How To Train For a 5K: A 4-Week Training Plan For Beginners

Let our expert coach help get you to the finish line of your first 5K.

Training for and running a 5K is an exciting and awesome goal! As a running coach, I love to see new runners take on this challenge, train hard, have fun, and crush their first race.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through how to train for a 5K and succeed – even if you’re a complete running newbie.

We’ll discuss what to expect while training for your first 5K, how to gradually and sustainably increase your weekly mileage, share our free 5K training program, and give you all of our tips and tricks to really nail your first 5K race.

How to train for a 5k 1

How Long Does It Take To Train For a 5K?

It usually takes 4 to 8 weeks to go from a non-runner to completing a 5K—depending on your current fitness level; this might include some walking breaks.

If you’ve already been running or have built up fitness from other activities, you can get 5K ready in as little as 2 or 3 weeks!

Training For a 5K For Beginners

Whether you’ve never run before or are an experienced runner who is a little rusty, these tips will help you get 5K ready in style:

  • Start off slow and easy. Walking during most of your training runs and bursting into a gentle jog when you feel up to it is perfectly acceptable. Gradually increase the % of time spent running as you go.
  • Once you get used to running, see how far you can run without stopping. Then, once you get tired, walk for the remainder of your workout.
  • Build up your running distance very gradually. Some days, you’ll find it easier and be tempted to push farther than your training schedule suggests, but restraint is important to avoid overtraining and injury.
  • Don’t worry about running pace, race pace, or finish times: Focus on how long you can run, and don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Training with a friend or a jogging group can motivate you to run when you’re otherwise not in the mood.
  • Nothing beats the great outdoors, but a treadmill is a perfectly acceptable tool if it suits you better. Check out our Couch To 5K Treadmill Guide!

And here are 8 more practical tips for anyone following the Couch To 5K training schedule!

Get The Right Shoes For Your 5k

If you’re serious about your 5K, you will need a good pair of running shoes.

Don’t be tempted to think those old shoes at the back of the closet will do the job. Chances are they’re not suitable and could cause discomfort and injury.

Check out How To Choose Running Shoes for an in-depth guide to navigating a running store.

5 step guide to running a 5k couch to 5k

How To Train For a 5k – Proper Running Form

Here are our top tips for beginner runners working on their running form:

  • Keep your eyes up and chin down
  • Remember to relax your shoulders and roll them back
  • Keep your hands relaxed and gently swing those arms
  • Straighten your spine and engage your core
  • Don’t overstride – take short, gentle steps
  • If you want to go faster, increase your cadence, not your stride length

5 Things To Expect During Your 5K Training

Here’s something you’ll learn as you explore how to run a 5K for the first time: the training process is full of ups and downs. 

You’ll feel the runner’s high one day, and self-doubt the next. In the end, you’ll be thrilled you stuck with it, but you should know what to anticipate ahead of time. 

#1: At first, you’ll walk more than you run.

Runners start out at different levels. Maybe you’ve never run before but have always had it on your mind. Maybe you run a mile or two here and there but are ready to take the next step in your fitness level. 

Either way, moving from 0 (or even 1) to 3.1 miles doesn’t happen right away. As each week progresses, you’ll walk a little less and run a little more with our walk/run interval training method. 

Most training plans offer suggestions for timed sections of walking and running. Having that guide will keep you motivated and moving forward steadily. 

#2: You’ll have a hard time staying motivated. 

During your first week or two, you’ll be excited about your goals (and probably your new shoes), and getting out for your run will be a breeze. 

But it takes 30 days to form a habit.

After that first week, you’ll struggle to keep going and will be tempted to skip days here and there. 

Don’t let yourself slide into that trend. One missed training will turn into five and soon you’ll have given up or need to stat all over again.

Stick with it. I promise it will be worth it!

#3: You’ll be amazed at your progress. 

Running three miles seems like a daunting task and a long road for beginner runners. But after just a few weeks, you’ll run your first mile without stopping. 

In the beginning, any hills you come across will feel like mountains. Soon though you’ll tread right up them, barely even noticing. 

Once you see those results and how fast you progress, you’ll feel the motivation to continue. 

#4: You’ll feel muscle soreness. 

Even with a solid warm-up and cool-down routine, it’s a given that your muscles will feel tight and sore. Your body needs to adapt to running in general. This takes time.

If the soreness is just tight muscles there’s no need to worry. You may need to push through a bit of uncomfortable soreness in the beginning.

However, if you’re in pain or have trouble moving, that could be a sign that you’ve injured something. You should rest, ice, and see a doctor. 

#5:You’ll be ecstatic at each milestone.

I still remember the first day I ran a mile without stopping. Each milestone you hit will become a memorable event worth celebrating. 

Watching your body strengthen and achieve things you’ve never done before will build your self-confidence, uplift your mood, and make you proud of yourself. 

How To Train For a 5K: A 4-Week Training Plan For Beginners 1

Strength Training, Cross Training + Rest Days

Strength training is an important part of any run training plan as it can help you prevent injury and improve muscle imbalances. It also generally strengthens your muscles to make you a stronger, faster runner.

You should add two 30-minute sessions of full-body strength training workouts a week.

Cross-training is any sort of physical activity that is not running. Low-impact cross-training activities can help you continue to improve your aerobic conditioning while taking a break from the high-impact of running.

