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 A Beginner's "Couch To 5K" Training Program
Submitted by Rickshaw :: Fri Jan 28, 2005 11:47 am
Cool Running has put together a training program for absolute beginners, designed to help new runners get started in the sport. Their 9-week Couch-to-5K training program is becoming increasingly popular, judging by the many conversations and enthusiastic endorsements on discussion boards. If you're a coach potato who's been looking for a relatively painless way to boost your fitness, this could be just what you need. Let's take a look at the details and see if "C25K" delivers what it promises.

The program outlines specific workouts for a 9-week schedule, with 3 workouts per week. Each workout is designed to last 20-30 minutes. As its introduction says, C25K is more of a walking and jogging plan than a running plan, and the details of the workouts confirm that. All of the workouts involve at least some walking, and many of them are majority walking. The early weeks call for short repetitions of walking and running (sometimes called "Gallowalking"), eventually building to longer periods of continuous running. The total weekly mileage for someone following this plan would probably be 5-10 miles per week.

To decide whether this is a "good" training plan requires knowing who the intended audience is, and what the goal is. C25K is a very conservative training plan, appropriate for those with with little time to spare, and a poor initial fitness level. It may also be appropriate for people who are simply too daunted by a more ambitious plan, and would stick with this one but would probably abandon anything harder. For the literal couch potato, the plan accomplishes the goal of getting them out the door and doing something active, and paves the way for even greater fitness improvements later. That's certainly a benefit for everyone.

For most people, however, C25K simply aims too low. It provides the illusion of fitness without delivering much of it, and causes beginners to underestimate their abilities. Anyone even reading the Cool Running (or Runworks) web site is likely to be at least somewhat physically active, whether in sports or simply in daily activites like chasing after the kids or walking up stairs to work. Such people would likely be happier and see better results with a more ambitious program. The only real advantage to aiming so low is that C25K avoids alienating anyone, but as a result it sets them up for mediocre results.

A few specific concerns about the program:

- 20 to 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week is too little to stay healthy. That's just 60 to 90 minutes of total exercise each week. Current guidelines call for 60 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. While that may be too ambitious for many people, C25K's totals are clearly too little.

- 20 to 30 minute workouts are too short. You'll spend considerably more time changing before and after the workout, showering, etc. than you will actually working out. Considering that the 20-30 minutes includes a 5 minute warmup, and you're looking at as little as 15 minutes of exercise. Fewer, longer workouts would provide a better return on the time invested.

- The total amount of running is too little to make much fitness improvement. 60-90 minutes a week, much of which is walking, will only add up to about 5 miles a week. That's not enough to create a major fitness improvment for most people.

- Alternating running/walking (Gallowalking) teaches bad habits. It conditions runners to think that they need to stop and rest often, interfering with the development of endurance, and undermining their confidence. A longer continuous run is much better in this respect than a 1minute run, 1 minute walk cycle, even if the total amount of running in the continuous run is less.

If you're generally healthy, not overweight, and at least modestly active already, then you'll probably see better returns from focusing on longer workouts and more continuous running than the C25K plan calls for. Start by lengthening your workouts to 45 minutes to an hour, even if that means you do fewer per week. You might begin with a one hour walk, twice a week. Eventually add some continuous running, increasing the length of your runs as you're able. Aim to get about an hour's worth of exercise each day, combining walking, running, house cleaning, gardening, climbing stairs, or whatever else you do. Your body will thank you for it.

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