WAHOOOO! I just got back from a 30-minute run. Me! If you know me you’ll know how monumental that is. If you don’t, let me tell you, it’s pretty flipping monumental.
And after literally completing the app moments ago (I’m still sweating), I wanted to sit down and write this couch to 5k review because it’s honestly one of the best apps I’ve ever discovered!
Starting From (TOTAL) Scratch
When I started Couch to 5K, I really was at level 0. Or maybe level minus 12?! I’ve never been a fit person – and by the end of last year, my unfitness had reached its peak.
Being a travel blogger means I often find myself doing active things, like hiking, as part of a group. And it’s embarrassing to always be the sweatiest, the one always at the back. To find myself out of breath while we’re walking up a very gentle incline.
But the real reason I started Couch to 5K was because I knew that if I was ever in a very dangerous situation, I wouldn’t be able to get out of it by running away. I travel solo, and that means being in charge of my own safety. So I wanted to get fit enough to be able to outrun danger if the need ever arose. I also wanted to be able to talk whilst walking upstairs.
So, I downloaded Couch to 5K and decided to get going. This wasn’t my first foray with the app, but last time my only goal was to lose weight. When I didn’t lose any in the first 3 weeks, my interest failed and I gave up. This time around it was different. I had better goals: get fitter, and be able to outrun a zombie (just in case).
However… I really was starting from scratch. Running for just 60 seconds brought vomit to the back of my throat (no exaggeration). I was in a position where I could never have imagined completing a thirty-minute run. Never. And yet here I am…
My Couch to 5K Review
So… from zero to hero, just like that. Except without the training montage or the gospel choir of muses* to cheer me on!
Did Couch to 5K really work? YES!
The first week starts with eight 60 second runs, broken up with 90 seconds of walking between each run. From there it builds up gradually, until the end of week 5 when you have your first unbroken 20-minute run. By week 9, you’re doing 30-minute runs.
Back when I started the Couch to 5K app, I saw how fast the progress was meant to be and thought: “that’s impossible”. I knew my fitness levels and I knew that a thirty-minute run was definitely not 9 weeks away for me.
And, to be honest, it took me more than 9 weeks to get there. I had to repeat the first week because my stamina just wasn’t quite there yet. I also had to space out my runs so I was doing slightly less than 3 a week, because my lifestyle (and fitness levels) made it hard for me to run every other day. And I had to take a lot of breaks to let my shins recover because my crap trainers meant I kept getting shin splints!
But it didn’t matter how long it took me to complete the Couch to 5K. What matters is that I completed it, in my own time, and progressed from literally sitting on the couch doing nothing, to running for thirty minutes without dropping dead. I can definitely outrun that zombie if the need arises!
(*hands up if you got the Disney reference!)
Best Couch to 5K App
This Couch to 5K review is all about the free NHS version of the app (links below). It has honestly been amazing – I can’t believe it’s free.
Aside from the programme structure, which gradually builds your strength up until you can run for thirty minutes, the Couch to 5K app from the NHS has a ton of great features.
It’s simple and user-friendly, although it doesn’t do anything fancy like track your weight or measure distance. You can easily do those things on your own though, using other apps.
Choose Your Trainer
My favourite thing is that you can choose the voice of your “trainer”. There’s Laura, the original voice of the Couch to 5K app, but the app has also teamed up with BBC’s Get Inspired to bring a few more recognisable names.
You can also choose from Jo Wiley, Sarah Millican, Sanjeev Kohli, or Michael Johnson. I picked Jo Wiley and honestly – I don’t think I could have finished the Couch to 5K without her! Positive without being annoying, motivating without being cheesy… she was my perfect running partner! You can change whenever you want, or have the same trainer all the way through.
UPDATE Jan 2023: More trainers have been added since I wrote this post. You can now choose from Reece Parkinson, Yasmin Evans, Jo Whiley, Denise Lewis, Sanjeev Kohli, Sarah Millican, and Laura (the default).
You can play music in another app while Couch to 5K is open, and when the trainer pops up to talk it automatically lowers the music for you so you can hear them. That’s the other best bit. Jo would pop up to tell me when to run and when to walk – and how long I had left. There’s nothing more motivating when you’re about to give up, and someone in your ear tells you there are only five minutes left to go and to just keep going.
There’s also a lot of useful info within the app itself, and on the BBC Get Inspired site, about how to run. Jo slipped in a few useful tips along the way – like how to pace myself, what to eat and drink – as well as more motivational tips, like repeating a mantra (“I love running”) to yourself as you go.
