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It's never too late to run your first 5K. Here's how

Anyone can run a 5K -- yes, even you. A certified trainer shares her top tips and mistakes to avoid.

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Whether you're a runner who's taken some time off or you consider yourself a total newbie, setting a goal to run your first 5K (aka 3.1 miles) is a great way to start the new year. Even though training for a 5K is not quite the same commitment as training for a longer race like a marathon, it still requires strategy and planning in order to pull it off safely.

Not quite ready to lace up those running shoes yet? Running has a ton of benefits that'll help convince you to start, if you're still on the fence. "Running will improve just about every part of your body, inside and out," says Tone & Sculpt trainer Melissa Kendter. "It keeps your heart healthy, regulates your blood pressure, improves cognitive function, boosts mood, manages weight, builds confidence and so much more." 

Regardless of where you are in your race training, below, Kendter shares some of the top mistakes to avoid when running your first 5K and more tips on how to get started.

3 mistakes to avoid during 5K training 

Starting too fast and too far

As excited as you may be to get started running your first 5K, you'll want to start your training sustainably and avoid running too fast or for too long at the beginning. "Your body has to get used to the new stresses of running and you need to give your body time to gradually get used to the new demands for long-term running success," says Kendter.

In order to ease into running your first 5K, try starting with shorter run/walk intervals. Over time, Kendter says, you can slowly increase how long you run and shorten your walks until you're able to build up to the full 5K distance. How long it will take you to increase your run time will depend on your starting fitness level and running experience, but in general, you will want to plan to train for at least four weeks before a 5K, and seven weeks if you're a total beginner, according to the training plans we consulted.

Neglecting your form

Kendter points out that running is a challenging sport, so don't forget to focus on your form.  "Focus on running with relaxed shoulders and on taking short, light, quick steps, landing under your center of mass," she says. 

Not cross-training 

Running is a great way to exercise, but on its own, it won't tick off all the boxes you want to check when it comes to a well-rounded fitness routine. "Make sure to strength train as well -- your body loves variety -- and doing different types of exercise reduces the stress running places on your joints and spine," says Kendter. 

Other modalities you might want to stack into your running routine are stretching, yoga, Pilates or other activities that help you build flexibility and strength. All of these can help round out your routine since they're not cardio-focused. 

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When you start training for a 5K, it's best to focus on your time spent running instead of pace.

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How to train for a successful 5K

While the exact type of training schedule that you'll begin with depends on personal factors like your current fitness level and schedule, you can consult training plans like the ones below to get started. If you're unsure of your fitness level or what kind of program is right for you, talk to a certified trainer or running coach who can help make a plan that works for you.

"For someone who has never run, you just want to get on your feet and get comfortable with walking long distances and jogging. Don't focus on pace, rather focus on the time spent walking/jogging and increasing your endurance," says Kendter.

And if you're more active or have run in the past, your training schedule may look different or more advanced. "As someone who has run a bit or is very active, you can alternate running days, rest days and add in strength training where appropriate," suggests Kendter.

Free 5K training plans to try:

Mayo Clinic 7-week 5K Training Schedule for Beginners

Nike Run Club 5K Training Plan

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.