It’s time to get out of the gym and put those muscles to use. This Reps beginners’ guide will get you race-ready for the popular 5K distance in just five weeks.
Forget dreary cardio workouts that take you on the road to nowhere. Running your first 5K — or improving your time if you’ve already done one — will give you a mental and physical boost like no other cardio program. And it’s a much more unique way to drop those last few pounds if you’ve started feeling like a gym gerbil in a wheel.
The 5K race distance is quick and fun, and doesn’t require the high volume of training that goes along with longer distances like the marathon, half-marathon, or even the 10K. In fact, if you’re already in good shape and have decent cardiovascular fitness, you can whip yourself into 5K race form in a mere five weeks, with only three days a week of running. If you want to be even better prepared, you simply repeat the program again for 10 weeks total.
You’re likely already hitting the gym on a regular basis and have a reasonable fitness base, which is why we’ve crafted this unique plan with you in mind. It’s not your ordinary beginner 5K routine that simply piles on a series of slow jogs and walk breaks. Instead, we’ve crafted a plan that’s going to ratchet up your running speed with a combination of hill intervals, HIIT sessions and steady-but-brisk runs that’ll get your heart pumping and your legs burning (in a good way, of course). Much like lifting weights, a properly focused running program can do more for you in less time.
Before You Begin
Get a good pair of running shoes (see “5 Pairs of Running Kicks to Get You Race-Ready” below). Try on several different pairs before your purchase, selecting ones that conform well to the shape of your foot.
Tip: To test for proper sizing, reach down from a standing position and press in front of the tip of your big toe. You should have at least half an inch of space between the tip of the toe and the end of the shoe.
Invest in some comfortable running apparel, including technical-fiber shorts, a T-shirt, and good running socks. If you follow this program properly, you’ll be sweating a lot during each session — the microfiber fabric and strategically vented designs (think mesh webbing at the armpits and lower back) can mean the difference between an exhilarating run and a miserable slog.
Plot a good route. Use an online map program such as gmap-pedometer.com to chart a loop route or an out-and-back. Pick an area with good footing, preferably in an area with minimal traffic, like a bike path in a park or a well-groomed trail. Measure out the distance of your route so that you can keep track of your mileage.
Find a hill. Yes, the program has a hill repeat workout component, so look for a hill that’s about 150–200 yards long, with a moderate incline. What’s that? You live in Kansas? No problem — you can do the hill work on a treadmill.
Don’t worry about missing a workout. The program isn’t built like a deck of cards. If you miss one or two of the runs, the whole thing won’t collapse. If you’re struggling with the workouts or feel an injury coming on, substitute some of the Tuesday or Thursday speedwork days for easy runs of 3–4 miles. Running 5K or longer in training a few days a week will still set you up for a good 5K race, even if your training is done at an easy pace. It’s better to err on the side of being conservative and arrive at the start line on race day motivated and healthy than to get burned out or injured beforehand. Be as consistent as possible over the five weeks and you’ll establish a strong foundation of running strength and speed for your 5K-goal race.
Build a base. This is designed as a beginner program, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If you’re not comfortable jogging for 20–30 minutes, start off with three or four weeks of slow running with walk breaks as needed, until you can run continuously for at least 25 minutes.
Countdown to Race Time
2 Hours: Eat a light, high-carb meal, like a small bowl of oatmeal and strawberries, and drink a big glass of water.
1 Hour: Pick up your race kit and pin on your number. At some races, you’ll also get a timing chip to wrap around your ankle.
45 Minutes: Have a few gulps of energy drink or some water and a piece of banana.
30 Minutes: Line up for the Porta-Potty to empty your bladder before the start. Nothing worse than having to take a leak during the race.
20 Minutes: Do a 5-minute warm-up jog, including a few “pickups” — 5 or 10-second mini-sprints at a brisk pace, but not a full-on sprint.
15 Minutes: Line up at the start. Try to find a spot near others who are running your pace. Ask a few other runners what time their shooting for and consider pacing off them during the race. Don’t line up right at the front unless you think you’ll be in the top 10, and don’t go too far back or you’ll spend half the race dodging and weaving through packs of slower runners.
