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How to improve your 5K - training program included
Running a 5K is a running benchmark for many people. The distance is the most commonly contested run across America. For example, as of this writing which occurred well in advance of publication, race-find.com listed 510 races for May 11, 2019. Think about that, 510 5K races occurred on one day in May, and that numbers only includes the races listed on Race Find. It is likely many other non-listed 5Ks occurred on that day as well.

Improving your 5K requires a mental commitment (dedication), time commitment, nutrition necessary to fuel performance, and a proper training plan. If any of these elements are missing then your progress will be less than ideal. The best approach to optimizing these areas is working with a coach who will tie these areas together.

This writing is dedicated to the training portion, but we have various articles that focus on nutrition, including All About Nutrition, which you can view here. The time and mental commitment is something you have to provide. If you do not have the motivation to read, understand, and implement a training plan, then you will not be successful. At the same time, if you read as well as understand and attempt to implement, but do not commit the time, you will fail. Training requires sufficient time per session and consistency over time; attempting to rush the process or skip aspects in favor of saving time will not provide the body the necessary stimuli to create adaptations.

Included in this writing is a six-week 5K training program intended for persons with running experience, though a new runner may be able to utilize the program given he or she is reasonably fit and healthy. As you work through this program, keep the following notes in mind:

  • During the warm-up, aim for a minimum of one mile distance at easy-moderate effort.
  • For each sprint, go “as fast as possible for the day,” meaning base the speed on how you feel. That said, good form should be maintained, even if this calls for utilizing lower speeds.
  • For interval training and mile runs, pay close attention to the recommend rate of perceived exertion (easy, moderate, hard). Hard will be near max effort. Moderate would allow you to have a light conversation. Easy would allow you to have an ongoing conversation. You can also use the RPE scale, with 10 being max effort and 1 being easy.
  • During interval training, aim for a minimum of one mile distance.
  • During the cool down, aim for a minimum of half-mile distance.
  • At the end of any week, you should have a bare minimum of 13 miles completed

Week 1 – Day 1

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Easy 3.1 mile run

Interval Training – 10 minutes – Walk one minute, jog or run one minute, hard session

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 1 – Day 2

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Run 100 meters, rest as needed

Run 200 meters, rest as needed

Run 400 meters, rest as needed

Run 800 meters, walk or jog 800 meters

Interval Training – 10 minutes – Walk one minute, jog or run one minute, easy session

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 1 – Day 3

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Moderate effort 1-mile run

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 1 – Day 4

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Easy 3-mile run

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 2 – Day 1

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Easy 2-4 mile run

Interval Training – 10 minutes – Walk one minute, jog or run one minute, hard session

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 2 – Day 2

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Run 100 meters, rest as needed

Run 200 meters, rest as needed

Run 400 meters, rest as needed

Run 800 meters, rest as needed, complete two times

Interval Training – 10 minutes – Walk one minute, jog or run one minute, easy session

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 2 – Day 3

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Max-effort 1-mile run

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 2 – Day 4

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Moderate effort 3-mile run

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 3 – Day 1

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Hard 3.1 mile run

Interval Training – 10 minutes – Walk one minute, jog or run one minute, easy session

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 3 – Day 2

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Run 200 meters, rest as needed, complete two times

Run 400 meters, rest as needed

Run 800 meters, rest as needed, complete three times

Interval Training – 10 minutes – Walk one minute, jog or run one minute, easy session

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 3 – Day 3

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Easy 1-mile run

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 3 – Day 4

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Max-effort 3-mile run

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 4 – Day 1

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Easy 2-4 mile run

Interval Training – 10 minutes – Walk one minute, jog or run one minute, hard session

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 4 – Day 2

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Run 200 meters, rest as needed

Run 400 meters, rest as needed, complete two times

Run 800 meters, rest as needed, complete three times

Interval Training – 10 minutes – Walk one minute, jog or run one minute, easy session

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 4 – Day 3

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Moderate 1-mile Run

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 4 – Day 4

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Easy 4-mile run

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 5 – Day 1

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Hard 3.1 mile run

Interval Training – 10 minutes – Walk one minute, jog or run one minute, easy session

Cool Down Does not apply 5-15 Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 5 – Day 2

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Run 100 meters, rest as needed

Run 200 meters, rest as needed

Run 400 meters, rest as needed

Run 800 meters, rest as needed, complete four times

Interval Training – 10 minutes – Walk one minute, jog or run one minute, easy session

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 5 – Day 3

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Max-effort 1-mile run

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 5 – Day 4

Free run – complete run of your choice

Week 6 – Day 1

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Max effort 3.1-mile run

Interval Training – 10 minutes – Walk one minute, jog or run one minute, easy session

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 6 – Day 2

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Max effort 400-meter run, rest 3-10 minutes (as needed)

Max effort 800-meter run, rest 3-10 minutes (as needed)

Interval Training – 10 minutes – Walk one minute, jog or run one minute, easy session

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 6 – Day 3

Warmup – 20-30 minutes – Mobility and running specific

Easy 1-mile run

Cool Down – 5-15 minutes – Walk or light jog plus stretch

Week 6 – Day 4

Free run – complete run of your choice

Nathan DeMetzNathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, Utah State University, and the ISSA College of Exercise Science.

Nathan has 20 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.