Get running with Couch to 5K

Taking up running can seem like a scary prospect, especially if you feel out of shape or unfit.

But, did you know that regular running can help reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, boost your mood and keep your weight under control?

The Couch to 5K plan is designed to get you off the couch and gradually work you up to running 5K or half an hour, in just nine weeks.

What is Couch to 5K?

NHS Choices 'Couch to 5K' is a running plan developed to help absolute beginners get into running. The beginners' running plan was developed by a novice runner, Josh Clark, who decided to write a plan to help his fiftysomething mum get off the couch and start running too. The plan involves three runs per week, with a day of rest in between, with a different plan for each of the nine weeks. Scroll down to find out more and see how the running plan works.

How does Couch to 5K work?

Probably the biggest challenge a novice runner faces is not knowing how or where to start. Often when trying to get into exercise, we can overdo it, feel defeated and give up when we’re just getting started. Couch to 5K works because it starts with a mix of running and walking, gradually building up your fitness and stamina slowly. Week One involves running for just a minute at a time, creating realistic expectations and making the challenge feel achievable from day one. 

Who is Couch to 5K for?

Couch to 5K is for everyone. Whether you’ve never run before or if you want to get back into being more active, Couch to 5K provides you with a cheap and easy way of getting fitter and more healthy. If you have any concerns about beginning an exercise regime such as Couch to 5K, make an appointment to see your GP and discuss it with them first.

What are the benefits?

The benefits of getting into running can be endless. For starters, it’s an easy way of improving your physical health. Running regularly will improve your cardiovascular function, making your heart and lungs healthier. It can also help you lose weight; especially if combined with a healthy diet.

There is evidence it may help increase bone density in some people, which can help guard against osteoporosis.

Perhaps the unexpected side-effects are the mental benefits of running. Taking on the challenge of Couch to 5K can help boost your confidence and self-belief, as you prove to yourself you can set yourself a target and achieve a goal. Running regularly can also be a great stress reliever and has even been shown to combat depression.

What are the Couch to 5K podcasts for?

NHS Choices has developed its own set of Couch to 5K podcasts to help you on your way to achieving your running goal. The podcasts features a narrator, Laura, who guides you through the session, explaining when you need to run and when it’s time to walk.

The podcast also features music that's designed to motivate you through the workout. The podcasts are designed to take you on three runs per week, leaving at least a day of rest in between each run. There is one podcast for each week of the plan – except in weeks 5 and 6, which feature three individual podcasts. This is because weeks 5 and 6 act as transitional weeks, which aim to progress you from a mix of running and walking into running for longer blocks of time.

How do I get started?

STEP 1: Download the NHS Choices Couch to 5K podcasts from here for free. Instructions will be given to you and once downloaded and you will be able to listen to them on your iPod or even just your mobile phone if it has MP3 capabilities.

STEP 2: Think about when you’re going to run. The best way to ensure you stick with your running plan, is to plan carefully how to fit Couch to 5K into your day. Busy days at work? Perhaps you could set your alarm clock a little earlier and run first thing in the morning, or even in your lunch break. If you have young children to sort out in the mornings, maybe you could plan your run when they’re at nursery. Or, how about strapping them safely in the pushchair and taking them with you?

STEP 3: Plan where you are going to run. For example, if you already have a gym membership then you could run there. Another good option is to run outdoors. You’ll get some fresh air, can take different and interesting routes and, perhaps best of all, it won’t cost anything. You may want to look at a map in order to plan your route first, so that you can more easily concentrate on running. There are lots of great websites out there to help you with this, such as realbuzz and MapMyRun.

STEP 4: Think about safety. If you are planning to run outdoors, bear in mind that when wearing headphones you may be less aware of your surroundings. Watch out for other pedestrians, keep your eyes peeled for cyclists and take extra care when crossing the road.