5 Minutes: Run or hop on the spot a bit and take a few deep breaths to stay relaxed.
Race Time: And you’re off! Start your stopwatch when the gun goes off. Stay relaxed at the beginning and give yourself a couple of minutes to settle nicely into your goal pace. Check your pace at the 1K marker to make sure you’re on target and adjust accordingly. Think about all the good training runs you put in and focus on staying strong and maintaining smooth running form. Take it 1K at a time and before you know it; the finish will be in sight. Kick it in hard to the line and savor the moment.
5 Pairs of Running Kicks to Get You Race-Ready
The summer’s top running shoes deliver on the performance front, but there’s another big trend this season: bold color schemes. These sleek designs allow for an easy transition into the gym or even as a fashion statement for a casual look with jeans.
Adidas adizero Boston 3
This shoe gets its name from the Boston Marathon, but don’t worry, it’s a great choice for 5K races and shorter runs as well. A new Continental rubber outsole improves grip, while strategically placed cushioning in the heel and toe provide efficient propulsion.
The decoupled heel helps channel impact forces down the center of the shoe.
Asics Gel-DS Trainer 17
A versatile shoe that offers a foot-hugging fit, breathable mesh upper, a responsive midsole and some support for those with lower arches. A great training shoe that’s also nimble enough to race in.
The Clutch Collar System holds the heel in place to reduce friction.
Lightweight and flexible, the second generation 890 brings runners a bit closer to the ground but still provides excellent cushioning for its weight class. A low profile and glove-like fit make these a great option for 5K training as well as gym workouts.
Welded overlays save weight and reduce the risk of chafing.
Saucony Kinvara 3
This very popular minimalist offering from Saucony gets a makeover, with a more durable sole, a redesigned heel with added flex grooves and a more streamlined upper. It maintains the same very low heel-to-toe drop of 4 millimeters.
A new beveled heel creates a smoother transition for runners who tend to heelstrike.
Mizuno Wave Rider 15
Pulling together the best attributes from the previous 14 generations, this moderate neutral shoe features improved midsole engineering, including larger flex grooves and new flex controllers, mimicking the natural movements of the foot.
Deep grooves on the outsole enhance natural foot flex.
Overhead presses are the best way to start your shoulder workouts as they target all three heads (emphasis on the front and middle). The superset is a one-station dandy that targets the middle delt (upright row) and then the rear delt (though it’s done one arm at a time), requiring only a change in handles.
Cable Upright Row
Cable Lateral Raise
Tip: Don’t cheat on upright rows or single-arm bent-over cable raises.
The wide grip hits the upper lats and middle back muscles especially well. Both major types of back exercises are included here: rows and pulldowns. The superset is done on the same cable station: the first exercise targets the upper lats; the latter the lower lats.
Standing T-Bar Row
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
Straight-Arm Cable Pulldown
Tip: For maximum contraction, retract your scapulae on each rep of back exercises.
Because there are so many muscle groups that make up the leg, this is the only workout that consists of two supersets. Go heavy on the leg press and then rep to failure with bodyweight squats (great for quads emphasis). After three sets grab a pair of dumbbells and alternate romanian deadlifts with lunges (more emphasis on glutes and hams).
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
Tip: The multijoint-based supersets will fully exhaust your lower body in minutes.
Though not a multijoint move, the barbell curl is considered the top mass builder as you can move the most weight. With your elbows tight to your sides — don’t allow your elbows to pull forward so there’s no contribution from the shoulders — you can work both biceps heads. You’ll get a slightly different angle of pull with the first cable curl and the benefit of working each side independent of the other. Move the cable quickly to the top and you shift the focus to the biceps’ short head.
Standing One-Arm Cable Curl
Standing One-Arm High-Pulley Cable Curl
Tip: To engage additional muscle fibers, hold and squeeze at the peak contraction.
Again, starting off with a multijoint move allows you to go really heavy and overload the arms. The superset pairing requires an EZ-bar and a flat bench; when you hit failure with the skullcrushers, go right into the pressdown. With your arms angled toward your head (as opposed to by your sides) on the skull, you get more long head activation, which is important as it’s the bulkiest of the three triceps heads.
EZ-Bar Cable Skullcrusher
Tip: Overload with heavy weights early in your workout.