Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: What Is Couch To 5k, and How Do I Start?

Q&A Wednesday: What Is Couch To 5k, and How Do I Start?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

When I first started #Runtober, turning October into BGG2WL Running Month, everyone mentioned Couch to 5K and how epic it is… but for every person who loved C25K, I got someone else asking me what it was and how they can begin.

C25K is, basically, a program that seeks to bring couch potatoes up off the couch, and onto a trail jogging for the full 3.1 miles (the distance, in miles, of a real 5K.) Developing the ability to run a mile straight – let alone three miles – requires an overhaul of your approach to your physical, cardiovascular as well as your mental well being, and C25K is a safe and healthy way to approach that.

People who aren’t used to a full half-hour of running have to learn how to breathe in order to get oxygen running properly throughout their bodies. Everyone is different – many people are mouth breathers, but that has never worked for me – and you have to learn what works for you. Also, you have to learn how to avoid panicking simply because your body isn’t used to what it’s being put through. Your lungs have to get used to the extra work, your blood gets moving, your adrenaline kicks in, your seratonin starts flowing and before you know it, your body feels completely different from anything you’ve ever felt before. It takes a lot of mental preparation to handle that, and a program like C25K can help you develop that.

As the weeks progress, some people experience soreness, but that’s okay. That’s your body realizing that you “lifting yourself off the ground, defying gravity, and crashing back into the Earth at a rapid rate” is going to require some additional muscle development, and responding accordingly.

For me, I started C25K when I was still around 240lbs. I couldn’t progress as fast as most people, which was no biggie for me. Instead of progressing to a different kind of interval every week, I slowed it down and progressed every 4 weeks. I’d had a terrible fear of running and felt embarrassed by how slowly I ran the mile in high school for the President’s Council’s test, so the mental element of C25K was most important to me. Taking the opportunity to take it slowly allowed me to get over my fears and become comfortable with the idea of me running, and what that meant for my body.

The great part about C25K – for me – is that it doesn’t cost any money. It’s Free-Ninety-Nine. Y’all know me. I love free. The structure is simple:

If you powerwalked for 4 minutes, then made a million dollar mad dash for 1 minute, then powerwalked again for 4 minutes, then another minute-long million dollar mad dash… and continued that cycle? That would be you successfully training in intervals.

You could even scale it back a bit. If you’re a beginner to cardio, simply try walking at a leisurely pace for 4 minutes, then power walk as fast as you can for a minute.

It doesn’t matter what you do during that 4 minute/1 minute interval, as long as they are of varying intensity and you are pushing yourself to the limit.

Once that feels like it’s no longer challenging? Shift your intervals. Power walk for 3 minutes, make that mad dash for 2 minutes. Keep your leisurely pace for 3 minutes, then power walk for 2 minutes.

Keep moving like that until you’re power walking for 5 minutes straight.. and if you feel like you need to slow down a tad? Then give yourself a minute. Before you know it, you could be power walking for 8 minutes, and then taking it slow for 1. Power walking for 10 minutes, slowing down for 1. The same goes for power walking/mad dashing.

How do you know that it’s challenging you? You’re sweating – that’s a big hint. You’re breathing harder – that’s another one. Remember, you’re challenging your heart to work harder, so that’s your biggest indicator of whether or not you’re challenging yourself. You’re training for cardiovascular ability… so that you’ll eventually be able to duck those pesky zombies. Once you no longer feel that in your heart, it’s time to move up to the next level.

After you’ve reached the point where you’re power walking (or mad dashing, depending upon what your intervals consist of) for your entire cardio session, it’s time to try to up the ante. Start over – yes, start over – so that if you were once leisurely walking and power walking, now you’re power walking for four minutes and jogging for 1. You just keep playing with the intensity at a controlled pace and before you know it, you’ve increased your cardiovascular ability.

C25K is a bit more structured than this, though – week 1 is intervals that consist of 30 seconds of running and 4 minutes, 30 seconds of walking; week 2 is 1 minute running, 4 minutes walking; week 3 is 1:30 of running, 3:30 of walking, and it adjusts in 30 minute increments – and there are plenty of apps out there to help you begin. For starters, the popular app RunKeeper, which I’ve blogged about how to set up and use this app to your advantage. There’s also the Zen Labs app for iphone, C25K 5K Trainer, also available for free. It’s a beautiful app with loads of encouraging bells and whistles and lots of things to help you hashtag all your runs with #Runtober and get it done. Check it out!

