Getting into a regular exercise routine is a challenge for so many of us. Work, family, and everyday life can get in the way of our best intentions. If you're interested in adding more exercise to your week, and maybe getting some unexpected benefits along the way, a learn-to-run app like C25K might be worth trying. Here are a few things I learned when I gave the program a try.
C25K Isn't New, But There's a Reason It's Still Popular
There are lots of running apps out there - some are basic trackers, some are for seasoned runners, and some are for newbies wanting to learn to run. Beginner running apps are generally designed to slowly ease you into a routine so you don't injure yourself.
The Couch to 5K is a running program pioneered by veteran runner Josh Clark in the mid-90s that quickly took off because of its approachable nature. It's not intimidating - you don't have to think of yourself as a runner to get started. You simply alternate walking and running at your own pace, slowly increasing the amount of time you run compared to what you walk. While the program itself is nothing new, it continues to open up new worlds for the people trying it out.
About the C25K App Itself
Available for both iOS and other devices, the C25K app by Zen Labs boasts over five million downloads and an average of 4.4 stars on the Google Play and 4.8 stars on the App Store. Reviewers give it high praise for its ease of use and effectiveness, not to mention it's garnered accolades from dozens of major publishers.
It's designed to help people learn how to start jogging and to take people from walking to being able to run a 5K in eight weeks. The app itself is simple and intuitive; just press start and check off each day that you do the workout.
- Very easy to use
- Tracks distance and maps your route
- Gives clear instructions
- Has a pause feature
- Shows calories burned
- Includes workout reminders
- Has social sharing integration
Doesn't have features for advanced runners
Cost: Free trial, then $4.99/mo
Where to Get the App:
Things to Keep in Mind When You Start Running
Our health team experts have a great beginner's running guide, including tips on proper form. But here are a few things from one amateur to another to think about if you're starting out.
Your Running Shoes Matter
Having good quality running shoes is essential no matter where you're starting. It can be tempting to skimp on shoes, but it's worth it to get a good brand (I can't say enough good things about HOKA; Asics, Brooks, and Saucony are other commonly recommended running shoe brands).
Many cities have local running shops where they will evaluate your gait, arches, and pronation (your natural foot movements when your foot lands) for free - so you can get not only a good running shoe, but one that's right for your feet.
Watch the Weather - You Might Get Warmer Than You Think
As you progress in the program, remember that you'll be exerting your body a little more, so you may end up getting warmer than you think. My amateur tip is to run in the morning or evening in the warmer months (and if you're torn between leggings and shorts - go shorts), but I turned to our veteran meteorologist and family staff writer Heidi Butler for more expert tips on staying safe when running. Her advice:
- Check the forecast before going out. (When thunder roars, go indoors - lightning and running don't mix).
- Wear lightweight, light colored, and loose fitting clothing that is made from breathable fabrics (UPF 50+ rated apparel is best).
- Apply sunscreen (minimum SPF 30) as directed on the bottle (at least 15 to 30 minutes before going out).
- Early morning and late evening time frames are the safest time to work out from a heat standpoint. However, if the sun has set, wear reflective clothing.
- Pay attention to your body - cramping is a sign of heat-related illnesses. If you start feeling achy, dizzy, nauseous, or experience extreme sweating or no sweating at all, cease activity immediately and get to a cool place and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or don't improve.
The Heat Index is the temperature it feels like outside when the relative humidity and the air temperature are combined. When it reaches 90°F/32°C or greater, avoid exercising outside. When the Heat Index gets above 80°F/27°C (can occur when the relative humidity is at 100% and the air temperature is only at 75°F/24°C) there's still risk of heat-related illnesses.
Also be sure sure to drink - generally drinking water before, during, and after a workout is recommended, but you probably don't need to drink during the 40-minute workout (I just did before and after). If you work up to running longer than an hour, it's best to hydrate during the run.
A Good Playlist Can Help Keep You Motivated
In the early days of the program, you'll have more frequent pace changes. (Don't worry, the app will still give you the audio commands if you have a playlist running). But as it progresses, having a great playlist of motivating workout music can be really helpful - as can changing that playlist up from time to time.
Community and Accountability Can Help
Telling a friend or two that you're trying a learn-to-run app (or better yet - enlist one who wants to do it with you) can help you be accountable for your progress. They'll probably ask you how it's going, and you can report in to them with your successes. Or you can use the app's built-in social integrations and community features to share your steps in the program.
