There’s no magic fix when it comes to turning your health around but Couch To 5K can improve your cardio and be the first step towards becoming a lifelong runner. But to get results you need to avoid common Couch To 5K mistakes.
The aim of C25K as it’s widely known is to get you running continuously and complete a 5K distance. As a beginner running plan, it’s extremely successful – but it’s not without some pitfalls.
We’ll help you navigate the top 10 mistakes that can turn the best intentions into failure.
What Is Couch To 5K?
Find out more about the background of Couch To 5K in our complete guide Couch To 5K Training Plan.
Who Is The Couch To 5K Running Plan For?
The original Couch To 5K Plan is a running program aimed at beginner runners with very little experience. It’s a 9-week program that starts out very slowly with short running intervals interspersed with walk breaks.
As you get fitter, the running intervals get longer until you’re running without stopping. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach but you’re encouraged to repeat weeks of the plan if you’re struggling.
Top 10 Couch To 5K Mistakes You Need To Avoid
Just because a plan has been tried by millions of people doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. So many people start Couch To 5K and give up after the first few weeks when the running intervals ramp up a gear.
We want to help you stick with the program and get the results you’re after. Here are the top 10 most common running mistakes to avoid when starting Couch To 5K:
#1 Fail To Enter A Race
If you’re a complete couch potato who’s happier sitting back to watch a movie with a big tub of popcorn, C25K is going to be a massive challenge. And with all big challenges, it’s best to have something to aim for.
You may be skeptical about entering a race. I remember I was when I first started running. But if you don’t enter a race – there’s no pressure and no finish line to aim for. What’s to stop you from packing in the program halfway through when you’ve had a bad day?
Enter a 5K race. Better still, make it a charity race and get lots of sponsorship. Your favorite charity will benefit when you raise money and you’ll be far too embarrassed to pull out!
#2 Choose The Wrong Plan
Just in case you hadn’t noticed, not everyone’s the same. Sure, everyone starting the plan will be a beginner runner but the Couch To 5K running program is for all comers – different sizes, different ages, and different levels of fitness.
Most promoters of C25K recommend repeating weeks when you come unstuck. But we think it’s better to start with the right plan in the first place.
A twenty-something who’s active in other sports needs a different plan than someone with no residual fitness who can’t remember the last time they wore any running shoes – if ever.
That’s why we’ve developed five different 5K training plans for beginners ranging from 12 to 4 weeks with our UESCA-certified running coach plus a Treadmill Couch To 5K Guide and a Couch To 5K Walking Plan.
Select a training program that matches your current level of fitness and train at your own pace:
- Couch To 5K 12 Weeks – for complete beginners with very little running experience.
- Couch To 5K 10 Weeks – for complete beginners.
- Couch To 5K 8 Weeks – for beginners with some fitness from other sports.
- Couch To 5K 6 Weeks – a challenging plan for beginners with fitness from other sports.
- Couch To 5K 4 Weeks – for occasional runners.
Our 12-week plan makes the transition into running continuously far easier. The original C25K plan has a very tough jump to a 20-minute continuous run in week 5 without a walk break. With our plan, you build up to running this distance gradually by week 7. There’s less risk of failure and you’ll stay positive by continually improving.
At the other end of the fitness scale, our 4-week Couch To 5K plan will satisfy anyone who thinks they could just roll out of bed and run a 5K tomorrow. Maybe you can but this plan will make sure you can still walk down the stairs the following day!
NOTE: If it’s a long time since you last exercised, you’re carrying a lot of excess weight or you have any existing health issues – get checked out by a doctor before starting Couch To 5K.
#3 Run Too Fast
This is really the No. 1 mistake of new runners – running too fast. 5K is a long-distance race. It may be a lot shorter than a half marathon but you can’t sprint around a 5K.
The top tip is to slow down. You need to learn to run slow to be able to run faster.
That may not make any sense right now but it will when you get the hang of running. Experienced runners know how to vary their pace. They’ll do 80% of their training at a slow easy pace.
