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Couch to 5K... or Couch to Ouch?

Man running
Tips to avoid injury

At the Centre for Complementary Health, we see lots of patients who have injured themselves by trying out a new sport a little too enthusiastically. It is important if you are taking up new sport that you take care and ease into it gently. This way you are far less likely to cause yourself an injury.

Now that the weather is cooling down again, after our long hot summer, how about starting a new sport or activity? Not a runner, but fancy giving it a go? How about trying the couch to 5k from the NHS! You never know you could end up running the London Marathon!

What is Couch to 5K?

Couch to 5K (C25K) is a running plan for absolute beginners. It was developed by a new runner, Josh Clark, who wanted to help his 50-something mum get off the couch and start running, too. The plan involves 3 runs a week, with a day of rest in between, and a different schedule for each of the 9 weeks, progressing from little running to achievably running 5k.

How does it work?

The biggest challenge a new runner faces is not knowing how or where to start which can delay getting started in the first place.

Couch to 5K works because it starts with a mix of running and walking to gradually build up your fitness and stamina.

Week 1 of the plan involves running for just a minute at a time, creating realistic expectations and making the challenge feel achievable right from the start.

What are the benefits?

There are plenty of benefits from getting into running. Firstly, it’s an easy way of improving your physical and mental health and wellbeing. As a runner myself I can vouch for this!

Running requires little equipment, but a good pair of running shoes that suits your foot type is essential. It’s always worth putting time and money into being properly assessed for this.

Running regularly will improve your cardiac and respiratory health. It can also help you lose weight, especially if combined with a healthy diet.

Running can also help to boost your confidence and self-belief, as you prove to yourself that you can set yourself a target and achieve a goal.

Running regularly can also be a great stress reliever and has even been shown to combat anxiety and depression.

For more information and help in getting going, visit the NHS Couch to 5K website

There is no doubt about it, once you have a few weeks of your 5k training program under your belt you will be feeling so much better. You may start to see weight loss, you will certainly feel more toned as your waist gets trimmer, your legs feel stronger and those areas of excess weight have started to disappear. In yourself, you will feel healthier as well. Your self-confidence will be higher as people comment on how well you are looking, you will have more energy to cope with what the day throws at you and you will feel generally better about yourself.

But there will be days when this is not the case. You are pushing your body to limits it has probably never been before; certainly not since you were a child running around the playground. It is inevitable that you will feel niggles, strains and muscle soreness, and there will be times when you feel positively exhausted. These are moments when you need to make sure you are treating your body with the care it deserves. To remain healthy and avoid injuries, this means eating correctly, treating yourself to a check up with a manual therapist and ensuring you stretch and cool down to help your muscles recover.

You are what you eat

You probably embarked on the running program to lose weight, among other targets. This means in all likelihood you are increasing your exercise levels but reducing the amount of calories you consume. It is really important that the food you eat will support your active lifestyle: this means plenty of foods that are rich in vitamins, particularly iron and vitamin C, and food that will provide you with slow-releasing energy, such as pasta, rice and potatoes.

Stretching and cooling

The C25K program will advise you firstly to warm up before you start and then to cool down and stretch after each of your weekly sessions. You may well be tempted to skip this cool down and stretch, but you will pay for it if you do. When you are walking, jogging or running at a higher intensity than usual, your muscles produce lactic acid. This can build up and cause you pain (cramp). To flush this acid and any other toxins through your system, you need to stretch your muscles. You would normally do this shortly after you finish your session, spending 10-15 seconds on each of the major muscle groups, but it is really beneficial to put some time aside when you can do all the stretching for a little longer. This will really help you develop your flexibility.

The important thing to remember is that if you are ill or injured at any point during your C25K program and have to miss a session, or even a week of training, for any reason, it is not the end of the world. You will not lose the fitness you have worked so hard to build up and you will not put weight back on. Sometimes it is your body’s way of telling you that you need a rest.

Exercise to complement your running

A really good exercise to complement the repetitive movements of running and further increase your flexibility and strength is a yoga class. Find a class with a good instructor who will work with you at your own level. We all have innate level of flexibility and this varies from person to person. Yoga is not a competition with others – it’s about you and working within your own limits!

Here are some useful points for your health and injury management

  • Listen to your body. If you feel ill, don’t go running. You will only make it worse.

  • If you feel tired and you have a tough training session coming up, swap it for an easier one.

  • If you feel a niggling injury, don’t run until it is better. It is impossible to ‘run off’ an injury.

  • If you have a cough or cold that has gone to your chest, definitely do not train. The rule for coughs and colds is: above the neck is okay to train; below the neck then stop as you may develop more serious respiratory illnesses.

  • For long term illness or an injury that will not go away, seek professional help.

The good news is people who run regularly are generally much healthier than their sedentary counterparts.


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