STEP 5:What are you going to wear? The most essential piece of kit is a pair of running trainers, available from any good sports store for as little as £30. While this isn’t essential, it will reduce the chance of getting injured, which can threaten your Couch to 5K success. See ‘Getting Started’ for advice on what to look for when buying new trainers.

Couch to 5K

Regular running can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, boost your mood and keep your weight under control. In this video, watch how Laura went from a fitness phobe to a keen runner with the Couch to 5K programme.

Last reviewed: 15/09/2010

Next review due: 15/09/2012


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Beakywitch said on 27 August 2011

I've just done Wk1D2 and I've felt tearful both times I've done it because it was such an acheivement and I felt so good. I've never been sporty or fit so I feel embarassed going out in my shorts but I'm so happy.

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fattyhaze said on 21 August 2011

Am I too fat to try this? I have just calculated my BMI and it is a horrible 35! This programme looks great, but is it realistic for me to start it? How can I run and hide at the same time? I'm scared that I will look ridiculous bouncing along the bra can possibly be up to the strain! Maybe I should wait until the clocks go back...

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Miss D N said on 12 August 2011

I am having problems putting week 1 and 2 on to my iPod, I have downloaded them file and they are in iTunes. All the others copied across fine but these 2 wont. Did anyone else had this problem or can anyone suggest a solution? Thanks.

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Noelle23 said on 02 August 2011

I found this program really good but have fallen off the wagon over the last 2 weeks as I was on holidays. I was up to week 6 run 2 - do I need to go back a step or 2 or can I just continue on?

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Woo73 said on 27 July 2011

It's such a clever programme! My friend who has had three back opps over the last few years rang me a my birthday. I thought if he can do it so can I and I am... Just done week 5: 3. I found that my body was fine, but my head said no, but I pushed through. Doing race for RNLI 13th August ha would I ever have thought it NO! Two things I wanted to bring up... 1) I still smoke, anyone find that they want to give up??? 2) can they person who put this together, do another one I suggets 'Post Couch - 10K'

Best of luck to you all... so happy I found this... Thanks

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TIBSKYE01 said on 15 July 2011

I have always wanted to be a runner + had tried a few times myself but never kept it up until I found these podcasts & I have now completed the 9 week program! And am still running 3 times a week myself and feel fab!!
There were a few milestones...when u run 20mins for the first time & then 30mins, thats a great feeling! Laura is great encouraging you and letting you know the time u have left until the end of your run. The only complaint I wod have is the music when you were running isn't great but if you keep focused you get passed it.
Anyone wanting 2 run this is the podcasts to use & it's worth the effort!!

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anna_belle said on 13 July 2011


After C25k you can move on to 10k, half a marathon and marathon, if you are ambitious enough. :o) Just put it into a search engine. You can find LOTS of free running programs and podcasts. Example is '10k your way' on SparkPeople.

Good luck!!!
(Im starting my 3rd week of 5k end of this week, so a bit scared!!!)

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daysieblue said on 13 July 2011

I have just completed run 5.1, and finally feel like I am a runner! I started the Couch to 5k having never run before in my life, and living a relatively sedentary life. I can now run for five minutes, and actually fell like I could do more. Run 5.2, running for 8 minutes, will be a good test, and actually, Run 5.3 (twenty whole minutes) has been timed perfectly with a Race for Life 5k run I'm doing on Sunday.

I actively encourage any and every one to get involved in this - I am loving it so much, and those nearest me find it amazing that I say I love running! I look forward to every run, and have now booked the Adidas 5k is September to give me a new goal to aim for. After completing the 9 weeks, I plan to go back to the beginning with my children, and get them out there too!

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fitat51 said on 12 July 2011

The couch to 5k podcast is the best training aid I have ever come across. I've just did week 5 run 1 today, and feel like I've really turned a corner. I always found it difficult to maintain any fitness regime before this, and never really enjoyed running until now. Full marks to Laura! Can't wait for the next run. My only dread is what happens after week 9. It would be great to find another training plan that follows on from this! Anyone any ideas?

