Step by step, you can rock a 5K—even if you're a total running newbie

By Karla Bruning
Updated April 29, 2019
RUSS ROHDE/Getty Images

Lace up your shoes: A record 42 million people slip on their running kicks at least six days a year in the U.S.—a 70-percent increase in the last decade according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Another 19.5 million run 25 to 109 days per year, while 10 million hit the pavement 110 days or more.

Want to be one of them? It's easier than you think. (Need more convincing? Read: If You Don't Run But Want to, This Guide Is for You)

This beginner's guide to running, designed by USA Track & Field certified coach Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running, will take you from total newbie to tackling 3.1 miles at a time in a mere six weeks. It's the perfect way to train for your first 5K or to get you started on the road to regular running.

The best news? No prior running experience is necessary to learn how to train for a 5K. If you can walk, you can finish this program. (You could even go from the couch to a half marathon if you wanted!)

How to Train for a 5K as a Beginner

Run: Three days a week, you'll do a run-walk combo (details in the plan below), alternating between running and walking segments to build up your endurance. If you have a watch with a timer or stopwatch function, use it to mark your intervals. Don't worry about speed. That will come with more time on your feet. Aim for a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) that feels like a 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 so you don't burn out too soon. (If you're having trouble breathing, these running breathing tips can help.)

Strength train: Two days a week, you'll strength train, which will help keep you injury-free. (Not sure where to start? Follow this Ultimate Strength Workout for Runners.) Fitzgerald recommends this simple core routine. Complete three sets of the moves below, doing each exercise for 45 seconds to 1 minute, transitioning between movements without any rest. Recover for 1 to 2 minutes between each set. The whole workout takes about 20 minutes.

Rest: You'll also take off two days a week completely to give your body time to rest and recover for your next workouts. (Related: 5 Cross-Training Workouts Every Runner Needs in Their Repertoire)

Do strides: Finally, you'll learn to perform "strides"—short bursts of speed from jogging to sprinting to jogging again, all in the course of 20 to 30 seconds. When doing your weekly strides, walk or rest for 45 to 90 seconds between each one. Do them after your mid-week base run.

"Always remember to stay relaxed during a stride," says Fitzgerald. "At no point should you be straining or racing." These strides will help loosen up your legs, get you ready for faster workouts, and reinforce good form. Ready to take it to the next level? Try these other interval running workouts.

Tips for How to Train for a 5K

  • This plan for how to train for a 5k is flexible to fit your lifestyle. Feel free to rearrange running, strength, and rest days as your schedule demands. You'll still reap the cardiovascular benefits.
  • Run with a friend. If they're slower than you, focus on perfecting your stride by landing lightly on your heels, then rolling forward to push off on your toes. If they're faster, pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone one or two days per week will help you get stronger. The conversation and companionship will keep you coming back day after day.
  • Step up to our intermediate 5K training plan for the next round to beat your speed.

Click here for a larger, printable version of the complete training plan. (When printing, be sure to use landscape layout for best resolution.)

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