5k Training Tips for Beginners

You could walk the entire 5k if you needed to, but training for it can significantly reduce your risk of injury and improve the health of your heart.
You could walk the entire 5k if you needed to, but training for it can significantly reduce your risk of injury and improve the health of your heart.

Spring is almost here! The chilly weather is finally warming up and outdoor activities are getting more popular. You hear the birds chirping outside your office window while you sip your morning coffee, and your boss walks up to you with the “I have a favor to ask of you” smirk. He asks if you’d like to do a 5k with him and some of the other guys in the office. Instinctually, you immediately reply with an emphatic “Yes!” before you realize what you were getting yourself into. You go on to tell him how you love doing 5k’s, you used to be on the track team in college and you’re still an avid runner. Meanwhile, you begin to wonder what pickle of a mess you’ve gotten yourself into. You try to remember the last time you jogged or used a treadmill without being sentenced to days of aches and pains plaguing your stiff joints. You realize that you can’t even remember the last time you put sneakers on your two left feet; much less which closet you hid your sneakers in.

Have no fear; the 5k is not nearly as intimidating as you may think!  Five kilometers is the equivalent of only 3.1 miles, so you could actually complete the entire race by walking the distance if you wanted.  You don’t need any previous running experience, but you can use the 5k as an opportunity to jump-start your fitness routine by strengthening your body and improving your cardiovascular endurance with an easy to follow 6-week training program. 

One of the greatest benefits of 5k training is making your body mobile, stable, and strong enough to complete the distance without getting injured. It’s best to start off your training program with slower speeds and lesser intensities to you give your body a chance to adapt without unnecessary pounding on your joints.

Realistically, your 6-week training program should incorporate 5 days of exercise and 2 days of rest per week. Three of the exercise days a week focus on endurance with run-walk combos where you switch between of walking and running. The remaining two exercise days a week focus on strength training with extra attention paid to exercises which minimize your body’s overall risk of injury.  Functional exercises, core training, cross-training and flexibility exercises are very helpful to ward off injury while walking, jogging and running. The remaining 2 days a week are dedicated to rest so your body can recover both physically and psychologically from the impact of your workouts.

Run-walk combos are a great way to improve your endurance and your overall health. Both running and brisk walking can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Research shows that brisk walking is just as good for your health as running. Walking can help you save energy so you can keep moving and finish your distance. If your run the entire distance, you may be out of breath before you know it and you won’t have the energy you need to get to the finish line. 

Even if you’ve been sedentary for a long time, you can easily start your 5k training by concentrating on higher levels of brisk walking than running in your beginning training stages. Begin your run-walk combo by walking to warm up for approximately 5 minutes, then alternate between running and walking intervals for the desired duration or distance to complete your training session. If you’re a beginner, running for just 1 minute may be enough. It takes time to build up your stamina and endurance while you’re running, so take it easy and take your time so you don’t injure yourself along the way. Try running for 1 minute then walking for 5 minutes and repeat this combo for the duration of your workout. Make sure to stop your running segment before your muscles get too tired. If you push yourself close to your max in the walk/run combo, your muscles will need more time to recover and you won’t be able to push yourself effectively for the rest of your workout. Steadiness is key. Begin walking before your muscles get too tired so you can maintain your momentum and allow your muscles to recover quickly.  Finish off by with a cool-down walk for approximately 5 minutes after your workout.

Aim to complete at least 30 minutes of run/walk combos performed 3 days a week to help prepare you for the 5k.

There’s an incredibly potent drill you can add to your training routine to help you run faster.  It’s called a “stride.” Strides are 20-30 second acceleration bursts where you start with a jog, then run near max speed, then go back to a jog. This quick burst is designed to help you loosen up your legs, improve your running technique and help you run faster while expending less effort. Try to incorporate a few strides into your workout mid-week after your distance run. You can start with just a few strides and work your way up to more as your body becomes more conditioned.

Since running is a high impact activity that puts a lot of stress on your body, it’s important to incorporate strength training in your routine to ward off injury. Some functional exercises that improve running technique are squats, lunges and calf raises. Rows and rear deltoid flyes performed with dumbbells are great exercises to strengthen the back and help ensure good posture while running. Core exercises including planks, side planks, pushups, bridges and quadrupeds develop the core strength, stability and balance needed to run. These exercises can help injury-proof your body against the aches and pains that high impact exercise can cause. Aim to complete at least 30 minutes of strength training performed 2 days a week during your 5k training.

Incorporating flexibility exercises into your strength workout is important to help keep you injury-free.  Stretching out your feet, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, hip flexors, piriformis and shoulders are all beneficial to include before your workout. It’s also a great idea to stretch before you perform your run/walk combos to make sure your joints are warmed up. Common running injuries are typically overuse injuries of the foot, lower leg, knee, and hip. One of the most common injuries is called Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, more commonly known as Runner’s Knee, which creates a pain around or underneath the kneecap where the kneecap (patella) rests on the thighbone (femur). This is often the result of poor movement patterns and muscle imbalances where weak quadriceps are coupled with tight hamstrings.  Flexibility and strength training are very important to help balance the tension between muscle groups in order to prevent overuse injuries like Runner’s Knee. 

Lastly, it’s important to know the difference between feeling sore and being in pain. Over the course of your 5k training, your muscles will feel sore from the lactic acid that builds up after each workout. You can push through muscle soreness but you should never push through the pain. If you feel pain and you can tell that something just isn’t right, avoid anything that makes that pain worse until you see a doctor. The last thing you want to do is to exacerbate an injury by putting stress on your joints with weights or high impact activities like running. 

Always listen to your body, it’s important to pay attention to aches and pains from injuries because they are your body’s silent cries for help. If you stick to your 5k training plan with 5 days of exercise a week consisting of 3 days endurance run/walk combos and 2 days strength and flexibility training, and 2 days of rest, you’ll be amazed at how manageable the 5k race can be. As long as you consistently condition your body properly with 6 weeks of training leading up to the 5k, you’ll be prepared to safely run or walk the entire race without getting hurt. 

About the Author - Jay Cardiello is a Health Strategist, Celebrity Trainer and author of the No

Diet Plan.  For fit tips, news and recipes, check out Jay's website at Jcardio.com.


5k Run: 7 Week Training Schedule For Beginners.  Mayo Clinic.  Web.  25 Mar 2016. 

American Running Association.  American Running Association.  Web.  25 Mar 2016.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome.   Hettrich CM, Liechti D.  Orhtho Info, Feb 2015. Web.  25 Mar 2016. 

Running-Specific, Periodized Strength Training Attenuates Loss of Stride Length During Intense Endurance Training.   Esteve-Lanao J, Fleck SJ, Lucia A, Rhea MR.  U.S. National Library of Medicine: PubMed, 22 Jul 2008.  Web.  25 Mar 2016. 

Walk, Don’t Run, Your Way to a Healthy Heart.  American Heart Association, Mar 2014.  Web.  25 Mar 2016.