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KazParnell said on 12 July 2011

I am in the process of doing week 5. The thought of the 20 minute jog this evening is quite scary!

I have fallen behind with my training, due to a couple of injuries, but I still intend to attempt a 5K run on 24th July.

I never thought I'd be running at all, but I love it.

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Nikki New Runner said on 06 July 2011

Started week 1, day 1 today. Good start, looking forward to the gradual progression of fitness, confidence and (weight loss thrown in!) My right achilles heel hurt though, I'll see how it feels next time.

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gill penarth said on 21 June 2011

I could hardly run for a minute before I started couch to 5k and am amazed how quickly I built up stamina and am now regularly running for 30 minutes - and enjoying it. Have done 5k race for life and now going to do a 10k in September - is there a follow on 5 - 10k?

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deltronic1066 said on 10 June 2011

I am 57 and have been going to the gym 3 to 4 times a week for the past 8 years. I considered myself fairly fit. Starting this program showed me that was not the case.
I am now on week 6.2 and cannot believe I am now running up to 20 mins with no stops. I think the next milestone will be to run 25 mins straight - I'm mentally building up for this one!
I have to admit 5.3 is the make or break. Laura asks you to run 20 mins with no stops. This is very tough the first time. I ran this part of the program 3 times before I moved on to week 6. I would advise anyone to do likewise. it is a real mental battle.
The buzz you get from completing each section is immense and the encouragement from Laura superb. I now feel very confident that I will run the full 5k in a few weeks - can't wait :)

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MissLili said on 02 June 2011

I completed the couch to 5k plan about 3 weeks ago and guess what, I am still running 3 times a week!

I am 35, it had been about 8 years since I last did any form of exercise and always thought that running was not for me, but thanks to the programme and its gradual build up, I found the motivation to keep going.

Laura - the voice of the programme - is great and really there to help you through when the going gets tough. There were some real breakthrough moments (first time running 10 minutes and first time running 20 minutes non were big highs for me).

Thanks a lot for a great podcast ! I am now recommending it to lots of people and I have found the runner in me !

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d0uglas said on 28 May 2011

I just completed the first run of week 9 - which means I have actually completed the 30 minute run. The sense of achievement is tremendous. I dont think I've ever been fit in my entire life, and I'm 46 now. according to google pedometer, I actually did cover a shade over 5k too!

if anyone reading this is dithering about whether to have a go, I'd strongly encourage you to jump in. Even if - especially if - you don't see yourself as the sporty type. My self image has come on heaps; I sleep better; I feel better; and all in a couple of months!

As everyone has pointed out, Laura's terrific. Some of the music is a bit naff(!) but the rhythms drive you forward and the fact you don't have to worry about time-keeping really helps. Laura also gives you some good practical tips, but maybe the best one of all is the constant urging to 'keep calm'. There are so many demons in your head that will tell you you can't do it. Well, I did it and what I learned was - ignore them, keep calm, and keep plonking one foot in front of another.

The other point is that It's beautifully structured, with one or two real break-through moments. Getting through 20 minut4es was a monster, as was 25, and of course today - 30!!! Woohoo :)

Good luck with it everyone, honestly you can do it.


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smithster said on 04 May 2011

I started this last week and it's amazing... I have done no excercise for a long time and therefore the first week is taking me a bit longer than three sessions - however I've completed it once and I'm looking forward to doing it again... I can't believe the NHS has devised something this helpful!

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Miss_Intuitive said on 25 April 2011

@Carolynn: All I can say is I strongly advise you to do some decent stretches, each lasting a good 30 seconds (without cheating) it really does help. I've never ached the day after when doing proper stretches. I hope this helps ;0) PS. I'm on week 1 about to go onto 2.

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queen squeeze said on 16 April 2011

I've also just done day 1, week one and its been years since i've done any kind of running and i am rather over weight. The podcast really helped but i did begin to wonder if it was ever going to finish lol. So proud of my self for doing it and i feel great :)

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Carolynn said on 13 April 2011

Just completed day 1, week 1. Legs are aching! Anyone else feel a lot of tightness in the lower legs?

