How to start running if you're a complete beginner: A couch to 5k plan

From preparing for a run to creating a regular routine, our guide on how to start running is here to help...

How to start running: Woman running outside
(Image credit: Getty)

If you're curious about how to start running but don't know where to begin, you're in luck! Our expert guide has got you covered. 

You’ve got yourself a pair of the best running shoes for women, maybe you've also invested in one of the best fitness trackers and best workout leggings too, but even with all the kit, it can be daunting to know how to start running when you've never done it before. 

Millions of people around the world run at least once a week. And, it’s no surprise those numbers are increasing, particularly among women and adults in their mid-life, as we begin to understand more about how it helps boost our bodies and minds.

“Research shows that those who do sport, on average, live six years longer than those who don’t,” says Dr. Sanjay Sharma (opens in new tab), professor and consultant in cardiology at St George’s, University of London. “Sports and regular exercise have countless beneficial effects on a number of conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and heart disease.”

Not only is running one of the best workouts for your physical health, there are lots of mental health and wellbeing benefits too. 

"Serotonin, dopamine and even growth-hormone levels have all been shown to be higher post-run, all of which contribute to that euphoric mood-boosting feeling,” Adidas Runners Captain, Olivia Ross Hurst (opens in new tab), explains. “The more you exercise, the more you can boost your mood, as repeated exercise actually enhances the number of dopamine receptors in the brain over time.”

But, before you get started and begin to reap the benefits of running, it's important you're properly prepared. To help you kick off your running journey, we spoke to the experts who revealed their top tips for getting started. 

1. Prepare properly for a run

Before you hit the road or treadmill, make sure to invest in good running shoes and hi-vis clothing. Your trainers should be comfortable, lightweight, breathable and with enough flexibility that they spring back as you move. If they feel like a natural extension of your foot, you've got yourself a good pair! 

Before you start running, always do a warm-up and once you've finished, take a few minutes to cool down. This could be as simple as a five-minute brisk walk before and after your run, or you could do a short at-home workout as a warm up or cool-down. 

If you can, start running on flat surfaces to minimize joint-damaging jolts. But, if you're keen to hit the trails, invest in a pair of the best trail running shoes for extra support.  

If you have an existing medical condition or any concerns about starting a new exercise routine, you should speak with your doctor before you start running. 

If you're diabetic, it's particularly important to let your doctor know you're taking up running and ensure you have well-fitting trainers to protect your feet, especially if you have poor circulation. 

2. Building up slowly is best 

Not only will you want to know how to start running, but you also want to know how to stay running. To keep up the momentum, it's important to build up strength and fitness gradually. Christina Macdonald, running guru and author of Run Yourself Fit, recommends experimenting with walk/run intervals in a similar format to the NHS’s Couch to 5K running plan.

“Each week, try to make small increases in the amount of time you run or reduce the walking intervals,” Christina suggests. Her eight-week plan will help you steadily increase your running time while giving your body time to recover. Only increase your run time by 10% each week to keep you feeling fresh and raring to go.

women tying up running shoes

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Create a regular routine and follow a training schedule

It's important to create a running routine that works for you. Running is something you should enjoy, so don't set unrealistic goals of running 5km in the first few weeks. To get started, Christina recommends running three times a week, increasing your time each week and choosing a day and time that fits in with the rest of your routine so you can build up a running habit. To get started, use this running schedule as inspiration: 

Week 1

  • Monday: Run 1 min/walk 2 mins x 5 = 15 mins
  • Wednesday: Run 1 min/walk 1 min x 5 = 10 mins
  • Friday: Rest or gentle cross-trainer, cycling or swimming 15 mins
  • Saturday: Run/walk 15 mins with as few walk breaks as possible

Week 2

  • Monday: Run 1 min/walk 2 mins x 6 = 18 mins
  • Wednesday: Run 2 mins/walk 1 min x 6 = 18 mins
  • Friday: Rest or gentle cross-trainer, cycling or swimming 20 mins
  • Saturday: Run/walk 20 mins with as few walk breaks as possible

