If you’re looking to go from the couch to a 5K run, wearable tech and some serious smart apps can help you achieve your goal of being a proper runner.
While the running bit is still down to you, keeping track of your activity will make tackling the journey of a Couch to 5K easier. Wearables – namely budget smartwatches, fitness trackers or proper running watches – offer an easy way to track your workouts, log your improvement, long after your 5K goal has been achieved.
Ask any runner and they’ll tell you that the hardest part of running is the first three outings of the C25K. Those first few miles where you’re building stamina and fitness are among the toughest you’ll ever run, but get through it and the achievement is well worth the initial pain.
Below we’ve outlined the Couch to 5K apps you need to get started, some helpful advice from our experts, and picked some wearable devices that are perfect for beginners – but will still be worthwhile when you’re looking for your next running goal.
Good luck – we’re rooting for you.
Couch to 5km: How to get started
Download a plan
Couch to 5K plans start with far more walking than running in a session, and then build up over time. Trust the process and you’ll be fine.
The Couch to 5K official free plan is the obvious place to start – and there’s a smartphone app that hooks up to the Apple Watch if you want it too. In its simplest form, this is the starting point for your C25K, but it’s not a nice looking website – so perhaps try c25kfree instead (more on that shortly).
However, if you already bought a fitness tracker or watch (or are planning on buying one), you might want to do everything within your chosen app.
If you already have a Fitbit or Garmin device, then you’ll already have access to a Couch to 5K programme. It’s a really good idea to follow a plan, as they are designed to take the pain (sometimes actual real pain) out of stepping up to running significant distances.
Fitbit Couch to 5K
If you’re the owner of a Fitbit, regardless of the model, Fitbit Premium has beginner running plans which pretty much count as a Couch to 5K.
You answer some questions about your goals, ability and when you’d like to run and Fitbit will spit out a plan to follow, which starts with run/walk medleys. Using Fitbit plans is open to anyone, so you don’t need a high end Fitbit device to use them.
However, if you have a simple Fitbit you can take it along for the ride and get the credit for your activity, or devices like the Charge 3, Versa or Ionic can use GPS to track your run.
Garmin Couch to 5K
If you use a Garmin device you can use Garmin Coach to get on the trail to 5K – it’s an adaptive program from within the app and works for those starting out with the first run at just 7 minutes – and it uses that information to plan the rest of your schedule.
However, it’s probably a little high level for those starting from absolutely zero.
If you’re using Garmin Coach, you get on-watch integration on most devices. Check out our guide for the full list of Garmin Coach compatible devices.
Sign up for a race
Okay, it doesn’t strictly require a piece of wearable tech to do but setting a goal, with a deadline, is a brilliant motivator. Find a 5km run that’s happening six months from now and book yourself a place and stick it in your diary. Alternatively, aim for something like completing a Park Run, which doesn’t cost a thing to enter and is geared up for people starting their journey.
Then head to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and tell everyone you know that you’re doing it.
Once it’s out there there’s no going back. Your friends and family will hold you accountable, offer support and encouragement along with delivering the necessary kick up the ass as required.
Couch to 5km apps: Apple Watch and alternatives
There are lots of versions of the couch to 5km programmes for Apple Watch or Wear OS smartwatches – or iOS/Android smartphones. These provided pre-planned schedules with all of the walks, walk/runs and runs you need to do to turn yourself into a 5km runner.
Free to download, the official C25K offers zero barrier to getting started on your fitness journey. It sets out your plan and tracks your runs, is compatible with Spotify and other music services to control your playlists while you train. There are also apps for Fitbit and Samsung smartwatches too – making it one of the easiest and most accessible ways to do Couch to 5K.
Nike Run Club
A favourite app of ours for Apple Watch and Wear OS, the Nike Run Club app enables you to start training programs, including a beginner running option. It’s not quite structured like Couch to 5K, but does have a decent progression from very short runs, building up over a 4 week period. It’s probably better suited to those who have a little running experience and are looking to get back to fitness than those donning their trainers for the first time.
One You Couch to 5K
Created in a collaboration between the BBC and British National Health Service, this is a podcast series aimed to talk you through the weeks of training. A mix of practical advice and motivation, it’s something different to add to the mix.
