Review of NHS’s Couch to 5K

Couch to 5K is a 9 week programme aimed to increase your fitness gradually, through supportive and encouraging podcasts.

Getting Started

All you need to get started with Couch to 5K is a pair of trainers, along with some headphones and a device to listen along to the podcast while running. In terms of running space, you could discover your local park or make use of pavements, while staying aware of any pedestrians or cars around you.

It is also good to have a rough idea of when you are going to run and how that is going to fit into your daily routine. The programme expects you to run 3 days a week with a days rest between each run so a good plan might be to run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I ran in the morning as I found it woke me up for the day and interfered the least with my daily routine. Make sure your plan works for you as you don’t want it to become a barrier. If it becomes hard to stick to, simply review and adjust your plan till it works.

Keeping Going

Motivation can be hard. But, with the Couch to 5K, I found it was less of a problem than other fitness programmes I’ve tried. First of all, the podcast in your ear (which you can choose to be a fitness instructor or a celebrity) is very encouraging, keeping you on track and giving you tips along the way to improve your running technique. You can also set up digital reminders, through the Couch to 5K app, to trigger you into action at the right time for your next run.

In terms of difficulty, week 1 has really short bursts of running and builds up gradually, for example to 20 minutes running at the end of week 5. The shock and joy I felt when I realised I could run solidly for that long, however slow, was wonderful self-motivation to keep going and reach my ultimate goal of 5K. The pace that Couch to 5K increases your stamina, to me, is perfect as in the later weeks, I know longer felt much strain when increasing running time compared to the first few weeks.

Accountability is a great form of external motivation, which works well for me. In my case, my sister was also taking part in Couch to 5K so the competitive drive came in, which prevented me falling behind in my plan too often. Try challenging a friend or family member to take on Couch to 5K too and check in on each other’s progress in a fun and positive manner.

You’ve got to take on Couch to 5K because you want to and make it enjoyable. Apart from the fact you will feel good mentally and physically once you have been physically active outdoors, you can reward yourself after each successfully completed run e.g. by having a bath or relaxing with a good book and a hot drink. In fact, you could integrate what you enjoy into each run by listening to music, an audiobook or a podcast while you run. To really have a sense of achievement once you have completed the programme, have something to work towards like a Parkrun or a charity fundraiser.

Sustainable Exercise Partnership - Review of NHS's Couch to 5K

To conclude, although it may feel unachievable to begin with, it gets easier as you go along. You won’t believe how long you are running for in the end! Give it a go if you want to pick up a new hobby, get a sense of achievement and all the while improve both your physical and mental well being.