day 5: Warmup five minutes, then do 3 repetitions of 7 minutes running, 2 minute walking.
  • Day 6: Active rest.
  • Day 7: Active rest.

Week 4

  • Day 1: Warmup five minutes, then do 3 repetitions of 8 minutes running, 2 minute walking.
  • Day 2: Active rest.
  • Day 3: Warmup five minutes, then do 10 repetitions of 1 minute running, 1 minute walking. Try and run at a slightly faster pace.
  • Day 4: Active rest.
  • Day 5: Warmup five minutes, then do 2 repetitions of 10 minutes running, 2 minute walking. Finish with 5 minutes running.
  • Day 6: Active rest.
  • Day 7: Active rest.

Week 5

  • Day 1: Warmup five minutes, then do 3 repetitions of 9 minutes running, 1 minute walking.
  • Day 2: Active rest.
  • Day 3: Warmup five minutes, then do 2 repetitions of 12 minutes running, 2 minute walking. Finish with 5 minutes running.
  • Day 4: Active rest.
  • Day 5: Warmup five minutes, then do 2 repetitions of 15 minutes running, 1 minute walking.
  • Day 6: Active rest.
  • Day 7: Active rest.

Week 6

  • Day 1: Warmup five minutes, then run continuously for 20 minutes. Walk for 1 minute. Finish with 5 minutes running.
  • Day 2: Active rest.
  • Day 3: Warmup five minutes, then do 3 repetitions of 9 minutes running, 1 minute walking.
  • Day 4: Active rest.
  • Day 5: Warmup five minutes, then do 2 repetitions of 5 minutes running, 1 minute walking.
  • Day 6: Rest.
  • Day 7: 5K Race!

On race day you’ll be all fired up and should manage to run for at least 20 minutes without taking a break. Most people will manage to get to the end of the race without stopping but there’s no shame in taking a walking break if you need one.

What Comes Next After Couch To 5K?

Hopefully the Couch To 5K Program will make you fall in love with running. and at the end of the program you can complete your first 5K race.

It’s fun, exciting to be running with other people and you’ll feel a terrific sense of achievement. Once you’ve got your first medal around your neck, what happens next?

Parkrun is a fantastic movement that started in the UK providing free to enter timed 5K runs. They take place every Saturday morning and there’s now an event in almost every town throughout the UK.

It’s a great way to keep up your new found enthusiasm for running. The Parkrun movement is spreading worldwide with a rapidly growing number of US locations. Find out if there’s a venue near you.

The Couch To 5K Program is just the first step on your running journey. You don’t want to lose momentum. The real aim is to stay fitter for life.

Find a running club or group of friends and set new challenges. You can start training for a 10K or try and work on your speed. Maybe you’ll even fall in love with trail running


Running is a huge part of my life. It’s taken me on adventures all over the world and I’ve made really close running friends. Good cardio and keeping in shape is just an added bonus.

I made the effort to take up running when I was just 15, alternating walking and running in the local woods where no-one could see me. At times it seemed it would never get any easier, but it does and the rewards are definitely worth it.

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What is the Couch To 5K Program?

It’s a 9 week running program invented by Josh Clark in 1996 and adopted by the UK NHS to keep improve fitness levels. The aim is to take beginner runners from zero to running their first 5K.

Do Couch To 5K Programs work?

Couch To 5K has helped thousands of people around the world take up running. It’s been proved to work for many beginner runners. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some find the program too hard or even too easy. Others are disappointed when they fail to lose weight. If you want to lose weight on the Couch To 5K Program you need to improve your diet and keep a check on the number of calories you eat.

What comes after Couch To 5K?

Hopefully Couch To 5K will help you grow to love running. The next step could be joining a running group or club, entering Parkruns, trying to improve your 5K time or training for a 10K race.

Can Couch to 5K help you lose weight?

Couch to 5K is a running program to get you in shape to run a 5K race. It’s not a weight loss program. The exercise will help you burn calories but you need to combine with a healthy eating plan if you aim to lose weight. Swop sugary and high fat food for lean protein, whole grains, fruit and vegetables.

How long does it take to do Couch to 5K?

Couch to 5K is a 9 week program. Some people may find Couch to 5K too hard and need to repeat some of the weeks before moving up to a harder level. Some will find Couch to 5K too easier and should follow this 6-week Couch to 5K plan.

Is Couch to 5K good for beginners?

Couch to 5K is a one size fits all approach to running for beginners. It doesn’t take into account your starting level of fitness. For some people, the program is too hard and for some, it’s too easy. If you have a lot of excess weight or you haven’t exercised in years, it’s best to start with a walking for weight loss plan before tackling Couch to 5K.

Susan jassim

Wednesday 19th of August 2020

I have been doing the couch to 5k now for 7 weeks so I’m about to start the 8th week. I’m a grandma at 56 years old, weighed 98kg at the start, and am now running for 25 minutes at a time. Just 7 weeks ago I could not run for a minute without doubling over and wheezing madly! I now weigh 89 kg and loving my new body shape and fitness level. God willing, I will continue, Sue jassim

Alison

Wednesday 19th of August 2020

Susan that is fantastic! I love that you can make such a difference to your health in just 7 short weeks. Great to hear that Couch to 5K is working for you. When you complete it set yourself some new targets to help keep your fitness on track!

Ben

Tuesday 18th of August 2020

I recently completed the couch to 5k program and really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to Parkruns starting back up so I can have something to focus on and keep up the momentum.

Alison

Wednesday 19th of August 2020

Hi Ben that's great to hear. Hopefully Parkruns will restart again soon! I have an actually live running event next month with staggered starts. Finding someone to run with could help you stay motivated in the meantime.