My Top Tips for Couch to 5K
Know your goals!
Make sure you know why you’re running and what you want to get out of it. That way you can track your progress and see what you’ve achieved. But let me be honest – if your main goal is to lose weight fast, you might find that Couch to 5K isn’t for you. If you want to build your fitness and learn to run further, it’s amazing.
Go your own pace
I don’t just mean running speed, but the pace at which you follow the app. When I started, I simply didn’t have the energy for 3 runs a week, so I was doing each week of the Couch to 5K in about 8-10 days. And I did the first week twice before moving on to Week Two because I needed to build my stamina a bit more.
Get the right gear
I cannot stress this enough: buy decent trainers! In the beginning, a cheap pair of running shoes was fine for me because the actual runs were short, and I didn’t know if I was really going to stick with it. But I burnt through them fast and soon found I was getting pains in my knees, ankles, and arches because my shoes weren’t supporting me.
In the end, I went to a specialist running store and had my feet properly measured. I have really wide feet and low arches, so I’m now the proud owner of some men’s Hoka Arahi’s. They have structuring to make up for the fact that my feet turn inwards when I land. Oh – and get some good, padded running socks. Turns out my nasty blisters could have largely been prevented if I’d invested in some decent socks early on.
You also need a decent sports bra. I’ve used the Panache Wired Sports Bra for years (not the same one) and I can’t recommend it enough. The support is amazing.
You don’t need fancy expensive leggings or a pretty running top, but you DO absolutely need decent trainers, a good sports bra, and padded socks. Got to look after yourself!
Make a happy playlist
Last tip. You need music that distracts you, fills you with joy, and makes you not hate what you’re doing. For me, it was 90s club music. Rhythm is a Dancer, Two Times, Encore un Fois, etc… that’s just how cool I am! Make a playlist that REALLY makes you happy – preferably bouncy stuff that helps set a good pace.
Find Your Time!
I am definitely NOT a morning person. But I also have really low energy levels in the evening. And I don’t like exercising when my stomach is even remotely full. In the end, I found that for me, the best time to run was first thing in the morning. I put my stuff out ready the night before, get up, drink a glass of water, and GO. I like the feeling of getting something done and ticked off my to-do list before the day even starts!
But that’s not for everyone. It might not fit around your work schedule, or you might be even less of a morning person than me. Maybe you prefer evenings, when it’s cooler and there are fewer people around. Maybe late at night? Figure out the best time for you and work your runs to suit that. If the run is at a time of day you don’t mind, it’ll feel less like a punishment.
Couch to 5K Review – 5 Month Update
It’s been five months since I completed the app and wrote this Couch to 5K review. So I thought I’d drop back in with an update.
I kept the running up for several weeks after completing the app – but I found my interest in running waning when I didn’t have a trainer in my ear or a goal to work towards. So I started setting myself challenges to beat my time or run further in the 30 minutes.
Later, a few health problems got in my way, and I ended up taking most of the summer off. And if you don’t practice a skill, you lose it! Today for the first time in a couple of months, I dug my running trainers out, popped my headphones in, and hit the Common. I started from scratch again, with week one of the Couch to 5K app, but it was a lot easier than the last time I started. On my next run, I’ll skip ahead to Week 2 and see how quickly I can work my way through the app this time.
However, I still say that Couch to 5K is the BEST running app out there for beginners. My fitness levels are still so much better than they used to be, I’m better at running, and I even – almost – enjoy it. I enjoy the solitude, as well as seeing the sun on the sea first thing in the morning. And I LOVE the feeling of achievement when it’s over.
3 Year Update
Jumping back in with another update! As mentioned above, ongoing health problems meant I had to take a lot of breaks from running. I got back into it a few times, and each time Couch to 5K was amazing, but the long term damage to my knee means no more running for me these days.
Luckily, I can still use an elliptical trainer without feeling like my joints are going to snap! So I’ve joined a gym and I’m working my way back through the Couch to 5K app again.
Happy to report that the app works just as well for running on the treadmill or cross-trainer as it does in the great outdoors. I still LOVE it, and I will never stop recommending it.
Give it a Go!
If you think you can’t run, you want to get fitter but don’t know where to start, or you just want to try a new challenge… Couch to 5K is for you. I honestly believe that if I can do it, anyone can! If you do give it a whirl, be sure to get in touch and let me know how you get on. GOOD LUCK!
Did you like this Couch to 5K review? If you’ve tried the app too I would love to hear your thoughts on it, so scroll down to leave a comment.