Do you do C25K now? Are you a graduate of the program? Did C25K help you? Are you currently struggling with it? Let’s talk!

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32 comments

Kelly October 3, 2012 - 12:33 PM

I have the C25K on my phone right now. In all honesty, I haven’t used it yet. Why? Part of it is fear of running. I’ve always hated running in gym class because I was the slowest, my chest burned, and was made fun of. Part of it is trying to carve out time with working and going to grad school. Those aren’t excuses that are going to hold me back. I’ve been adding fast walking and even some jogging to my treadmill time and know that I’m ready to move past the treadmill to actual street/sidewalk. Also, once I figure out my schedule, I know I can make this happen. I have to make it happen. I will make it happen.

Paulette October 3, 2012 - 12:41 PM

I am a graduate of the C25k program. I credit the program to getting me where I am right now. Preparing for my second half marathon in a few days.

I may not be fast, I gets it done.
Now if only I had the same motivation to do my strength training on a regular basis. 🙂

Savannah October 3, 2012 - 12:45 PM

I am not a runner but am interested in starting using C25K. However two things are holding me back : my knees (I’m a dancer and I need my knees) and my chest. I’m pretty busty (DD) and the bounce factor is a major concern. I know that there are top heavy girls out there running, what are you wearing?

LaTrinnia October 3, 2012 - 1:45 PM

I’m a 38 DDD and know your pain. When I started working out I refused to run b/c I couldn’t find a sports bar that could contain the girls. Then Lane Bryant was having a buy 1 get 1 free bra sale and I got the front closure Marika Sports bra($38). It comes in sizes 14-28 and I got the 18. Now I’m on the elliptical 5x a week getting in my 4 mile run and never have a problem with the fit/look/comfort/performance. Marika doesn’t have the bra listed on its site but LB has it online. LB has various other sports bras that you can check out online or go to the store and try on.

Jaryn October 4, 2012 - 5:53 PM

Fellow busty girl here, and I’m currently doing the C25K Program….Well, my prolonged version of it. I’ve done weeks 1 and 2 several time due to some bumps in my schedule, but I’m trying to stick with it. 🙂

I’m definitely new to the whole running thing, and the “bounce factor” was one of the issues holding me back from trying it out. I wear a regular cotton bra with an underwire and a cotton sports bra with an elastic band on top of that. It’s pretty tight, but I’m more comfortable that I’m not jiggling, baby. Hope this helps!

Shani Nicole October 3, 2012 - 3:27 PM

I have Learn to Run on my phone, I havent used it yet. I just downloaded the C25K app. My plan is to start Monday…we shall see how this goes

Sami October 3, 2012 - 4:04 PM

This may sound like a stupid question, but how does one run without their joints hurting? I tried jogging in intervals and my knees were hurting the next day. Do you have to lose the weight first before trying this app?

Erika Nicole Kendall October 4, 2012 - 9:56 AM

Don’t worry. I’ve got something for you coming up, too. 🙂

Juli October 5, 2012 - 10:08 AM

There is an amended C25K online for people that can’t run. It starts you out with more walking so your joints aren’t too stressed.

Olivia October 3, 2012 - 4:06 PM

Two years ago I did the C25k program and it did work for me. Since I only had to do the program 3 days a week I was able to fit it into my schedule. There are many versions of it available online. The app that I had on my ipod included Christian music and the guy would tell me when it is time to run or walk. I liked it and I was able to run the entire 3.1 miles at the end of the program. I was still a slow runner (more like a jogger) but I was proud that I could do it. Post baby-I am trying it all over again now. I have DD boobs and I wear a sports bra and another bra over it. It may not look good but it holds the girls down and I am able to run with them not moving at all!

Vernicka October 3, 2012 - 4:49 PM

I’m busty as well and I’m a HUGE fan of the Moving Comfort bras. Can you say NO movement at all? None! Love them.

