How To Go From Couch To 10k: The Ultimate Training Plan

How To Go From Couch To 10k: The Ultimate Training Plan

Watching TV is great, but every once in a while, an explosion or a glimpse of a perfect body gives you a sudden burst of adrenaline. You want to get up, shrug the potato chip flakes off your shirt, and do something.

But you’ve been on that couch a while, haven’t you? The idea of going for a run, getting in shape, seeing the results–that’s all good. It’s just getting there that’s difficult.

There’s a lot of information out there, and even more possible goals to strive for. Long-distance? Weight loss? Speed?

However, there’s a cross-section where they all meet: endurance. Without endurance, you won’t be able to run great distances at great speed all while shedding excess baggage. But the most important part? Endurance can be built. It’s almost like that scene in Kill Bill–all you need to do is to wiggle your big toe; the rest is easy.  

Here, all you need to be able to do is walk.

Well, that and the right workout regimen. There are so many out there to choose from, and they can be incredibly confusing. That’s where Couch to 10k comes in. They streamline the process, so all you have to do is run.

How Long Is a 10k

The K in 10K stands for kilometers. One kilometer is 0.621371 miles.  This leads to the result of our equation that a 10K race is  6.2 miles long.

What is Couch to 10k?

Created by Zen Labs, Couch to 10k (C210K) is a free mobile app that eases beginners and takes them over the course of a 14-week workout schedule to experienced runners capable of completing a 10k (half marathon) run.

Couch to 10k is the sequel app to Zen’s original Couch to 5k (C25K). Couch to 10k provides a 14-week guide to, well, going from the couch to running 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). Though a continuation, it makes allowances for the already initiated. If you were a graduate of Zen’s C25K, this new app will allow you to skip to Week 9, so you can pick up where you left off.

The C210K app is one of the most downloaded health and fitness apps in the Google Play store. It has been lauded by Glamour Magazine, CBS News and Fox.

The streamlined process allows for ease of use. All you have to do is the literal legwork.

The App

Instead of drowning you in charts, data and jargon, the app provides a simple program. Its intuitive interface allows for ease of use–click on the date and your goal for the day is listed in a single, clear sentence. The days are specifically listed, so you have the freedom to decide what days you run–just keep it within a seven day period for the best results. Stagnating and segmenting your workouts too far from each other will keep you from making progress (schedule examples below).

The C210K also has secondary features. Chief among them is the Smart Alert system. An upgraded version of the old audio coach from the 5k version, the Smart Alert system tells you when it is time to shift between walking and running and for how long. Using this feature ensures you are getting the most out of your run without overdoing it.

A paid feature will also allow you to track the calories burned and distance traveled during your exercises. This will become more important as time goes on.

The C210K is incredibly compatible with other apps. In conjunction with Google Fit and Nike+GPS, you can chart your progress and find optimal running locations.

The app can connect you through FaceBook and Twitter to other runners in your area working the same Couch to 10k program. Running in groups or even as a pair can be beneficial; either working to keep each other honest or just having someone to share the experience with. Running alongside other people with similar goals will allow for the exchange of ideas, strategies, diets and more.

Finally, Zen has loaded the Couch to 10k app with a large selection of specially curated running music. The DJ-produced selection is designed to increase motivation (and claims to increase it by 35% successfully). If electronic music isn’t necessarily to your taste, you can still use your own playlist in or out of the app without the music affecting the C210K. Of course, be mindful of what you’re listening to. Somehow, Lou Reed doesn’t exactly motivate you to run harder or faster.

Going from Homer Simpson to Rainier Wolfcastle

The app breaks down your 14-week calendar into three workouts a week. Clicking a day will give you the total duration of the workout along with how many minutes should be spent walking and running. Over the course of 14 weeks, the duration will increase from 20 minute runs with a modest time spent walking to hour-long excursions spent entirely running.

Couch to 10k keeps you on a careful but steady incline that is accessible to complete novices. It promises quite a bit in a short period of time, but not at the cost of your physical health–provided you listen to the instructions (including doing the warm-ups and changing speed when the alert system tells you to).  

However, it should be noted that running a 10k in 14 weeks will be close to impossible if you don’t take care of yourself outside of the regimen. Incorporating things like diet, secondary exercises, and proper footwear will make reaching the 10k goal a whole hell of a lot easier. Also, I’m sorry in advance for the loss of all of your favorite foods.

