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Beginners 5K Run Training Plan and Tips

Page last updated: 24th May 2023

A 5 kilometre race is the perfect challenge for beginner runners or for those who want to get back into running and prepare for bigger and better challenges down the road. If you do a quick search on the web, you'll no doubt find several 5K events being held across the country which you can take part in.

Even if you're not signing up for a race, 5K can be a good target if you're just getting started with running. In just a few weeks and with just a very basic level of starting fitness, you could be running 5 kilometres without stopping.

To help you get ready to smash your 5K, here are our top tips when it comes to training for your race or personal run, or jump straight to our 6 week 5K training plan

Why do I need to train for a 5k?

If you’ve never run 5K before, then it’s likely you’re a running beginner. Even if you’re used to running for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, you may struggle to jump straight to running non-stop for a distance of 5K. It’s important to gradually build your running distance up over time, to reduce your risk of injury, shin splints or even just really sore muscles.

And training for a 5K is not just about the physical preparation to become faster and stronger, it’s about becoming mentally fit too. Feeling too unfit or finding yourself hating the activity you’re doing because it’s too challenging for your skill level often leads to runners giving up early. Working your way to 5K over time means you can have confidence in your ability and can enjoy all the health and mental benefits that come with completing a challenge.

Why is a plan important when training for a 5k?

With a 5K, it’s fairly easy to tell yourself that you’ll just run a bit further every week until you hit 5K, but there’s a lot of wriggle room for either sticking in your comfort zone for too long, or jumping ahead too quickly and risking an injury. By creating a plan (and sticking to it!), you’ll be able to see your weekly goals ahead of time and push yourself to meet them with ease, meaning you’re less likely to stray off path.

How long should my 5k training plan cover?

While a 5K event is a fraction of the distance of a half marathon and full marathon, this doesn't necessarily mean it's easier for someone new to running. Make sure you provide yourself with enough time to train to get ready for the event. If you're a beginner but have some level of fitness (maybe you work out or do classes at home or in the gym), then we suggest giving yourself 6 weeks to prepare. For total beginners considering couch to 5K, you're better off training over the space of 9 weeks. Ultimately, what you put in is what you get out, so take time to consider what your goals are, and how much time will be required to get you there.

How to start running & train for a 5k

1. Beginners - Pace Yourself Carefully

If you're just starting to run, it's very important to hold off running too fast until you're happy you can cover the full 5K. Start very gently - ideally you should be able to hold a conversation while you're running; so a light jog should be fine. Speed isn't important here, it's about getting your endurance and fitness levels to the right place first, and from there you can improve your speed.

2. Improvers - Don't Just Stick With Running 5k - Include Other Distances To Work Your Aerobic Capacity

Fast running will help you to build muscular strength, increase your efficiency and improve your running mechanics, whilst longer runs will help to build your cardiovascular endurance and stamina. If you're looking to improve your 5K time, then make sure to include a mixture of different tempos, intervals, and distances to work on both your speed and endurance.

3. Focus On Your Form

When you're starting out, it's just as important to focus on good form as it is on your endurance - form good habits from the beginning! This means:                          

  • Keep your eyes looking ahead - this will keep you focused and stop your head from tilting up or down as you get tired
  • Open up your shoulders and keep them pulled back - you want to avoid hunching as you run
  • Your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle with your arms tucked close to your sides - try not to let your arms cross inwards or your elbows stick out
  • Keep your core engaged - this will help you maintain balance and form
  • Use your feet to push yourself off with every stride, focusing on propelling yourself forward with the balls of your feet

4. Work On Your Strength

Studies have shown that strength training can help to improve your running performance, and also reduce the risk of injury. Focus on performing lower body compound movements like squats and lunges with added weight or resistance to power up your legs. A strong core will also help with your balance and form, so consider focusing on this area in your workouts. Check out our Strength Training for Runners guide for more.

5. Make Sure To Rest

Giving your body adequate rest is just as important as doing your training. When you expose your body to physical stress your muscle fibres tear, and rest is what allows them to repair and grow back stronger. Overtraining can lead to injury and exhaustion, which will affect your performance in your next training session and potentially make you more prone to injury further down the line. Include several rest days in your plan or lower the intensity of your physical activity to allow your body to recover. If you enjoy yoga or gentle pilates, rest days are an excellent opportunity to enjoy these activities, so you can keep working on your strength and flexibility without over-exerting yourself.

6. Always Warm Up And Cool Down

This may feel like a boring step, but warming up before every single run and cooling down afterwards is vital to keeping yourself strong and healthy.

A warm up prepares your body for the oncoming activity and helps to prevent injuries to tight or tense muscles. This could be as simple as a brisk walk, but it's even better to include some dynamic stretches to help ready your muscles (check out our warm up exercises for runners for ideas).

The cool down is one of the best ways to ease your way out of your run, and help prevent muscle soreness the next day. It also helps boost your flexibility and mobility, both of which are vital to helping you run further and faster. Read our guide to cool downs for more information and examples of stretches to try.

7. Keep Your Motivation High

Do whatever it is that you need to stay motivated during your training, as consistency is really the key to building up your fitness. Often athletes have certain rituals they like to follow before a big game, or race. You may want to consider this, and include it if you think it will help you mentally prepare or boost your confidence as you run further.

This can be anything from saying a positive manta in your head like "I can do this", working up a particular warm up routine, visualising yourself running well on the day - anything that will make you feel prepared and focused on your run. Adding small habits like this in your training leading up to your 5K can help to manage the nerves on the day, which will ultimately allow you to feel prepared and comfortable so you can nail the challenge.

the free puregym beginners' 6 week 5k training plan

While this plan does increase running distance gradually, it also assumes you have at least some basic fitness levels. If you're starting completely from scratch, it could be worth spreading your training over a longer time period. The NHS has an excellent 9-week Couch to 5K plan that is perfect for fitness beginners.

You'll see there's space for 'workouts' each week - this is where we recommend strength and core training, but you can also include other workouts such as fitness classes or cardio.

And finally, not everyone's running pace is the same. A 5K takes on average 30-40 minutes to run, and this plan is focused on helping you run for 30 minutes straight. If you need more time that's no problem, just consider adding in one more week to build your running time up before tackling the full 5K.

Beginner 5k Training Plan from PureGym

Download the free 5K training plan

Enjoy the 5K but don't forget to also enjoy your training up to it too! Good luck!

You can learn more about how to improve your running over on our Running hub, where we cover a wide range of tips and advice for all skill levels. To help with your fitness, you can download the free PureGym App, which includes a range of workouts and classes to keep you on track.

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