A training programme for beginners

Run with a friend; photo by David Knight

Run with a friend

Before you start

This training programme is designed for a complete beginner to get from couch potato to running 10-20 miles a week, over a period of six months.

Before you start this training programme, you should have:

  • checked whether you need advice from a doctor;
  • bought yourself proper running shoes and, if you are a woman, a sports bra (see Chapter 3).

In addition, you should remember that:

  • it is a good idea to find a mate who wants to do this with you, so that you can encourage each other; alternatively, start going along to a local running club;
  • set yourself a goal – such as a 5km race – which you can work towards;
  • the first few weeks of this programme may well seem rather boring and easy, but you should resist the temptation to go any further or faster so that you avoid injury.  This programme lays a solid foundation for safe, healthy running in the future;
  • if you find that you are not enjoying it for the first few weeks, stick with it.  It often takes 3-4 weeks to really get into running (or to get back into it).  For most people, there will suddenly  come a time when you realise that it has become easy, and that you really enjoy it.

About the programme

The numbers shown in the table are minutes a day.  (They are not miles!).  These are intended to give you an idea of how long you should be exercising.  It does not matter how fast you go at this stage.

The training programme begins with just walking for the first three weeks.  Don’t take this too easily: it should be brisk walking, so that you are breathing heavily and perhaps sweating a little.  The purpose of the three weeks of walking is to stimulate your bones, muscles and joints to adapt to the exercise, so that they are ready for when you start running.

Over the next three weeks, we add in an extra 5 minute run for each week, for the last five minutes of the walk.  Then over the next two months, the amount of running gradually increases, and the walking reduces, so that by week 16 you can do two 30 minute runs.

It is a common mistake to try to run too fast.  Remember the talk test: you should be able to maintain a conversation easily, in complete sentences, on all these runs.  If you are too out of breath to speak easily, you are running too fast.

Table 2.1 Training programme for a complete beginner

Legend: W10 = Walk for 10 minutes.  R10 = Run for 10 minutes.
these are minutes, not miles!

Mon Tues Weds Thur Fri Sat Sun
Week 1 Walk for 20 minutes every other day
Week 2 Walk for 20 minutes every other day
Week 3 W20 W20 W20 W20
Week 4 W20.R5 W20 W20
Week 5 W20.R5 W20 W15.R5
Week 6 W10 W20.R5 W15.R5 W15.R5
Week 7 W5.R5 W15.R5 W15.R5 W15.R5
Week 8 W5.R5 W20.R5 W15.R5 W20.R5
Week 9 W5.R5 W10.R10 W10.R10 W15.R10
Week 10 W5.R10 W20.R10 W20.R10 W20.R10
Week 11 W10.R10 W15.R15 W15.R10 W15.R10
Week 12 W10.R10 W15.R15 W15.R15 W15.R10
Week 13 W15.R10 W10.R20 W15.R15 W15.R10
Week 14 W10.R15 W10.R20 W10.R20 R10.W10 W10.R20
Week 15 W5.R15 W5.R25 W5.R25 W10.R10
Week 16 W5.R20 R30 W5.R20 R30 W5.R15
Week 17 R25 R30 R20 R30 R20
Week 18 R30 R30 R20 R30 R25
Week 19 R30 R30 R25 R30 R25
Week 20 R20 R30 R20 R20
Week 21 R30 R30 R30 R25 R20
Week 22 R30 R35 R30 R30 R25
Week 23 R30 R40 R30 R30 R30
Week 24 R20 R45 R20 R30 R30

30 Responses to A training programme for beginners

  • Marthie Cronje:

    Good programme

  • Jim Elliott:

    I have been run/walking for 6 months and am age 79. I can do a 20 minute mile. I found that runing every 3rd day (2 days rest) was too tiring, I got core tired after 3-4 runs an needed a long break.

    I going to try running every 4th day. My goal is to complete a 60 minute 5k someday.

    Is this goal possible when starting at age 79? Comments?

    Thank you

    • I have always believed that it is never too late too do anything. My motto (which I made up myself) is “Start where you are, Start with what you have”. I’m about to turn 60 and I’m also about to start training for my first marathon. I would recommend some cross training though. Perhaps a light swim in between or something like that. Good luck with your goal!