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Scruffypoet said on 03 April 2011

On week 5. Laura's encouragement has kept me going. I'm so glad I found this programme. I'm running like I used to over 30 years ago!

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GooNoo said on 29 March 2011

Well I've just completed the first run of the first week for the couch to 5k plan.......Completley new to running, and am now rather achey BUT its fool proof and I feel amazing for actually doing it.

It's no lie when they say its good for beginners too.....Im no in great shape at the moment, and despised running (although today Im thinking I judged it too soon!!)

Seriously if I can do it, you can too

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rjames said on 21 March 2011

I’ve just completed the first run of week 9 today. Thank you for the C25K podcast. I found myself overweight sat behind a desk or a steering wheel and not being able to keep up with my grandsons throwing a rugby ball and kicking a football. After 1 min in week one I was in need of a rest, thanks to the well structured programme I have just run for 30 mins! I've lost weight, I'm sleeping better and I have more energy. Having Laura keeping time without looking at a watch allows you to concentrate on your running. I have recommended this programme to family and friends. 2 more runs left then its life beyond C25K.
Go for it!


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MarkTT said on 16 March 2011

Just a thought what happens after the final podcast? Will all be revealed in the gripping final episode or will there be a follow up programme etc?

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MarkTT said on 16 March 2011

I can only echo the positive comments about the podcasts. The structure of the weekly programme and having your own personal trainer in your ears has taken me from being seriously unfit to just completing my final run of week 6. I would not have imagined that I could run for 25 minutes (and it's hilly where I live!!) non stop in just six weeks. For anyone considering this with a low boredom threshold like me, give this a go the interactive nature of the pod cast really helps. I have also found using an app called imapmyrun for the iphone has added another interactive dimension. You can track your runs using the phones GPS and keep a log of the route, pace, distance, gradients etc. So thanks to the NHS and lovely Laura for these podcasts, it's has had a massive impact on me so far.

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newhamrobert1963 said on 11 March 2011

These pod casts are the best thing since sliced bread....
I have just completed week 2 and can't wait to get to the longer runs...but for the start the walk/jog/walk/jog routines are a great way of easing you in to it.

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Cheshire Karen said on 08 March 2011

I started this plan on 14th Feb as lots of my friends are runners and I was ready for the challenge. Unfortunately I injured my ankle after completing 2 weeks and have been unable to carry on.
I'm hoping to try again once recovered as I was looking forward to the sense of achievement completing the plan would give me!

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Graceious1 said on 06 March 2011

I have just completed run 3 of week 5 and I feel wonderful. I ran for 20 minutes and it felt really good. It is a truly wonderful podcast and I'm telling everyone I meet about it. I have lost 6 pounds in 4 weeks and mentally I feel really good.

I feel ever so motivated and my posture has improved greatly. I believe that anyone can do this.

I am looking forward to week 6 and promise to give updates at the end of each week.

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khello85 said on 17 February 2011

Thanks for your efforts .. it's an amazing podcast .. I've just finished week 2 .. Im looking forward to completing the plan .. Grazie!

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dunn_sj said on 30 January 2011

Just finished week 9 and have to say could'nt wish to have a better running partner than Laura ! Always encouraging. I have nothing but praise for this podcast. The progressive increase in running is achievable and very rewarding. My aim is a half marathon later in the year, which i am confident of doing after the foundation of this podcast has been lay down. Give it a go, what have you got to lose and what could you possibly gain.
Many Thanks !

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Starry night said on 26 January 2011

The couch to 5k podcast is brilliant! Really, truly fab! My friends and I started running using the podcast and now, 2 months on I am preparing for a half marathon in May and a 10k in April! The calm, encouraging voice, the pace, the fabulous schedule kept me running and running through rain and snow. It is a great way to start running even if you think now you could never even begin to do it or ever like it..I am sure you will soon love it. Thank you!

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