Week 3

  • Monday: Run 2 mins/walk 2 mins x 6 = 24 mins
  • Wednesday: Run 3 mins/ walk 1 min x 4 = 16 mins
  • Friday: Rest or gentle cross-trainer, cycling or swimming 22 mins
  • Saturday: Run/walk 25 mins with as few walk breaks as possible

Week 4

  • Monday: Run 3 mins/walk 2 mins x 4 = 20 mins
  • Wednesday: Run 4 mins/walk 2 mins x 4 = 24 mins
  • Friday: Rest or gentle cross-trainer, cycling or swimming 25 mins
  • Saturday: Run/walk 30 mins with as few walk breaks as possible

Week 5

  • Monday: Run 5 mins/walk 2 mins x 3 = 21 mins
  • Wednesday: Run 5 mins/walk 1 mins x 5 = 30 mins
  • Friday: Rest or gentle cross-trainer, cycling or swimming 25 mins
  • Saturday: Run/walk 35 mins with as few walk breaks as possible

Week 6

  • Monday: Run 6 mins/walk 1 min x 4 = 28 mins
  • Wednesday: Run 9 mins/walk 3 mins at brisk pace x 3 = 36 mins
  • Friday: Rest or gentle cross-trainer, cycling or swimming 30 mins
  • Saturday: Run/walk 37 mins with as few walk breaks as possible

Week 7

  • Monday: Run 7 mins/walk 1 min x 3 = 24 mins
  • Wednesday: Run 12 mins/walk 3 mins at brisk pace x 2 = 30 mins
  • Friday: Rest or gentle cross-trainer, cycling or swimming 35 mins
  • Saturday: Run/walk 40 mins with as few walk breaks as possible

Week 8

  • Monday: Run 8 mins/walk 1 min x 4 = 36 mins
  • Wednesday: Run 15 mins easy pace/walk 3 mins at brisk pace then run 5-10 easy pace at the end = 23-28 mins
  • Friday: Rest or gentle cross-trainer, cycling or swimming 40 mins
  • Saturday: Run/walk 45 mins with as few walk breaks as possible

4. Think about your posture

Good posture is crucial for your health and performance, says Lynne Cantwell, clinic director and physiotherapist at Six Physio (opens in new tab). It will help you avoid injury and improve your running technique. 

“Imagine a line going from your ears to the ground – all of your body parts should stay as close to this as possible,” Lynne advises. When you start running check your posture by focusing on the positioning of your neck, shoulders and mid-back, arms and feet. 

  • Neck: Avoid sticking it out and keep it in line with your shoulders. A Pilates chin-tuck exercise will help you practise retracting your neck.
  • Shoulders and mid-back: Keep your ears over your shoulders and gently drawn back. Keep your back straight and upright, but not rigid.
  • Arms: Bend your elbows at 90º and keep them underneath your shoulders. When you extend backwards, your hand should just graze your pocket.
  • Feet: Aim for a mid-foot strike. You’ll be lighter on your feet and have more bounce – plodding on your heels will put more pressure on your knees. Keep your foot stride close to your centre – so one foot is in front and one foot behind (but no more than a foot length).

woman running together outside near moutains

(Image credit: Getty Images)

5. Don't give up

Consistency is key when it comes to taking up something new, and running is no different. Start slow, take it easy and don't beat yourself up if you sometimes have to run slower or walk more in the early days. 

Christina says you should always avoid setting off too quickly and use the talk test to see if you're running at the right speed. You should be able to run while speaking normally as you build up your stamina. 

On the days in between runs, you can help improve your running technique and build strength by doing at-home workouts such as yoga routines for runners, resistance band workouts or strength training exercises. 

If you're lacking workout motivation, team up with a friend and train together or join an in-person or virtual running club such as the Nike Run Club, Adidas Runners or women's running community Run Panthera. 

Natalia Lubomirski is a health journalist with 14 years experience in the publishing industry. She has worked for a number of well-known magazines and websites including Marie Claire,, woman&home, Top Sante, Boots and The Telegraph. 

She likes to think she practices what she preaches when it comes to health and fitness. She loves the great outdoors and you’ll often find her up a mountain somewhere. She’s climbed eight major mountain ranges across four continents and hit the summit of Half Dome (in Yosemite) during her honeymoon.