  • Sara:

    I am 69. I started walking and running a year ago this month (September) a month later I ran my first 1 mile fun run in a little over 13 minutes. I continued running and walking to do 3 5 k’s inthe last year. I love to run at 75 degrees or less. Heat really slows me down. One day ago I ran 4 miles for the first time in 56 minutes. It was 55 degrees. I am going to rest for 2 days before doing a short run of 1.5 miles and core work. I am building endurance, not speed. I always sit in the hot tub after running,stretch, and never feels stiff or sore. I love running and feel truly blessed to be able to do this as I have a pinned hip from a fracture, have had arthroscopy on a knee and have asthma. I would like to run a 10 k sometime in the next year.

  • Brian Day:

    I think too many training programs suggest 5 or 6 runs a week – for many busy people this is very hard to fit in

    I believe that 3 runs a week can be just as effective for most average runners – it gives more time for recovery and avoids it becoming a dreaded chore

    I ran my first London Marathon with 3 training runs per week building to 35 miles weekly total 5 weeks before the race and achieved 3hr 43m aged 38 – Ranulph Fiennes in his book – Fit for Life -says his standard training is 3 30 minute sessions per week per week

  • Pat:

    I joined a running club 4 weeks ago, am unfit over 50 and overweight BMI 30.1 . The first two weeks were reasonably okay and I managed a run/walk structure. On the third week we were pushed to run up quite a steep hill, after a slow long pull up anyway. I was unable to do this. We then ran across another long pull up ( walk/jog as I couldn’t do it). Is this too much? I am not a seasoned runner and desperately want to get fit and lose weight but not at the expense of my health. What should I do, can you advise please. your programme seems so much less stressful. But these are expert instructors with a structured program, and the session i run with is billed as a ‘beginners group’.

    My feet and ankles feel like lead, and when running after a few minutes I am completely out of breath and to be honest feeling a bit light headed. By the way I have had okay from the doc, re getting fit in the first place. Am I just moaning for the sake of it, and should I continue? would love some advice. Thank you

    • Kim:

      I hear you! I joined a running club with a beginner program, and after 3 months had plantar fasciitis in both heels. Fortunately, yoga and a lot of stretching alleviated the symptoms after 6 months of pain

      Hill work is very difficult. Most programs I’ve seen don’t throw hill work in until you have a good, solid base, and you need to reduce overall mileage when you add hills.

      Sounds to me like you are pushing iit a bit and need to slow down. Of course, I’m not a doctor or a coach, but your body seems to be telling you that you need to slow down and build a better aerobic foundation. Ask your doctor what he thinks about an exercise program that causes you to become light-headed.

      But don’t quit!! In my most successful training program (yes, I’ve started and stopped several times), I walked for 2 months before I threw any running in, and even then I’d run 1 minute and walk 5-10. Google Jeff Gallowa; he is a big advocate of combining walking and running and his book and web site were life-savers for me.

  • john:

    I have also recently joined a running club. I am 52 and also overweight. Their goal is to take you up to 5k in six weeks. I think this is quite a challenge if you haven’t been very active before. You shouldn’t push yourself too hard or you may suffer an injury and become disillusioned. I followed a walk/run training programme before I joined my club and at week 10 I was only running for 2 mins/walk 2 mins – repeat 9 times for a total of 36 mins. I did this because I had previously had Achilles problems and wanted to start out slowly and stay injury free. If you find it too hard you could always try an easier programme build yourself up slowly stay injury free and start over again. You are obviously motivated as you joined a club. I don’t feel I could have stayed on track without starting out slowly. Being patient and staying injury free should be your first priority. There are plenty of finishing lines so don’t rush and make sure you reach one. Good luck.

  • Pat:

    Thank you John. I am still attending the club (week 6) and going out on one other occasion with a friend, but my legs still feel like lumps of lead!! However I’m nothing if not persistant………….watch this space.

    • Martin Melville:

      I started last November aged 69 BMI 33. Started with the NHS Couch to 5K (C2%K) programme. I got to April and about to do the 5K when I had knee problems. Physio has now got me back to the point that I am running 3.5km. BMI now 28.1.
      Slow and steady I think is the way – the physio said that I had been too gung ho. Now trying to keep to 11.5min/mile maximum. Steadinly increasing and so far its not too bad- really enjoying my runs.
      PS- I now have a bar code for Park Runs – Saturday will be my first!

  • JBW:

    Pat, Keep at it but take it a bit more slowly. I started running last September , aged 60 with a BMI of 31. At first I could not run 100m but continued with walk / run programs slowly building up over several months. I now run 5 km in 35 minutes.

