There was a time, in a previous life, when I was able to run an hour daily without breaking a sweat. Then I injured my foot, couldn’t exercise for a year, got lazy and gained weight, until I was eventually unable to walk for more than 10 minutes without complaining of fatigue. I’ve been trying however, for the past 10 months, to find the glory of old. I started with swimming regularly, then added walking, hiking and eventually decided to ease back into running.
I had heard of the Couch to 5K program — commonly referred to as C25K — and figured it would be the perfect way to go back to my runner routine. I looked on the Play Store for C25K apps, found many that seemed way too complicated or expensive for the purpose, then I landed on C25K Trainer. It is the most simplistic app you can find but it is essentially all you really need if you want to start running.
What’s a C25K Program?
A C25K program is designed to take anyone from the couch and make them run 5 kilometers. It lasts 9 weeks with each week consisting of 3 sessions of around 30 minutes. Considering the outcome, this is quite a good return on such a little investment.
The sessions start off simple in the first few weeks, with alternate walking and running intervals, the walking being the predominant activity. Then they gradually replace some walking time with running, until you find yourself running non-stop for the whole session.
C25K Trainer Uses Clear Visual Cues
Although the app is as minimal as possible, it gets all the visual cues right. A sliding timeline lets you pick which C25K session you want to start. Each session’s plan is color-coded with light blue for warm-up and cool-down times, dark blue for running, and a middle shade of blue for walking.
Color coding shows you the session’s different intervals.
Start a session and the color-coded bar moves to the top of the screen with a black progress line sliding along as you follow the regimen. The main part of the screen displays a countdown of the current interval’s time. Both the progress bar and the countdown help you assess at a glance where you are in your session and what remains to be done.
Progress bar and countdown timer on the running screen.
When a session is finished, it shows with faded colors in the timeline, with a small writing beneath it letting you know how many days ago you completed it.
Completed sessions show up as faded with the date below.
Audio Instructions Keep Your Head up
Although the visual feedback is excellent, it remains a distraction when running, especially outdoors. That’s why C25K Trainer uses vibrations and audio instructions to help you stay focused on the road. Short messages like, “start running,” or, “start walking,” are played with a clear male voice to let you know when to switch between intervals. They are non-intrusive and shouldn’t ruin your favorite music track or podcast.
Settings for audio instructions, vibrations and mid-run cue.
As an addition, a mid-run voice cue can be activated in the settings to let you know when it’s time to turn around if you’re running outdoors.
Does it Work?
I’ve reached my fifth week with C25K Trainer so it is clearly working for me. The app is simple to use and doesn’t require any setting or maintenance on my part. The visual and audio cues are clear, and it was only my job to follow the instructions to the letter without cheating.
I have been doing just that and keeping up with the tri-weekly sessions. I can proudly say that I now run several intervals of five minutes without collapsing or heaving breathless, which is what used to happen in less than a minute when I tried to run five weeks ago. I just peeked at the next sessions and it looks like my interval training is nearing an end, with longer running times and almost nonexistent walking.
Looking back at the first day, the running intervals were so short!
Stop Procrastinating and Just Try It
If you’re on the fence about running, have considered starting but can’t find the time or energy to do so, you should really consider the Couch to 5K program. It doesn’t require a lot of time investment, nor does it push you prematurely to run beyond your limits. It increases the difficulty gradually, at a rhythm that should make it accessible for the laziest and most sedentary person out there.
As far as C25K apps go, C25K Trainer is free, ad-free, and incredibly simple to use. It has a few quirks, like keeping the phone’s screen on unless you manually turn it off, and rare force closes — that only thankfully occur when you finish the run and switch to another app! — but it serves its purpose well and should have you running and enjoying it in a matter of weeks.