3 Flaws in Couch to 5K (And a Better Plan for Beginner Runners)

3 Flaws in Couch to 5K (And a Better Plan for Beginner Runners)

Mark Kennedy
Founder of None to Run
March 11, 2024

Couch to 5K launched in 1996, but its story starts with Josh Clark, a non-runner who found running tough. He wanted a gentler approach, so he created a plan to help his mom ease into it. This became Couch to 5K, which exploded in popularity, helping millions

As a RRCA Certified Distance Running Coach, I am a fan of the simplicity of the Couch to 5K running plan and the encouraging community of runners it builds.

Couch to 5K is a popular program, but it is not the ideal starting point for all fitness levels.

While I realize the Couch to 5K running plan should be looked as a guide and that no generic training plan is perfect, it has three big flaws:

  • 💪 There’s no strength and mobility component
  • ⌚ Focuses on distance instead of time
  • 📈 Progresses too quickly

These flaws make Couch to 5k especially difficult for (real) beginner runners, and those who are overweight.

None to Run vs Couch to 5K

If you want to start running, you need a plan that progresses with you. Running shouldn’t be so hard that you risk injuring yourself, burning out, or giving up. That’s why I made an easy, 12-week plan and app for REAL beginners, called None to Run (N2R).

1. There is no strength and mobility component in the Couch to 5K.

Running is stressful on the body. Especially when you're just getting started.

Beginner runners generally do not have the lower body strength needed to prepare them for the demands of running.

Some general strength and mobility exercises will help you manage the demands. It will also cut the chances of getting injured. Staying injury free during the first few weeks of running is crucial. 5-10 minutes of strength training per week will do wonders. No equipment required.

Couch to 5K suggests stretching before and each workout.

I think you will get much more bang for your buck with a simple strength and mobility routine.

2. Run for time in the beginning (not distance).

When you're just getting started as a runner, your body does not know how far you ran. It only knows that you were on your feet for a certain amount of minutes.

Couch to 5K states that you can run for time or run for distance. When running for distance, beginner runners often feel pressure to cover a certain distance in a certain time.

This creates bad running habits that can lead to burnout, injury and less enjoyment.

3.  Repeating (some) weeks should be mandatory.

Beginner runners need time for their bodies and minds to adapt to running.

Newbies often develop injuries like shin splints, Achilles tendinitis, IT band syndrome and plantar fasciitis.

Couch to 5K increases the time or distance run with each week. While it does say to repeat weeks if needed and to progress when you feel ready, I think there should be mandatory repeated weeks.

Repeating weeks is more conservative, decreases the chance of getting injured and perhaps most importantly, will be more enjoyable.

BONUS: Couch to 5K’s Week 1 is Too Hard

Week 1 of Couch to 5K: Intervals of 1-minute of running and 90-seconds of walking

One minute of running with only a 90-second rest is simply too much for many (not all) beginner runners.  

Struggling through Week 1 from both a physical and psychological aspect often makes people want to quit before gaining any momentum.

Introducing the None to Run Plan for Real Beginners

With the shortfalls of Couch to 5K that I mentioned above, I have a better running plan for you.

Perhaps you have tried Couch to 5K in the past with no success?  

Was moving from week 3 to week 4 too much, too soon?

Maybe you are carrying some extra weight and need a beginner running plan that will serve you better both during AND after it's complete.

👋 Enter None to Run

None to Run:

✔️ includes simple strength and mobility routines (no equipment required)

✔️ is based on running time, not how many miles (or kilometers) you cover

✔️ progresses safely and conservatively

Visual Comparison of N2R vs Couch to 5K

Couch to 5K and None to Run Compared
Click Image for Full Screen

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  4.8 out of 5 (5,100+ ratings)

Loved by beginner runners worldwide (Reviews from the App Store)

"Couch to 5 k made me feel like a failure. This app makes me feel so good about myself. It’s so doable and Mark is like a personal running coach. I’m a type 1 diabetic 63 yrs old using the program off and on for 2 yrs and have done to half marathons last year (run/walk) and have sights on future marathon. Currently using the app to get faster at my 5 k’s - it’s so adaptable. Love it and Mark and the community he has created."
rtcvee - Sept 5, 2023
"I haven’t run in years due to old injuries. I’ve tried couch 2 5k a few times but always ended up getting injured. The slow progression of N2R is just what I needed!"
Frozen Snowman - Jan 15, 2023
"I never rate apps, but this one is simply fantastic. I’m about 100lbs overweight and used to be a runner. This app has helped me get back into without injuring myself. I can’t say enough good things about it. So much better than couch to 5k programs.”
crasmu6 - Jun 7, 2022
"4 weeks in and really happy with the program. App has a handy logbook that shows your pace etc. really helps as a beginner to see your progress. The emphasis on strength training is also very good. Recommend above Couch to 5k.”    
Phoebetherunner - Jan 25, 2021
"Best learn to run app!!
This is a well thought out program and was actually doable, unlike Couch to 5K, which got me injured and feeling like a failure.
On to the 5k!”    
allnicknamestakeneventhisone (N2R app user) - May 9, 2020
Have tried couch to 5k but it went too fast for me. This has worked brilliantly;)”    
me in hucknall - May 18, 2021
"N2R has changed my life!

I love None to Run!

I started at almost 350 lbs and I felt so good about myself and powerful after finishing a run!

The increase in my self esteem and feelings of accomplishment only fed my other weight loss goals and I am down almost 40 lbs in about 6 months! If I can do this program, anybody can.”    
therealheidij (N2R app user) - Jan 9, 2021
"None to Run has been incredible. I tried Couch to 5K several times in the past and always failed. Now, I’m a month into None2Run. The strength component and the optimized interval schedule are the biggest advantage of N2R.

I look forward to running every other day and I haven’t developed shin splints (as I did with Couch to 5K)”    
Leela Biswas (N2R app user) - Jan 9, 2021
"Great app and community!

I switched over from Couch to 5K as I liked the slower progression in None to Run. The app is simple and clear and it’s been a great companion to helping me increase my running times. There’s also a supportive community to become part of."  
aniosteo (N2R app user in the UK) - April 17, 2020

Click here to check out some other success stories from the N2R community.


If you have any questions about the None to Run plan or would like to learn more on how it differs from Couch to 5K, please email me (mark@nonetorun.com).  

A Running App for Real People

In order to become a runner, you don't need much in order to become successful: a plan, an encouraging community and consistency. With N2R, you can have them all.

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Works Around your Schedule

Time is hard to come by. Kids, work, and other commitments can get in the way. You need a plan that's easy to follow and can work around you, not the other way around.

Break down the lies you tell yourself

You look "weird" when you run. You’re “not” a runner. You’re too “slow” or too "Old." We're here to tell you right here, right now, that you’re wrong. You only *think* these things because it's new and you feel uncomfortable. That'll change with consistency and time. You are a runner!

Exercise Smarter, not harder

It may have been hard previously, but it doesn't have to be – now, you'll be given the tools and the knowledge to succeed. We’re doing things differently in order to see different results.

N2R Eases you in

Running when you aren't ready or without the proper training can hurt, leaving you with nagging injuries that never seem to clear up. We ease you in, giving you the strength and conditioning you need to make sure your running doesn't come with pain.