How much exercise did you get today? Will you hit the recommended 150 minutes of exercise this week?1 How many weeks in the last 12 did you actually hit that target? If you’re falling short, you may be among a growing group of people who don’t always exercise enough. Increased screen time, device use, and modern conveniences may all contribute to sedentary behaviors or the “couch potato” lifestyle. The implications for our bodies and minds are concerning, but with a good training plan, some motivation and perseverance, you can use these couch to 5K tips to change how you look and feel.2,3,4,5
Just How Costly Is Couch Time?
Statistics are a good starting place. Here’s a look at what’s happening in the United States:
- Over 60 million Americans are inactive.6
- A lack of physical activity contributes to about 11% of all premature deaths in the U.S.7
- Participation in sports and exercise in the United States continues to decline.8
- Over 40% of Americans don’t reach the minimum exercise threshold.9
And the rest of the world isn’t doing too great, either.
- Research suggests over 30% of the world’s adults (1.5 billion people) are almost completely sedentary.
- The figures for teenagers are even worse: 80% of 13-15-year-olds worldwide aren’t getting the one hour of vigorous daily exercise they need.10
Stillness And Sickness
So, how could simply sitting at a desk or on the couch potentially damage your health? Research shows that sedentary habits are linked to a range of physical issues. Regular exercise helps stave off problems and encourages good health. But it’s not enough to simply grab 30 minutes of exercise a day, only to spend the other 23.5 hours sitting, whether it’s at your desk, behind the wheel, on the couch, or laying in bed.11
Switching from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active, healthy set of habits requires:
- Understanding the problem
- Motivating yourself to make a change
- Planning that change
- Executing that plan
So, are you ready to get off the couch and train to run a 5K? Read on.
While the statistics are concerning, you might need more than stats to break a couch potato habit.
Try starting off with a conversation with your doctor about where your health currently stands. They can help you determine which type of exercise will best support your health and help you come up with goals targeted to your exact needs.
Setting achievable goals is one of the best ways to motivate yourself. Include realistic aims such as:
- A specific weight loss goal (number of lbs/kgs by a given date)
- A target BMI (by a given date)
- A target waistline (“by the start of beach season”)
- A target time for a given distance (1 mile, 5K)
- A given number of reps, sit-ups, star jumps, etc.
Decide a timescale for each goal, remembering that Rome wasn’t built in a day. This lets you track your progress against genuine markers that you decided for yourself.
You can also try setting a daily goal for “sitting hours” and screen time. Keep a record of how much time you sit, stand, and move around each day; this data can help you decide your fitness aims.
And when you succeed, feel free to reward yourself, but probably not with unhealthy food. Book some self-care time, such as a massage or pedicure, or give yourself a luxurious bubble bath. Treat yourself by buying some new gear – yoga pants, a foam roller, new shoes, or a wearable fitness tracker to help gather good data about your program. Maybe grab tickets to a show, go to the beach, take a scenic drive with a friend, or go out for a light dinner. There are plenty of ways to pat yourself on the back for a job well done without also packing the back.
Start Slow And Work Your Way Up
When beginning a new program, start with the easiest methods. Take walking for instance. It costs nothing, is available to almost everyone, and it may help support a healthy heart, blood pressure, weight, and sense of well-being.12
You don’t have to join a gym, although working out with others is known to be beneficial. Sharing your fitness program with your family is another great way to bond and encourage others to get off the couch, too.13,14,15
For many people, the blocking factors are psychological. Here are some tips:
- Try thinking of your runs not as a half-hour of drudgery, but as ‘me time’ or ‘self-care time.’
- Do a little online research to fine-tune your workouts.
- Choose interesting goals for your program (a personal trainer can help with this).
- Spend time with people who take their fitness seriously, and notice how they talk about themselves, their program, and the way they look.16
Soon after beginning your own program, you might start to see physical changes that will inspire you to go further. Also, remember to keep your doctor in the loop with your training and exercises and get their approval before trying something new.
Getting in Shape For A 5K
Okay, let’s get down to brass tacks: five kilometers is 3.1 miles or 5,468 yards. That’s almost a complete circuit of the Daytona International Speedway.17 If you’ve never run 5K before, it might sound impossible, but like everything else in fitness and health, success is all about planning and good habits.18
To begin, remember that running a short distance, even once a week, is beneficial.19 The idea is to start getting in shape by mixing up walking, jogging, and running. You’ll want to gradually increase the running until you’re able to maintain a running pace (10 minutes per mile or faster) for half an hour.
That’s the structure of 5K runs: running three ten-minute miles puts you within a few seconds of the finishing line.
Finding The Time To Workout And Train
For some people, fitting in a 150-minute program each week can feel like an overwhelming challenge. Multi-tasking by exercising with others gives you both a workout and some social time. There might also be downtime during the day (lunch, breaks) where you could fit in a quick workout.