    My best advice is take it slowly and try to make small incremental improvemnts each week.

    Good luck.


    • Pat:

      Thanks again John. Still running and finally feeling like I am making progress. Still struggling on hills, but managing fairly well on flat and downhill. I’ve taken your advice to take it steadily and this seems to help. I don’t want to go so hard that I pick up an injury! Good luck with your running too.

  • vin maratty:

    I am 61 and have been jogging on and off over the years – for eg 2 mile 3 time a week . I have been running 20 mins on Mon and wed. Which week should I start the program.

    I tried adding a couple of extra runs but became too tired after only 2 weeks, unable to keep up a run for more than 5 mins and felt miserable. .

    What happened?

  • Jeremy:

    I’m loathe to provide free advertising but as a beginner’s running programme I can strongly recommend the book ‘Run Your Butt Off’, by Leslie Bonci, Sarah Butler and Budd Coates. It’s part weight loss, part beginner running programme and starts off with walking only then graduates to 4 mins walking, 1 min running for around 30 mins a session.
    Gradually over several stages the balance shifts to more running than walking in each approx 30 min session.
    I am 44 years old and have gone from a sedentary, unfit 90kg to running 5-6km 3-4 times a week and am now 80kg. Part of this is of course due to changing my diet but the running has definitely helped a lot.
    NB: in this programme there is no emphasis on speed – merely running by definition, at any speed, is superior exercise per minute or hour than walking because it takes more energy to lift both feet off the ground as happens momentarily even with slow running. Walking, though far better than doing no exercise, entails one foot always planted on the ground.
    Final tip: don’t economise on running shoes. Get high quality, well cushioned shoes. I learned the hard way using older shoes which led to a bruised heel and a lay off that would not have been necessary had a spent a little more on my first pair of shoes.
    Good luck!

    • Deirdre Andres:

      There are also lots of learn to run, couch to 5k , etc apps. I started with one up to 20 minutes sustained running the switched to another learn to run 5k that was in my GPS, time and distance (and distance on the shoes) app. I feel more secure having my phone with me in any case.

      Most starter apps go by time, not distance.

      Agree about the shoes! Expensive, but worth it, especially for those of us of a certain age, or with musculoskeletal issues.

      I’m glad to have found this site! I started 16 weeks ago at age 60 and lately have been feeling a bit of an under-achiever, but so nice to hear the experiences of other newish runners and to realize that I’m not alone!

  • Terry:

    Just over two years ago I was running three 4 mile runs during the week and at the weekend a nine mile run, I felt great and looked good too, in my clothes anyway…. Then I was taken ill suddenly at work. It was thought I was having a heart attack. Cutting a long story short I was rushed to hospital and spent time in a coronary care unit until tests and procedures revealed I actually have a gut problem that can feel like a heart attack. I remember the cardiac consultant saying I have a strong heart and arteries like tunnels, her words. she attributed this to my running. My condition is now controlled by medication and although I feel fine my confidence took a massive massive blow. Also all the exercise knockers jumped up with the overdoing it comments and its not good to punish your body etc.
    It’s taken me a long time but I have finally put on my running kit again and am starting a beginner programme. It feels good. I am 55 now and definitely heavier than I was. I just need to keep the faith and my confidence going which I hope will improve with my fitness.

  • Eric bao:

    I have just turned 80 years old and want to learn to run in a marathon, this session will help thanks

  • jeffrey lewis:

    Iam almost 63 (one more month) I use to run five miles three times a week started at age 46. I did this on regular basis for 4 years than on and off for 10 years and not very often the next two years I have started on a regular basis again.I have been able to get back to 3 miles three times a week it takes me 44 minutes. My goal is just to keep weight the same or lose a few pounds should I just stay with this work out or keep adding distance I do some weight lifting on off days.Thanks

  • Coenraad Kruger:

    Hi Owen. I am a 43 male. I did not run for the last 5 years. I changed my life style to become a vegan. Due to health reason ans I did not wantbto accept to be on medicine for the rest of my life. I did not eat meat for the last 3 months and me and my wife juice our vegable and eat only fresh. I lost 10 kg and is now 89kg. My hight is 1.75. I feel very good. I went twice this week for an hour run/walk. My body tels me I need to get fit. I feel great after the run. I keep my hard rate max on 160 and then with a walk drop it to 120. Is it correct? What must my hard rate be?
    My healthy eating habbits help me alot.

