Whether you're game to take on a 3.1-mile race, or just looking to improve your overall fitness, this 6-week 5K training program will give you the endurance, strength, and confidence to reach your goals.

Cliff Scherb and Micaela Young, M.S.
March 11, 2020
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Jacob Fox & Jason Donnelly

The 5K is one of the most popular race distances. And it's easy to understand why. Five kilometers, or 3.1 miles, is a challenging yet doable distance, even for those who don't consider themselves runners. Plus, 5K events are a great way to connect with your community, see new sights, and raise awareness for issues you're passionate about. That's why millions of Americans toe the line each year.

If you're not ready to take part in a public event, that's OK! Set your own end goal by choosing a date six weeks out and plotting a 3.1-mile route to do by yourself or with friends or family. Register for free at MapMyRun.com to create your own custom course.

Taking time to train outside and flex your competitive muscle can bust stress and improve your mood.

The Plan

This 6-week beginner training program will prepare you to walk or run a 3.1-mile race. Find the complete plan on p. 49. Here's how each week is broken down:

Monday & Friday:

Strength training. Strength workouts are important for distance training because they shore up weaknesses and help your muscles avoid fatigue. You'll alternate between two circuits: Circuit A is an injury-prevention routine created for this program (find it below), and Circuit B focuses on building general strength and muscle endurance (find it TK).

Tuesday:

Steady-state walks. These days are for building overall aerobic fitness to help you go the distance. Aim to walk at an easy to moderate pace where you can still hold a conversation (in other words, save your speed for the workouts!).

Wednesday & (sometimes) Sunday:

Rest & recovery. Recovery days are essential to becoming a faster and stronger athlete. While you get an "off" day, your muscles will be hard at work rebuilding and adapting to the week's demands. That doesn't necessarily mean you should avoid all movement (it's important for blood sugar management!); just take it easy. Try yoga, do some gentle stretching, enjoy a relaxed post-dinner walk—go about your normal day.

Thursday & Saturday:

Workouts. This is where the magic happens. These workouts use intervals to combine variety with speedwork, to help you improve both speed and fitness. During walk, slow, and easy intervals, use the same pace as on your steady-state walk days. Pick up your pace slightly for moderate intervals. When a workout interval uses the words run, quick, or hard, challenge yourself: aim to work at a pace where you can only say a few words. If your goal is to walk during your 5K, use the run intervals as a chance to work on your walking speed.

Sunday (usually):

Cross training. This is another flexible day when you can choose how—and how long—you exercise. Use this as a self check-in; listen to your body and how you're feeling. Similar to Tuesdays, these days are for building overall fitness. Choosing another activity like biking, swimming, or hiking lets your running muscles rest while you work other parts of your body—this is called "active recovery."

Circuit A: Strength Training for Injury Prevention

Each move in this circuit targets important running muscles. Repeat this sequence twice, taking 90 seconds of rest after each complete round.

10 Seesaw Lunges

Strong legs protect and cushion your hips, knees, and ankles. This efficient move builds overallleg strength, endurance, and—because you focus on one leg at a time—stability.

Stand with your feet together and your arms bent at a 90-degree angle (A). Shift your weight to your right foot. Take a big step forward with your left leg. Slowly bend your left knee to lower down to a point you can push up from, or until your left thigh is parallel to the floor (B). Pause; push through your left heel and step your left foot back to meet your right (A). Reverse the move: Take a big step backward with your left leg, bend your right knee, and slowly lower until your right thigh is parallel to the floor (C). Push through your left toes and step your left foot forward to meet your right again (A). This counts as 1 repetition. Continue lunging forward and back with your left leg. On the next round of the circuit, switch sides and lunge with your right leg.

Keep your front knee behind your toes as you lower down.

10 Bridges

A fluid, long stride depends not only on strong glute (buttocks) muscles, but also on mobile hips. Bridges help with both—strengthening your glutes and hamstrings while gently stretching your hips.

Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Tuck your ribs in and gently press your lower back into the mat to engage your abdominal muscles (A). Push through your heels to lift your buttocks and back off the mat until your hips, knees, and shoulders are in line (B). Hold for a few seconds, squeezing your abs, glutes, and the muscles in the backs of your legs. Slowly lower your back, then butt, back down to the mat. Repeat.

Jacob Fox & Jason Donnelly

Make it harder

Try Marching Bridge: Once your hips are in the air, lift one foot off the ground, then the other, keeping your hips lifted and stable. Lower, then repeat.

Jacob Fox & Jason Donnelly

10 Squat Thrusts

Strong core muscles—abs, back, hips, and glutes—are the foundation of an injury-free body. Squat thrusts train all four muscle groups to work together to keep your torso steady and upright for a balanced, stable stride.

Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart in front of a sturdy step, block, or chair (A). Tuck your ribs in and tilt your pelvis up slightly to protect your back. Keep this engagement as you send your buttocks back and bend your knees to lower into a squat. Place your hands on the block, close enough that you can comfortably keep your feet flat on the floor (B). Shift your weight to your hands and step your feet back (C) so you end in a plank with your legs fully extended (D). Check your form: Stack your shoulders above your wrists and squeeze the muscles in your arms, core, and legs so your body is in a straight line from your head to your toes. Hold here for a few seconds. Step your feet back to your hands and return to your squat with feet flat on the floor (B). Push through your legs to stand up (A). Repeat.

Hips dipping? Widen your stance.

Jacob Fox & Jason Donnelly

10 Modified Bicycles

Your abdominal muscles support your entire body. This move targets the deepest ab muscle (the transverse abdominis), which wraps around your midsection from front to back like a corset, stabilizing your spine and pelvis when you walk or run.

Lie on your back with your hands under your lower back for support. Lift your legs and bend your knees and hips at a 90-degree angle, so your knees are above your hips, and your shins are parallel to the floor (A). Fully engage your core: press your lower back down into your hands and pull your belly button toward your spine. Keep this engagement as you extend your right leg and slowly lower your right heel to the floor (B). Pause, then bring your right leg back up to meet the left (A). Repeat on the other side: extend your left leg and slowly lower your left heel to the floor, then return it to meet the right (A). This counts as 1 repetition. Continue, alternating legs.

Actively pull your toes toward your shins.

Jacob Fox & Jason Donnelly

Make it harder

Straighten your moving leg at a 45-degree angle and hold for a few seconds.

Circuit B: Whole-Body Strength Training

Improve your overall fitness and strengthen major muscle groups with this 15-minute interval workout. You can find the full workout 15-Minute Workout for Diabetes here. Here's a preview of the moves:

Stair Stepping

Improves strength and endurance in your hips and thighs

Jacob Fox & Jason Donnelly

Standing Twists

Trains the side (oblique) ab muscles that help you bend and twist

Jacob Fox & Jason Donnelly

Abdominal Crunches

Strengthens abs to help alleviate back strain

Lateral Shuffle with Squat

Improves thigh strength and endurance

Jacob Fox & Jason Donnelly

Modified Walkouts

Challenges the core while strengthening your chest, shoulders, and arms

Jacob Fox & Jason Donnelly

Standing Row

Strengthens your back to promote healthy posture

This interval workout alternates between heart-pumping and strength-building moves for a total-body workout. Find even more moves with some of our favorite Workouts for Diabetes.

Your 6-Week 5K Plan

Ready to get started? Read down the columns for your day-by-day plan. If you miss a day, don't sweat it, just keep going—it's consistency that matters. Over time, regular walking and running can decrease insulin resistance; lower A1C, blood pressure, and triglycerides; and help your heart work more efficiently.

About the Expert

Cliff Scherb, who designed this program, is a PWD type 1, endurance athlete, and the founder and principal coach of TriStar Athletes, a team of coaches helping type 1 athletes of all fitness levels reach their goals. He is an All-American triathlete and three-time finisher of the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, and he holds the second-fastest PWD type 1 Ironman time of 9 hours and 7 minutes. For more on Cliff, visit TristarAthletes.com, or email him at Cliff@tristarathlete.com.

This story originally appeared in Diabetic Living Spring 2020.