Couch to 5K: Best wearables
The key thing to remember here is you don’t need to spend big on a watch. You want something that’s going to be easy to use, does the basics well and gives the metrics that matter. We think these options firmly fit the bill.
Apple Watch Series 3
Price when reviewed: $199.99
It’s the most expensive device we’d recommend, but if you’re already thinking about smartwatch then the Apple Watch is a fantastic running device too. What’s more, Apple dropped the price of its Series 3, so it’s certainly an attractive proposition.
You can get the official C25K app on here, and swap up for something like Nike Run Club or Strava as your needs grow, and with a heart rate monitor on board, the Series 3 is there for the long haul.
Price when reviewed: $149.99
Smartwatches with GPs don’t come much cheaper, but don’t let the Amazfit GTS fool you – it’s a decent running companion. It’s slim and light, GPS tracking is accurate, and the results of your run are displayed nicely in the app, with loads of detail for you to geek out on when you get home.
You’ll also get more than a week of battery life. It also uses the PAI score for representing your activity for the week in a simple number, and Couch to 5K sessions will go a long way to ensuring you get where you need to be.
Fitbit Charge 4
Price when reviewed: $149.99
Fitbit’s new fitness tracker is the first band to have GPS built in, which makes for more accurate run tracking and means you don’t need to take your phone out (if you don’t want to).
It also has a new focus on heart rate zones, and gives you credit for time spent running – making it perfect for those starting out on their running journey. If you’re not into the watch form factor, this is a front runner.
Garmin Forerunner 45
Price when reviewed: $199.99
Garmin is the brand proper runners gravitate to – and the Forerunner 45 is one of its entry level devices. it’s not the cheapest (the boxy Forerunner 35 is available for less) but it’s so slim and light, it’s an absolute pleasure to wear.
It also integrates with Garmin Coach, if you choose to follow its beginner running guides, rather than official C25K. It will track all the main running metrics, including keeping tabs on VO2 Max, which is a pretty scientific sports science term – but is one of the purest scores of your physical fitness available and seriously satisfying to watch it fly upwards as you go from couch to 5K.
Listen to your heart
Monitoring your heart rate isn’t just for wannabe elite runners. Knowing what your bpm (beats per minute) is during exercise is the best way to ensure you’re getting the training effect you want.
You also don’t have to run flat out to lose weight. LIT (low intensity training) where you exercise for longer periods at 50% of your maximum heart rate (MHR) can also have superb effects for those starting out.
It’s also brilliant to see when you’re perhaps over reaching yourself and can help you be more objective about how tired you are.
For example, if your bpm hits 175 during a run/walk session, it’s a good sign that it might time for a period of walking recovery. In the early days, when you’re looking to build distance and stamina, it’s better to slow down, catch your breath and let your heart rate drop rather than pushing to the point where you can’t go on.
Invest in a Bluetooth LE chest strap
If you don’t want to invest in a pricey running watch, another option is to buy a chest strap that’ll pair with apps like Strava, Endomondo or Polar Flow.
The Polar H10 or Wahoo Tickr Run are both good options but be sure to check your smartphone’s software compatibility before you buy as not all straps work with all smartphones.
A chest strap heart rate monitor that also has a built-in accelerometer, the Wahoo Tickr X is a brilliant piece of kit for all-round fitness tracking. It’ll clock your heart rate and your movement, giving you movement stats for gym workouts as well more detailed running data like cadence – or how often your feet strike the ground – which is a good indicator of correct running form.
Heart rate monitors are of course now built into most wrist-based sports wearables. Accuracy though can vary for a variety of reasons and it’s why using chest strap remains the gold standard for measuring your heart rate during activities like running.
If though you don’t like the idea of wearing a chest strap or just don’t get along with them from a comfort point of view, you do have another alternative. You can now buy heart rate monitoring armbands like the Polar OH1, Scosche Rhythm24 and Wahoo Tickr Fit. We’ve tried all three and have found them to be on par with what we’ve managed with chest straps. So you do have options here.
It pairs via Bluetooth with iOS and Android smartphone apps to collect all your data and offers a great cheaper alternative to a more fully featured GPS running watch.