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How to train for a 5K race

Summer is high time for running events across the country. If you’re looking for a great reason to run a race, get involved in your community running events or use races in other locales as an excuse to travel. A 5K, a 3.1-mile race, is the perfect length to aim for as a beginner, and a great way to get in shape, but the mental preparation can be just as important as the physical training. Think about breaking your goal of running or walking a 5K down into chunks that are easier to manage. Start out with a simple program that does not push your limits and remember that your goal is to complete the race and feel good, not achieve a certain time.

Woman running outdoors

ACE’s 5-Week  5K Training Program

The shorter distance of a 5K means you can get in race shape and perform well in a shorter amount of time compared to long-distance events. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends the following five week training program to help you reach your 5K goal.

1. Check with your doc. Your first step should be a complete medical exam to make sure it is safe for you to begin a running program.

2. Build your cardio base. Begin with a walk/run program four times per week for 20 to 25 minutes. Add some variety to your training by alternating every other day with 20 to 30 minutes of an aerobic cross-training activity.

3. Increase distance and duration gradually. Select a starting distance that you are comfortable with. Increase the distance (and duration) by approximately 10 to 15 percent each week. For example, increase the duration of your walk/run from 25 minutes to 28 minutes in week 2. Continue increasing the distance and duration of your run or walk by 10 to 15 percent each week over weeks 3, 4 and 5.

4. Mix up your runs. Vary your runs during the week to break the monotony. Choose one or two days a week to run your set distance, and use the remaining days to focus on shorter, harder runs or interval sessions. Make sure to take one or two days off per week to let your body recover.

5. Keep up your strength. Pete McCall, ACE-certified personal trainer, suggests core training exercises to strengthen the core to help runners maximize running efficiency by creating a stable foundation to develop the stride length and stride frequency needed to increase running speed. A strong core also helps absorb the impact of striking the ground, reducing the stress on the body that is responsible for many common running injuries.

Strength exercises for runners

The following core training exercises are from ACE’s Exercise Library at “Get Fit” (

Bird dog

Starting position: On an exercise mat or floor, position your knees directly under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders. Brace your core and contract your abdominal muscles to position your spine in a neutral position to avoid any excessive sagging or arching.

Movement: Simultaneously extend the right arm and left leg, maintaining a stable spine. Keeping abdominals contracted, contract your glute and thigh muscles until your arm and leg form a straight, even line from fingers to toes. Lower and repeat on the opposite side. Do 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions on each side.

Click for Bird Dog illustration

Glute Bridge

Starting position: Lie on your back, knees bent with feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart, toes facing straight out. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to stabilize the core. Attempt to maintain this muscle contraction throughout the exercise.

Movement: Gently exhale and contract your glutes to press your hips upwards off the floor, pressing your heels into the floor for stability, for 2 to 3 seconds. Slowly lower your hips back to the floor for 3 to 4 seconds and repeat for 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.

Click for Glute Bridge illustration

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