  • Annette:

    I just wanted to ask a question – with the program – do I walk for 20 mins then run for 5 mins? I just started trying to get fit and go to local oval and walk the long side and jog the short side for 20 minutes – is that okay to start? I am 41 and not overweight although could lose some kilos, thanks, Annette

  • sarah:

    This looks doable! I’m thinking of taking up running as gym/pool in the place I’ve just moved to are crazy expensive and I want to take up some kind of exercise, as basically a lifelong lazy person.
    I’m thinking of starting at week 6 because I’m used to walking 8-10km most days (though less in the past month or two!)does that sound ok? I’m late 20s and normal weight (bmi 20, know people think this measurement is silly!) and no health problems.

  • Mechthild:

    I am still convinced that for some people, running alone can be the best way to start and practice. When you are busy, the main advantage of running is that it is flexible – no appointments, no fixed schedules etc. Often, you also really need a break of socializing – that’s why running alone at lunchtime can be so relaxing. Moreover, I love running with music – it’s almost like dancing! (I don’t imagine listening to music while running with others). And, last but not least, there are days I feel like running slower or faster than on others – and I would hate to have to adapt my speed to a group’s. Life is so full of constraints – running is freedom to me!
    When it comes to staying motivated … I must admit I have been addicted from the very start, and my main challenge is to stick to rest days, stop running when injured, limit speed and milage a.s.o. I am afraid a group won’t be very helpful for this.

  • Mechthild:

    … and another point: you see more and more people running with cardio watches … and I also thought I’d be better using one (I am 58 and have started running in last August).

    To my opinion (and experience), there are not enough warnings about not using heart rates as your main “limiting factor”.
    When I started running, my heart got trained immediately (or perhaps it already had been through cycling and hiking in the mountains), but my tendons and joints just couldn’t stand anything more than 60% of my V0max. Every time I went as fast as the required 75 – 80% V0max, I got into trouble.
    I also found out, that I’d better do speedwork only once in a fortnight, to start with (and no hills yet, as I have been recovering from Achilles tendinopathy).

    Conclusion: cardiometers are nice as a “help”, but if it feels too fast, rather slow down to a speed that feels good to the rest of your body also.

  • Betty:


  • Jan:

    I strongly recommend the NHS choices ‘couch to 5km’ programme for people just getting started. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/c25k/Pages/couch-to-5k.aspx It consists of a series of podcasts that are motivational and ‘talk’ you through the sessions with music and encouragement from ‘Laura’. Each session is repeated three times (minimum – if you find it difficult or don’t complete it then you are advised to repeat or even go back a week). The aim is to get you running for 30 min (5km is the target distance in 30 mins but it took me longer to achieve that) in 9 weeks. I used this age 50 to get me back into running after a 25 year break! My daughter has also used it as she doesn’t really like running much and she really likes it too.

    • Hi, I did the Couch to 5K training and would also recommend it, I am in my 50’s (female) and overweight but my biggest drawback is many years of heavy smoking (which I have now stopped – I couldn’t have run for the bus whilst I smoked lol). I have built up to doing a 5K Park run every Sat which I love even though I am one of the slowest runners.


    • Phil:

      I just started this programme too and have just done my third session. I am 47 and not run since school, I used to cycle, but not seriously for over 15 years and to be frank I am unfit at 200 lb. The first session was hard and I wasn’t sure I would finish with the run walk regime to the end but I did manage it. After the third session it’s still hard, but I can definitely notice the difference in just a short space of time. I will be honest though, although I have noticed an improvement I think I will run the week one programme a couple of times more then we shall see about moving on. I have never enjoyed running before, but I think I could grow to like this, something I thought I would never say. I will say though that week one of this programme was my limit, if I had been any less able, a programme biased even more towards walking at the start may have been more appropriate.

  • Alavi:

    Hello there, I have flat feet and my age is 34. After running half a mile my feet starts hurting bad. I tried stability running shoes and the orthopedic insoles from my doctors but it still hurts. I have a police power test coming up in 4 months. I am a beginner so can I still start with the above mentioned exercise training program. Please advise…

  • Mariyam:

    I really want to know when is the best time to start exercising and using the timetable.
    I want to do half marathon and maybe more than that.
    Can u please give me advice how to not lose focus and how to balance between studying and exercising?
    I weight is between 70 to 75.
    Please tell me am I gonna able to do it or not?
    Thank you.

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