Consider swimming, cycling, or the elliptical for your cross-training sessions.

Likewise, rest days are essential to avoid injury and burnout and should not be compromised, ever.

Your body is going through a lot and needs enough time to recover and heal between running days. Honor those rest days and put your feet up.

A 5-Step Guide on How to Train For a 5K

Step 1: Sign Up for a Race

This is an absolute must. When you have a date, and a plan to run with other people, the idea becomes a reality. Once you sign up and pay for your spot, you know it’s time to start training. 

How long will it take to train for a 5K?

A typical couch to 5K plan is 8-9 weeks. 

If you’re starting out at an intermediate level, you can plan for 4-8 weeks. 

Just don’t cut your training short. It’s better to have an extra week of wiggle room to make sure you’re ready. Your first 5K experience should be a positive one. That’s only possible if you’re prepared and fit to finish the race. 

Step 2: Download a Training Plan

Even if you’re the type of person who goes with the flow and wings it, I don’t recommend training for a race without a plan. 

Here are three reasons why. 

  • You might get going too slowly, so you’re not ready when race day arrives. 
  • You might start off too fast and get injured, causing you to drop out. 
  • Without a plan, you’ll likely skip more days, negatively affecting your progress and fitness. 

How many times a week should I run when training for a 5K?

Our training plans have you running three times per week, with one day of cross-training.

So when planning how to train for a 5K, Scroll down to grab our free plan!

Step 3: Establish a Run Walk method

Most training plans will outline a strategy for segments of running and walking, but if not you need a strategy. 

Make a set time for yourself to run at an easy pace and a cool-down period to walk and recovery before you run again.

To do that, jog at a comfortable pace for as long as you can. Set a timer while you do it. Then you’ll know a steady length of time to jog when you’re first starting out. 

Each week, increase your jogging time and decrease your walking time. 

Step 4: Work on Your Diet

Eating right and running go hand in hand. Your regular food habits will directly affect the outcome of your 5K training. 

While there’s no diet regimen you must follow, be conscious that you’re focusing on lean proteins, lots of vegetables, and healthy fats.

Eat carbohydrates before your runs to keep you energized, and stay away from drinking too much alcohol (especially the night before a run). 

Step 5: Plan Two Weekly Strength Workouts

While running is typically considered cardio exercise, you activate plenty of muscles that propel your body forward. The main muscle groups are your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core. 

If you’re not a fan of the gym, there are plenty of bodyweight workouts you can do to build up the strength you need for running. 

What are the best strength training exercises for a 5K runner?

Squats, step-ups, lunges, deadlifts, planks, push-ups, pull-ups (assisted), glute bridges, and calf raises.

Uphill running is also effective when thinking about how to train for a 5K. Designating an uphill run once a week is a great way to become a stronger runner. 

How To Train For a 5K: A 4-Week Training Plan For Beginners 2

Download Our Free 5K Training Plan

Our 4-week 5K training plan below is designed to prepare you for your 5K run to the best of your ability.

The weekday training runs are designed to be walk/runs. If you find them too easy or hard, simply adjust the ratio of time spent walking and running.

Cross-training days are awesome for your running fitness. Choose a low-impact activity like cycling.

Each weekend you have a long run. My suggestion is to try to run the whole distance or as much of it as you can while taking walk breaks as necessary.

If you need a break, it’s much better to slow down to a walk than stop altogether.

5k training plan miles
5k Training Plan – Miles
5k training plan kilometers
5k Training Plans – Kilometers

5 Bonus Training Tips: Extra 5K Advice to Get You To The Starting Line

Don’t worry about your speed on the first 5K. 

Now is the time to work on your running form, get used to running without stopping, and build strong habits that will help your running future. If you run faster than you should, you risk burning out during your race.

Establish a foundation – learn to love running.

So many people see running as a dreaded chore. They know it’s healthy and they know all about its many benefits. And yet, every time they get out there, they find themselves miserable. 

Find small ways to enjoy running so you can make it a regular part of your life. Establish a good running foundation by running 3 miles a day. You can use the run/walk method to get through them.

Know what to do when you get tired.

Some people focus on their breathing during a run, and others actively watch the scenery as they pass by it. Still others download competitive apps that keep them on their toes during the run, encouraging them to do better. 

All of these methods for distracting your mind when you feel bored or tired will help you in times when you feel you can’t go on. 

Have someone meet you at the finish line.

There’s no better feeling than seeing a friendly face at the finish line, cheering your success. Make sure you have someone there to support you! 

Move right on to the next goal. 

Once you finish your 5K, don’t lose your momentum. Be sure to sign up for the next race.

Here are some awesome 5K goals to aim for:

How To Run 5k in 30 Minutes
How To Run 5k in 20 Minutes (fast!)
How To Run 5k in 18 Minutes

Taking it to the next level and training for a half marathon (race distance: 21k) will be a life-changing experience you shouldn’t miss. 

Download our free couch to half marathon training guide to make sure you’ve got an expert coach’s plan as you make your way through the milestones. 

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

2 thoughts on “How To Train For a 5K: A 4-Week Training Plan For Beginners”

  1. Thanks for all your information. And motivation as well. I’m a mostly mountain biker and road rider but while away for a few days it was so easy to go for a run. Good work out in a short time is great for sure. Gonna try the three miles a day( morning for me as well). Looking forward to it. While riding when time allows. Thanks again.


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