I’m actually embarking on the C25K program myself and just recently joint BGR to have some company.I figure between 3 days a week with a trainer, 3 days a week with C25K and eating “clean” should have me and my pup together. Good luck ladies!

Csd June 26, 2013 - 9:11 PM

I second that, Moving Comfort has awesome bras that really hold you in. I started using them when I was a DD. I’ve been running for the past few years and they’ve held up well. I haven’t run a 5k without them!

Candice October 3, 2012 - 8:15 PM

I am in week 6 of c25k. I love it. It is really helping my weight loss efforts. It’s amazing how this program actually increases endurance. I really enjoy it. Last week, I was doing the interval with a 20 minute run. I was so proud that I did it and was even on a surface that had low hills, curves, etc. I have a sore lump on the top of my foot. It really hurts, I just don’t want it to get in the way!

Katia October 3, 2012 - 8:24 PM

My graduation is in 10 days when I run my first 5K! I’m the kid that failed the fitness tests as a child and never cared about exercise much less running. I’m slow, but I can jog 30 mins w/o stopping and can hit 3+ miles with a .25 mile walk break. The key to any program is consistency, getting the right shoes (SO IMPORTANT), and throw in a hill workout every now and then.

melissa October 3, 2012 - 8:31 PM

I recently downloaded the app and I am super excited to start my journey as a runner…… my downfall tho r these 44h sistas I’m forced to tote around on a daily. I finally order a sports bra off amazon that’s suppose to b good for “blessed in the chest” individuals. Hopefully it works out and I will b able to finally enjoy runing, lose weight and run for the cure next yr (my personal goal)

Juli October 5, 2012 - 10:12 AM

I was in week two of C25K when I rolled my ankle and haven’t been able to run on it for nearly five months… The sad thing is I was doing each day twice because I was in good enough shape. Now, due to the weight gain of first not being able to walk on it for two weeks then only being able to walk on it for four months, I’ve put on too much weight to just start the program again.

And I know I should diet but I can never stay within my calorie limits unless I do an hour of cardio four days a week. It’s not the cardio that keeps me in line but the mindset I get from doing the cardio.

Oh well, I’ve recently been cleared (for the ankle) to do “more strenuous activity” with the only limitation being my actual pain level so I can get back into the game. The best part is we’re about to move to a better part of town (better as in it has parks with jogging trails that are typically well populated) so I can really start hitting the trails.

Kaherine October 16, 2012 - 12:45 AM

Im in week 5 of my c25k program. Im nervous because this week is my20 minute run, but im also very excited. Im pretty heavy(295) but I move at my pace and I keep trusting that I can do it

La Toya October 24, 2012 - 10:51 AM

Just downloaded the app you suggested. I started Couch to 5K a few months ago but just didn’t remain motivated. I’ve been walking a couple miles a day and feel really good. So now I feel like I can take this on, especially after reading your article! Thanks 🙂

Brandi January 31, 2013 - 10:40 AM

I am currently at 245 lbs, which is 9 lbs down this year (2013) and I started the C25K a few weeks ago. Unfortunately I didn’t read this post before I started or I would have kept going. I started, but I only completed the first 10 minutes of walking/jogging. I felt like my heart was about to burst out of my chest (lol). So because I felt like a failure, I didn’t start again the next day. But now I know that is what “pushing” yourself feels like, I’m going to get back on it tomorrow. I also now realize that even if I don’t get in all 30 minutes of running, I’m making progress from NEVER working out at all. I REALLY appreciate this site, it is HEAVEN sent. Keep up the good work.

Alison February 20, 2013 - 9:44 AM

This is great! Just this morning I have started looking for an app to use at the gym. I have started running but I like the structure of these couch to 5K programs. I will def try this app!

Your blog is the best!!!! Thank You for all that you do!

Katherine February 20, 2013 - 12:33 PM

I used Carli from runningintoshape.com it has familiar music mixes and their program is awesome!

Antonietta April 18, 2013 - 8:31 AM

I will be starting my orientation for C25K on Saturday and I am receiving affirmation from this story and replies. I will be with BGR in New York (Brooklyn) and I am so excited! Thanks so much for the information and encouragement.