Diet: No, You Will Not Take Fries with That (I’m sorry)

I know, I know, might as well drop the “T” in “diet.”

Don’t worry though.

Because though some things will have to change, it’s probably not as drastic as you think. Of course, we’re not advocating going to bed hungry. In fact, going to bed hungry is detrimental; not only are you compromising your ability to sleep, but your body will hold on to calories as a way to stave off starvation, making it more difficult to lose weight in the process.

Do not go to bed hungry and do not skip breakfast.

But please do stop drinking soda (and sugary drinks et al.). Look, I love soda, and it hurts not drinking it, but having it as a rare treat is a lot better than having it constantly. You’ll lose a surprising amount of weight just from cutting that out.

Sadly, of course, you will still lose your bacon, burgers, and fries. However, this is not a full deprivation diet. You’ll still be available for some treats: pizza, dark chocolate (if you’re so inclined), coffee and pasta are still on the menu with dozens of healthy variations. Snacks such as almonds, yogurt, eggs (usually hard-boiled like the best detective fiction), peanut butter and bananas can be had throughout the day.

As for the more day-to-day meals, we certainly hope you like salmon and grilled chicken. We hope you like them a lot.

Day 1

Breakfast: Oatmeal with mixed berries (no syrup)

Lunch: Hummus with carrots

Potential midday snacks: Either trail mix, unsalted and unbuttered popcorn, almonds, or non-greek yogurt

Dinner: Baked chicken

Day 2

Breakfast: Oatmeal with mixed berries (no syrup)

Lunch: Chicken salad (no mayo) with grapes and lettuce

Potential midday snacks: Either trail mix, unsalted and unbuttered popcorn, almonds, or non-greek yogurt

Dinner: Salmon

Day 3

Breakfast: Oatmeal with mixed berries (no syrup)

Lunch: Peanut butter and banana sandwich (not fried; sorry, Mr. Presley)

Potential midday snacks: Either trail mix, unsalted and unbuttered popcorn, almonds, or non-greek yogurt

Dinner: Homemade thin crust pizza


Of course, this is just a sample diet. You would need to create a schedule covering all seven days of the week. Thankfully there are many more healthy food recipes out there, so you won’t feel too deprived.

If weight loss is a major motivating point for you, please be aware that you will undoubtedly (and several times) plateau. At that point, no matter how much harder or faster you go, you will not shed any more weight. Your body has simply become accustomed to this diet and exercise routine, and you will probably need to make changes in order to reach that next level.

However, the Couch to 10k course provides enough change in a brief enough period of time to ensure that stagnation over the course of the 14 week training period is nearly impossible.

Secondary Exercises (Cross-training is a friend)

Secondary exercises are an important facet of fitness. Many runners often use cross-training as a secondary exercise. Not to be confused with CrossFit, cross-training involves exercises that will supplement your main exercise.

Cross-training can be applied to running quite easily. Doing them on day in between runs will keep your muscles active and engaged but not overly so. When done correctly, they will build upon the work done by your runs, aiding in strength, endurance, and maneuverability.

If you decide to add cross-training to supplement the Couch to 10k regimen, you’ll want to pick exercises that will work out muscle groups that are already used in your run, as well as muscle clusters that aren’t. The human body is highly adaptable, and the way to achieve the best results is to keep it from getting complacent.

There are many possible cross-training exercises for runners, but for our uses now, we’ll keep it simple.

SwimmingSwimming is a perfect exercise. It works virtually every muscle group and does not take an incredible amount of effort. A good 30-minute swim is perfect for a cross-training exercise.

Barre, Yoga, or Zumba classes: An important facet to cross-training exercises is the fact that they are often low or no-impact exercises. Since they tend to take place on rest days, these supplementary exercises are not meant to wear you out. Barre, yoga, and Zumba are no-impact exercises that will aid in building strength and flexibility. Take a class once or twice a week.

Push-ups and Pull-ups: This seems like a mistake, but yes, push-ups and pull-ups can be very helpful exercises for runners to do, especially if you’re sore from a difficult run and could really use the rest. Your arms are important for balance when you walk and run. There are even exercises done to teach proper arm movements while running (arm drives, for those interested). Strong arms will not only assist in balance but also help in resistance running, for those running on inclines or difficult terrain.