Interval training and circuit training programs are potential ways to train for a 5K without sacrificing loads of time. In a short workout, vigorous bursts of activity are interspersed with rest periods, yielding a quick and efficient session. With this type of training, you can mix things up (while meeting new people), and add resistance and strength training to ensure that running-related muscle groups don’t become imbalanced.20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27
Preparing For A 5K
If you’re ready to sign up and train for a 5K, your main workout focus will be running. It’s best for runners to begin with an active warm-up rather than old-fashioned stretches, spending up to ten minutes at a walk or steady jog.
Remember that your training plan should be progressive.28 Begin by walking the 5K, then run-walking (with breaks during which you slow down to a jog), and then after a few weeks, aim to run the whole distance at around ten-minute mile pace. Planning your program is vital, so decide on this plan before you begin, and stick to it.29
One key to mastering the 5K is speed endurance, your ability to maintain a good pace for a long time. Gradually stretch out the fast sections of your runs until you’re nudging up the overall pace, aiming for a constant ten-minute mile pace (6 mph).30
Additional Tips: Make Workouts More Fun, Less Draining, And More Useful
- Prepare your clothes and equipment in advance.
- Replace old running shoes by finding good advice on the right kind for you. Make sure they’re broken-in but still supportive and dependable.
- Regard your workout clothes as special, task-specific attire. When you get ready, you’re ‘suiting up’ for your workout, not just ‘going to the gym again.’31
- Listen to up-tempo music as you work out. Research suggests it may provide more benefits than conversation.32,33
- Play tricks on yourself. Say out loud, “I’ll just do ten minutes, that’s all.” The thing is, once you’ve warmed up and started, you’ll likely go longer.34
- Use social media. Share your progress with other runners and enhance accountability.
- Consider running outdoors. Outdoor running has its own benefits – another reason to include it in your program.35
- Have a “power word” or mantra. When you’re low on energy, a power word (e.g. ‘relentless’, ‘unbeatable’, ‘super-strong’) or a mantra (e.g. ‘I got this,’ ‘Another breath,’ ‘Keep going’) might help give you a boost.
- Watch your form. Use a video for help, or get advice from a trainer about making your running style more efficient and avoiding injuries such as shin splints.36
- Focus on your breath. Try to match each in- and out-breath to a given number of footfalls (steps) (e.g. two footfalls in, two footfalls out).37
- Count the number of footfalls per minute. That lets you increase the challenge by fixed amounts (5%, 5BPM, 0.5mph) during the fast sections.38
- Keep a journal about your fitness experiences. This could combine the day’s statistics with your observations, how you felt, advice for the future, or words of encouragement.
- Mix things up. Find lots of fun ways to exercise, like salsa dancing lessons, playing basketball, using a jump rope, swimming, etc.
Game Time: Running A 5K
The first thing to do is to register for the 5K race. This will motivate you, as you’re less likely to skip a session if you have a defined aim. It also provides a schedule within which you can decide your preparation program.39
Try A Fun Run
Consider participating in a low-stress ‘fun run’ or two before trying a 5K. The varied field will include other beginner runners, so there’s no pressure. It’s a good chance to test your game plan and see how your body reacts.
Race Day Prep
On the day of the 5K itself, be well prepared.
- Scout out the venue, and make sure you have time to park and get ready.
- Eat around 2 hours before the race, focusing on carbohydrates (bagel with peanut butter, bananas, or oatmeal).40
- Hydrate, but not to excess, and stay topped-up throughout the race by grabbing drinks from the volunteers.
- Warm up by performing a ‘shakedown’ jog for about 10 minutes, to raise your core temperature and bring attention to your breathing and form.
Then, when you’re underway:
Find the right group to run with. If you’re a beginner, stay toward the back until the field loosens up.41
To boost confidence as you run, think back to your best training sessions.
Breathe from your stomach and follow the drills you’ve practiced.
Divide the race into sections (e.g. first mile, second mile, third mile, finishing stretch) so that the task doesn’t seem so daunting.
Pace yourself and conserve your energy. The third mile should be your quickest.42
After The Race
Congratulations. Now, keep moving around for around ten minutes to make sure your muscles don’t become stiff, and to let your heart rate return slowly to its resting state. Do about 15 minutes of static stretches to help release your back, leg, and hip muscles.43
Refuel with carbohydrates, protein, and water within 30 minutes of finishing. This may help to restore your body’s stores of glycogen and aid in muscle recovery.44,45
Getting Up From The Couch And Doing It
Persuading yourself to leave the comfort of your couch can be challenging, but it might be easier if there’s something enjoyable on offer. Keep your doctor in the loop and find forms of exercise that work best for you. Pay attention to how your body reacts to the steadily increasing demands of progressive training and the variable challenge of interval training. Then, experience first-hand the “runner’s high” when you run a 5K – and see how far it can take you.