A good exercise is to practice running at different paces. Run fast for a short distance, then try running as slowly as possible. Feel the difference. Find a conversational pace where you can run and talk at the same time.
#4 Ignore Pain
Actual pain is a red light. Never ignore it. Stop running and seek the advice of a physiotherapist straightaway.
General aches and pains are a grey area. You will feel some stiffness from running. It’s a new activity and your body takes time to adjust to it.
If you’re just feeling a bit achy, do your warm-up and see how your body feels. If the aches and stiffness subside it’s probably okay to continue with your training session.
If niggles persist or get worse – seek professional advice. It’s always best to be on the safe side.
Often injuries for new runners are caused by muscle weakness. It’s a good idea to combine running with some mobility or strength training. These bodyweight exercises for runners are ideal. Just two 10-15 minute strength sessions a week will make a big difference.
A common mistake is foam rolling. It may provide temporary relief but it won’t fix the underlying causes of your pain.
#5 Skip Training Sessions
There are no shortcuts to running. The only way to get better at running is by consistently putting in the miles.
Skipping training sessions may seem a good idea when you’re busy or you’ve had a bad day, but miss one or two and it soon becomes a habit. Race day will come around all too soon and you’ll be struggling to run.
Make your training a priority. You deserve this running time – it’s an investment in you!
If you do miss a session, fit it in on a different day. There are just 3 running sessions a week so adjust the training plan to suit your own schedule.
#6 Fail To Take Rest Days
We all get carried away at times when we’re starting something new. This applies just as much when you start running.
In that first week, when the running sessions are easy, it’s tempting to think “I can do this – why don’t I run every day?“
Take your rest days. They’re in your training schedule for a reason. Your body needs to recover between sessions.
Skipping recovery sessions is a fast track to injury and burnout and a common Couch To 5K mistake – especially when you’re a new runner. Find out more about why you need to rest and recover.
#7 Warm Up (And Cool Down)
Always warm up before a running session. A 5-minute brisk walk is ideal or possibly a slow jog as you get fitter. Otherwise, there’s an injury risk if you’re launching into a run before your body’s warmed up and ready.
Try and add some dynamic stretching into your warm-up routine. This is active stretching where you’re moving your joints and muscles through their full range of motion. It’s different from holding a static stretch.
Save your static stretching for after your run. The stretches will help prevent stiffness the following day. A good cool-down routine is to walk slowly for a few minutes before stretching out all the major running muscles.
#8 Compare Yourself With Other Runners
Just don’t. Your running journey is personal. It doesn’t matter that the guy in accounts is progressing faster than you or your 70-year-old neighbor always manages to run past you halfway through your run.
Run at your own pace. Take walking breaks if you need to. You won’t always feel you’re making progress but keep showing up for training and you will become a better runner.
#9 Ignoring Your Diet
It’s tempting to think that because you’re working hard and running regularly, you can eat anything you want.
It doesn’t work that way. Running is a great way to burn fat but Couch To 5K will only burn around 900 calories a week. I’m sure you can think of lots of ways to eat 900 extra calories!
Some people successfully lose weight when they’re training for a 5K. These are runners who combine training with eating a healthy diet.
Just small changes to your diet can make a difference. Fill up on whole grains, vegetables, lean protein, some fruit, and small amounts of healthy fats. Cut back on junk food full of saturated fats and packed with sugar.
#10 Forgetting To Celebrate!
Lastly, remember to enjoy yourself! When you hit a training goal or cross the finish line of your first race – celebrate!
At the start of this program, you may hate running. By the end, we hope you love it. Avoiding these common mistakes should help you progress through the Couch To 5K plan and enjoy your exercise routine. You’ve got this!
Running 101 Training Guides & Walking Schedules
5K Training Plans
- Couch To 5K Beginner Training Plan
- 12 Week 5K Training Plan
- 10 Week 5K Training Plan
- 8 Week 5K Training Plan
- 6 Week 5K Training Plan
- 4 Week 5K Training Plan
- 5K Training Plan Intermediate