Proper Footwear

You can have the best running form in the world. You can do feet-centric workouts to build the most vulnerable clusters of muscle. You can still even run stride drills. You can do all of these things, but at the end of the day, your feet are going to hurt. The pain can be mitigated with proper running shoes–we suggest going to a store and choosing the right fit in person, rather than relying on an internet order.

However, people often overlook the importance of a good pair of socks in their running exercises. This will become readily apparent as you get ever-closer to the end of the Couch to 10k schedule.

Most socks are made of cotton, which will make your feet sweat more and lead to blisters.

Rockay’s athletic socks are made of moisture-absorbent wool, which will keep your feet dry. (We can’t guarantee anything about potential blisters–after keeping your foot dry, it’s down to your form and the terrain you’re running on.) Rockay’s socks are also a performance fit, offering support to your arches. They are still, however, lightweight and provide ventilation, so there isn’t an increase in resistance while wearing them. 

Your feet are among your most vulnerable areas. Take care of them. Start by checking out our selection of socks below.

Scheduling the 10k

Throughout the course, the workouts remain structurally identical. You will only have three full runs a week. Each run always begins with a brief but brisk warm-up walk. Many people prefer to skip warming up–don’t do that. Warm-ups seem perfunctory, but they’re worth the time spent. They prevent injury. Ever have a hitch in your get-along? Yeah. Not fun. Do the warm-up.

From there, you will do a fartlek-styled exercise (intervals of running and walking) with the duration of these exercises increasing over time. Interval running is integral to distance and speed running for numerous reasons. First, it reduces the risk of injury. Second, the vacillating speed diversifies the way the muscles are being exercised, keeping them from becoming complacent. Over time, interval running increases strength and endurance while running.

Since you will have intervals of walking, this is where the social component comes into the exercise. When shifting back into the walking parts of the exercise, you’ll want to get your pace slow enough that you can have a conversation with somebody without struggling to breathe. It’s a great litmus test for pace.

C210K only requires three runs a week, leaving the remaining days up to you. We suggest alternating between rest days and cross-training.

For both beginners and returning members, we have an example of the progress you’ll make and new challenges ahead. This will also give you an idea of the investment of time needed to make progress over the course of the next 14 weeks.

Week 1

Monday: Run #1

Workout time: 30 minutes

After a 5 minute warm-up walk, alternate between 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking.

Tuesday: Rest day, or cross-train (swimming, cardio, weightlifting, or yoga)

Wednesday: Run #2

Workout time: 30 minutes

After a 5 minute warm-up walk, alternate between 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking.

Thursday: Cross-train (swimming, cardio, weightlifting, or yoga)

Friday: Run #3

Workout time: 30 minutes

After a 5 minute warm-up walk, alternate between 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking.

Saturday: Rest day or low to no impact exercising

Sunday: Rest day

Week 9

Monday: Run #1

Workout time: 54 minutes

Following a 5 minute warm-up walk, alternate between 10 minutes of jogging and 1 minute of walking.

Tuesday: Cross-train (swimming, cardio, weightlifting, or yoga)

Wednesday: Run #2

Workout time: 54 minutes

Following a 5 minute warm-up walk, alternate between 10 minutes of jogging and 1 minute of walking.

Thursday: Cross-train (swimming, cardio, weightlifting, or yoga)  

Friday: Run #3

Workout time: 54 minutes

Following a 5 minute warm-up walk, alternate between 10 minutes of jogging and 1 minute of walking.

Saturday: Rest day or low to no impact exercising  

Sunday: Rest day

Should I Use Couch to 10k?

Look, getting into shape isn’t easy. No matter what exercise you do or schedule you develop, the process will take time, effort and pain. It’s easy to get carried away, too, once you start making progress and feeling good. Overdoing it causes injuries, and a surefire way to lose the progress that got you excited in the first place.

The best thing about Couch to 10k is that it takes that excitement into account. Its streamlined structure makes it very clear how long you should be running, how long you should be walking, and when to switch it up. It also tells you when it’s time to stop. This is just as important at week 14 as it is in week 1.

Couch to 10k understands the importance of carefully introducing running in the early weeks of the regimen. The increase in time and intensity is done incrementally and with care. For that alone, it’s worth giving it a shot.


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