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Running is hard on the body – the trick to staying injury free is progressing gradually so that your body has time to adapt. (iStock)
Running is hard on the body – the trick to staying injury free is progressing gradually so that your body has time to adapt. (iStock)

health advisor

How to go from the couch to running 5K in eight weeks Add to ...

My biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to start running is “just start” – lace up your running shoes and go.

The hardest part of any exercise program – especially running – is getting started. When I first started to run, each step was torture. Now running is my bliss.

Your first workout doesn’t have to be perfect. Even if you simply jog for one minute and then walk the rest of the time, it is always better to do something rather than nothing.

In fact, I actually encourage you to take it easy in the beginning; running is hard on the body – the trick to staying injury free is progressing gradually so that your body has time to adapt. Walking intervals are your friend.

Once you have done one workout, it will be physically and psychologically easier to do another, and then another, and then another. Before you know it you will be “a runner.”

A few other tips to keep you injury-free

1. Space out your runs: Newbie runners should run two to three times a week on non-consecutive days. More seasoned runners can alternate two days of running with one day of recovery.

2. Prioritize recovery: Exercise (especially high-impact activities such as running) stresses the body. Give your body the ingredients it needs to recover: Get seven or more hours of sleep each night, be mindful of your nutrition and schedule time to stretch or use a foam roller or get regular body work such as massage.

3. Don’t just run: The repetitive nature of running is hard on the body; it stresses your joints, tendons and ligaments. Cross-train – try different types of cardio workouts, strength training, core training, stretching and self-massage with a foam roller.

Program details

Do all workouts three times a week on non-consecutive days.

For the first five weeks, do a five-minute power walk to warm up. Starting in week six, warm up by jogging at a speed you consider easy for five minutes. Power walk for five minutes to cool down.

At the end of each week of training, do a body check. Ask yourself, “Do I have any negative joint or muscle aches or pains?” Muscle tiredness (or what I call positive pain) is okay, but if you have joint irritation that lasts for more than 48 hours after a run, rest or cross-train. Try water running or take a Pilates class. Left untreated, minor aches and pains can become either full-blown acute injuries or chronic conditions.

Once the negative pain has dissipated, repeat that same training week again. Progress to the next week of the program when you have no negative pain.

  • Week one: Alternate three minutes of jogging with two minutes of walking six times.
  • Week two: Alternate three minutes of jogging with one minute of walking six times.
  • Week three: This week you get to try a pyramid workout. Jog for three minutes, walk for one, jog for four minutes, walk for one, jog for five minutes, walk for two, jog for four minutes, walk for one, jog for three minutes and walk for one.
  • Week four: Alternate five minutes of jogging with one minute of walking six times.
  • Week five: Congratulations! You have earned a “down week”; I am purposely not increasing the intensity of your workouts this week to ensure your body is recovering properly. Do the workout from week four again, but only twice. Cross-train and stretch.
  • Week six: Jog for five minutes, walk for one, jog for seven minutes, walk for one, jog for eight minutes, walk for one. Jog for seven minutes, walk for one, jog for five minutes and walk for one.
  • Week seven: This week is simple: Jog for nine minutes and walk for one minute three times.
  • Week eight: Aim to simply alternate between jogging for 10 minutes and walking for one minute for 33 minutes total.

Tips to progress postprogram

You are now jogging for a total of 30 minutes – which means you are covering roughly five kilometres every time you train. Your next goal is to either increase the time you run without a walk break or to work on speed with intervals. Try alternating 15 minutes of jogging with one minute of walking. Or try the following interval workout: Jog for 10 minutes and then walk for one. Then alternate 15 seconds of faster running with 45 seconds of jogging at your regular speed for 10 minutes. Walk for one minute. Then finish by jogging at your regular speed for 10 minutes.

Need help staying motivated?

When you are tempted to skip your workout, tell yourself that you have to move for a minimum of 10 minutes, but if you still want to stop after 10 minutes, you can.

Breaking the workout into chunks will make moving feel less daunting. Anyone can do anything for 10 minutes. Plus, 10 minutes of exercise is better than nothing, so if you do stop, that’s okay. Usually once you have done 10 minutes, you will continue and finish the workout.

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