Try Changing It Up
Changing up where you do your run can also be helpful and keep it interesting. If you usually do it in your neighborhood, try going to a local park or doing a little trail running. Run around a lake or along a river, or even through a paved city trail with some green spaces or trees.
What Do You Do With Your Phone When You Run?
There are a few options - some workout leggings and shorts have pockets made for your phone that can work pretty well. There are also armbands and waist pouches that are meant specifically for running. Some people just hold their phones in one hand. (I tried everything but the waist pouch so I'm still figuring this out. Be cautious of cheaper armbands though, as the velcro might start slipping after a couple weeks if it's not good quality.)
The Practical Side of Using the C25K Learn-to-Run App
As a working mom of four, I've always found it hard to stick to a workout routine. So my goal in trying this app wasn't even to run a race, but to just do it to get into a better routine and not give up on it. And it worked. Even past the 8-week mark, I'm still doing it. Some of the practical health benefits of running I experienced:
I Drank More Water
Many of us have heard that one good thing leads to another, and in doing this app, you might find yourself drinking more water. The free version of the water-tracking app WaterLama proved helpful in tracking water intake and sending reminders to drink water throughout the day.
I Was Trying to Eat Healthier
As often happens with working out regularly, doing the C25K program led me to generally making better eating choices. Tracking the types of foods (I used the free version of MyFitnessPal) was also helpful. You might also find yourself craving more fruits and vegetables.
I Was Getting Better Sleep
It's no secret that engaging in physical activity helps us sleep better - but the key here is that a learn-to-run app can help people stay on track and keep up the physical activity regularly. This can lead to better sleep on a more regular basis.
Easing Into Regular Exercise Helped Me Gain Energy
Having a little more energy is also a great perk of doing this program. Because it starts you off slowly and works up to the running so gradually, it doesn't feel like you are doing anything traumatic to your body - which is encouraging and motivating.
I Didn't Do It Perfectly - But It Still Worked
The program is designed for three days a week, which is pretty flexible. It also allows you the opportunity to do other types of workouts on the days you don't do C25K. But don't stress if you end up getting off kilter or have to take a few days off for being sick. (Both happened to me) Life happens; just try to keep going.
The Unexpected Things I Learned From Doing C25K
You might also be surprised as to what other positive things happen from trying out a beginner running program, in terms of the mental health benefits and more.
I Felt a Little Unplugged
Yes, even though you are still using technology with the app and maybe a playlist, you might find that you feel a little bit unplugged. You probably aren't going to be checking your texts or going on social media while you are actually doing the workout. It might take you out of the constant checking in with everyone around you, either virtually or in real life, when you get away to do your run.
But I Was Still Part of a Community
Whether you're just feeling that camaraderie from other people running on the park path, running with a friend or family member, or participating in a 5K race with a whole community of other runners, there's a sense of community when it comes to running that's beneficial too. Connecting with other people that like to run can help encourage and motivate you too.
I Found a Unique Space to Think
There's something that can feel really private about running, even if you're in a crowded park with a bunch of other people working out. As you're saying good morning or good afternoon to other people, you can still be a little bit inside yourself, putting one foot in front of the other. You're not faced with anything else in front of you that needs doing when you take each step.
And that thinking space might become super valuable to you. Some of my favorite people tell me I can overthink - and while at times my desire to think deeply and critically about things can be an asset, at other times it can be more of a stumbling block. Sometimes we just need to think less - sometimes we just need to go. Sometimes we just need to let go of things and thoughts that are holding us back.
Somehow overthinking isn't as prevalent when you're faced with finishing a run. Your body and your brain are both working and the anxiety and tendency to overthink might just fade away (at least for me - and at least for the moment) with the cadence of your footsteps.
I Discovered I Was More Capable of More Than I Knew
I never thought of myself as a runner. I have never been super athletic - and the idea of working up to running for 30 minutes straight wasn't easy.
But somehow along the way - as I decided not to give up on the program and went to a quiet mental space each time I ran that helped me think about things like my family, my faith, and the things I was struggling with - I found a part of me I didn't know existed. And I know with a little help (like some great friends and a fantastic running app) I can do things I didn't know I could.
Trying Something New Can Make a Positive Change
Bottom line? You're probably capable of so much more than you think or believe. Sometimes it just takes a catalyst to help us see it. Will trying a running app help you discover (or rediscover) that? Maybe. It helped do that for me. Now let's see what's next.