Denise May 23, 2013 - 9:32 AM

I wanted to thank you for your words of wisdom 🙂 I haven’t exercised since I was in my teens and Im 34 now. I saw the couch to 5k workout and thought to myself hmmm I can surely commit to 20min but I found that out that I only lasted for 8mins. I started to get discouraged because I felt there was something wrong with me, like why cant my stupid body run for a min and walk for 2 its not hard intellectually because let’s face it we are our own worst critic. So I did what any person would do, I googled! I wanted to read that I’m not a failure/loser for not being able to do it lol. I then spotted your blog. Thank you for validating that im not a loser! I have to start slow rather then jump out the gate like I have been working out for years 🙂 Thank you! You rock my socks!

Farrah June 19, 2013 - 8:36 PM

I am currently doing the C25K program, Week 6, Day 2 (knees shaking a little of nerves over day 3’s upcoming arrival lol). My job’s fitness facility started a group for interested participants. I am truly amazed at my progress. Not to brag or “toot my own horn”, but I am doing better than the smaller chicks. Erika, you are speaking truth in regards to your breathing. That is definitely my saving grace on this journey. I want everyone to know that IT CAN BE DONE. I am a 228lb, 30 yrs old single mom, working 2 jobs, and doing this. It’s not easy, but I push myself because I want to be here for my beautiful daughter. Blessings and peace to all of you on your fitness goals. Erika, well, you already know that you are THAT CHICK! Great blog and thanks for sharing your journey. (First post on here, but was compelled to share. 🙂

Ashleigh June 24, 2013 - 9:44 AM

I did the C25K program while training for a 10k race. I originally intended on walking the whole 10k but by race day, I was deep into C25k and was able to run for 25 minutes straight. Now that I’ve done that C25K, I’m doing a mix of One Hour Runner and Bridge-to-10k. I’m very loosely following each schedule. I’ve gotten up to the 38 minute run for OHR and I’m still on week 1 of B210K–the 4 10 min running intervals with a 1 min walk break between each. I actually find the intervals more challenging than the straight 38 minute run.
I’m addicted to running now. It’s such a challenge–physically of course but I find it’s more of a mental challenge. Your mind is telling you to stop because you’re breathing too hard or your knee kinda hurts or sweat is dripping down your face or you’re moving too slow. But if you hang in there, you win. And that voice of defeat gets weaker. You tell yourself “hey, that last 5 minutes didn’t kill me, maybe I can do it again.” Now that I’ve gotten over the initial excitement phase, it’s a bit harder to get out of the bed early in the morning, but I make myself go because I feel so much better on days that I do run.
Let me end this novella of a comment by saying I highly recommend this program. Even if running doesn’t turn out to be your thing, it can be a gateway to having a more active life.

Erika Nicole Kendall June 24, 2013 - 11:18 AM

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Shocabo July 24, 2013 - 4:27 AM

I’m jealous of runners. I’m busty — and by busty, I mean a J cup. I have tried many many brands of sports bras, and none have ever made much difference at all for running. I wish I could run, but I really don’t think it’s physically in the cards for me. 🙁

Erika Nicole Kendall July 24, 2013 - 9:22 AM

Oh, girl… there are bras for your kind. Yes, there are. LOL

Ashleigh July 24, 2013 - 10:56 AM

Also, realize that there’s going to be some bounce. Let those boobies jiggle a bit lol. The sports bra will make it so they’re not all over the place, but no sports bra can overcome the laws of gravity. Try not to be self conscious about it–I find when I’m running that no one’s really paying as much attention to me as I think.

Denice October 31, 2014 - 7:29 AM

I am on Day 2 of the ZenLabs C25k program. This is my THIRD time starting and I’m hoping “third times the charm”! My first 5k is in January 2015 with the ultimate goal of running the Marine Corps Marathon in October 2016! Love the blog!

milxx November 7, 2014 - 4:17 PM

Just downloaded the app. I have 1 question. Does pool jogging count? I don’t mind going slow, but running on dry land isn’t an option for me just yet. I can speed walk on a treadmill and I can jog in a pool. Will this work?

Erika Nicole Kendall November 7, 2014 - 9:06 PM

Yes, with one shift: You’ll have to complete C25k in the water, then do it AGAIN all on land. 6 weeks (or so) in water + 6(or so) weeks on land.

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