Couch to 5K is the best way I know to go from total sloth to reasonably healthy human. It’s a program of running in intervals to take you gradually from walking to jogging. You can do the intervals at different speeds on an elliptical machine, too, if you need a low-impact alternative for medical reasons.
It takes about 30 minutes a day, three days a week, for at least ten weeks.
Here’s how to do it.
1. Walk for half an hour
No, really! The first Couch to 5K workout is 20 minutes of alternating 60-second runs and 90-second walks, plus 5-minute walks for warming up and cooling down. If you can’t walk for half an hour (or do the elliptical at a comparable speed) without wheezing, you should work up to that first.
This should go without saying, but if you have any sort of medical condition, clear all this with your doctor. I am a sedentary worker with back problems who’s learned to run a bit; I am not a medical professional.
2. Find a distraction
I’m not going to lie: running (or walking) is boring as hell. You need something to take your mind off what you’re putting your body through. If you are lucky enough to have room in your house for a treadmill you can set up in front of your TV, good for you. For the rest of us….
You have an iPod or a phone capable of playing MP3s, right? You can set up a playlist of upbeat songs if you want, but the only thing that really holds my attention is a good audiobook. It’s expensive to buy them new, but you can get them on CD from your local used bookstore and rip them, or subscribe to Audible and get one per month for about $15 each. A six-hour audiobook will last you for an entire month’s jogging, if that’s the only time you listen to it. Most are longer than that. I’m currently listening to the latest Dresden Files book, which clocks in at almost 19 hours. At half an hour per workout, it’s going to last a while.
In a gym, you can watch TV while you use a treadmill… maybe. My gym mostly shows channels I hate, and their sound system is terrible. (The gym does have other fine qualities, and I use the treadmills only when the weather’s too awful to run in the park near my house.) If you’re brave, you can prop up an iPad on the magazine holder and watch something that way, but I’ve sent my iPhone flying across the gym a couple of times. The phone, in its LifeProof case, survived, but my iPad stays at home. I’ve tried using actual books and magazines, but I can’t run and focus on a printed page. Thus the audiobooks.
Start small and cheap. For now, just get yourself something you can listen to, because you are going to have to make one up-front investment of $100 or more: shoes.
3. Get good shoes
If your feet hurt after a half-hour walk, you have the wrong shoes. Go to your local Foot Locker or some such and have them help you find shoes that will not hurt you. If you don’t live near a store with helpful salespeople, the Runner’s World site has a good shoe buying guide.
4. Grab the Ease Into 5K app
Each day, when you press Go, it’ll start playing your music or audiobook and overlay the run/walk commands. It advances to the next day automatically, but you can move back and forth manually if you need to. (More on that in a bit.) If you spring for the GPS upgrade, it’ll tell you how far you ran. You can also use its journal feature to log your weight as you go, and it’ll show you pretty graphs to track your progress.
One caveat: the iOS app can’t play its commands if you switch away from the app or turn off the screen. On the iOS, only the native music app gets to run in the background. Ease Into 5K has to be active during your run. That’s helpful anyway, since you’ll probably want to keep an eye on the timer.
5. Stretch on the off days
The program involves running three days a week. On the in-between days, you need to stretch. I like doing the BodyFlow class at Gold’s Gym, which is a combination of yoga, tai chi, and pilates. (This is one of those other fine qualities I mentioned.) A yoga video at home would be fine.
While I love yoga, please be careful with it. It can really fuck you up if you do it wrong. Also? The Wii Fit is not a good yoga teacher. At least one of the basic poses is shown in a way that will hurt your knee.
Here’s a 15-minute routine that includes all the basic yoga stretches and doesn’t include any of the really problematic poses.
The boring old stretches you learned in elementary school will be fine. Just stretch! I have been neglecting this due to holiday busy-ness, and my calves are painfully tight. Do as I say, not as I do.
After the airborne phone incident, which happened because I was using regular earbuds and accidentally caught my hand on the cord, I invested in a pair of Bluetooth earbuds and a SPIbelt. The Jaybird is a little finicky because it has one button and I can’t ever remember what the various patterns of blinking lights are trying to tell me. I can decipher off, on, and discoverable. I think there’s one for help my battery is dying, but it also plays a series of beeps before it craps out, so I’m good.
When the weather got cold a few weeks ago, I picked up some touchscreen running gloves at Target for about $18. They’re not all that warm, but they’re sufficient for the temperatures in which I am willing to run outdoors. If I can’t feel my hands with the gloves on, I’m fleeing to the gym.
So, how is this working out for me?
After doing this for a few months, I am just now finishing up Week 5. Why? Sometimes I can’t complete a new stage on the first day — that first six-minute run in Week 4 was especially hard — so I repeat it until I can finish all the running intervals before moving on to the next day. Also, I keep getting sick or twisting my ankle stepping off a curb or some such stupid thing, and I have to take a break for a few days and then repeat a workout or two. After being really sick during Week 3, I had to start over. And this is my third attempt! The first time, I gave up after getting the flu. The second time, I got pregnant and had to stop when I got too big to run comfortably.
And that’s okay. I know that I feel better when I’m running regularly, even if my progress is slow and stuttered. This weekend I’ll be running for ten minutes straight. That’s amazing, given how hard the first week was.