How to Train for a 5K on a Treadmill – Expert Tips

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How to train for a 5k

Running your first 5K is very exciting, but it can also be incredibly humbling.

Initially you're probably feeling that adrenaline, and nothing can stop you from thinking about how great this race is going to be for your mental clarity, physical fitness and emotional well-being. You're going to kill it!

Training for a 5K run starts with all that positivity, but really gets underway when your training schedule becomes a true commitment. A little more planning is required when the question of how to train for a 5K on a treadmill becomes a reality. Depending on who you ask, training can begin seven, eight or even ten weeks prior to the race. If you feel like you have a long way to go to complete the just over 3.1-mile event, start as early as can.

If you've been using your treadmill more as a place to hang your clothes than a running apparatus, first you need to make sure it's still in working order. Before you get started, check the treadmill for safety and cleanliness while ensuring that it's in an optimal location to accommodate your 5k running plan.

Simply put, if it’s in the corner of your basement, what are the chances of your training being a positive experience? Place the treadmill in a location where ventilation and light exists in abundance. It will definitely help you stay positive, especially during the final leg of your training. If you're training on a treadmill at the gym, chances are all of these things are already true, so all you have to do is show up!

5K training for beginners: Next steps​

You’ve got a treadmill, either at home or at the gym, and you're ready to start your 5K training plan. You're going to need a couple more things to get going, starting with a pair of running shoes that fit your feet.

​Beginning runners are always thrown for a loop when they realize the number of important aspects required in a running shoe. There are so many things to consider, like cushioning, stability and breathability that will make a difference in your comfort as you run.

The other important aspect of the running shoe is that you should start training in it, so when race day comes around, your feet are happy and secure in a familiar shoe that has been worked in around your arches.

Next, and this is far less important than finding the right running shoe for you, is beginning your 5K training  in comfortable clothing. You'll want to wear clothing that doesn’t rub or bunch while you run.

Finally, get your calendar ready. Although your phone or your computer can be synced to include your running schedule (and those rest days!), a physical calendar that you can write on is integral to the success of 5K training for beginners. Writing your goals and achievements in a very easy-to-see format will help inspire you to get to the big day: Race day!

Developing a 5K running plan​

When you've prepared your 5K training schedule, it’s finally time to hop on the treadmill and get started.

It's important that your plan include the following aspects:

  • Warm up and cool down routines
  • Scheduled runs and distances
  • Cross training
  • Disciplined running and training
  • Hydration and healthier eating habits

Warm up and cool down routines

Going directly to the gym, or using the treadmill in your home, comes with the pressure of hopping on and getting started right away. When you're learning how to train for a 5K on a treadmill, it's imperative that you warm up – just like you would if you were running outside.

A good rule of thumb to is to plan for three to five minutes of warm up time before you start your run.

Warm up at walking pace of no more than 2.5 mph to begin, upping it slowly to 3.5 mph every two minutes o so. Once you are adequately warmed up, it's time to get jogging.

After your run, you're going to want to repeat the process in reverse to cool down.

Simply wind down the speed at which you were running every one to two minutes to an easier pace, before finally gearing down to a walk that should last for a full three to five minutes. The cool down is just as important to your body’s health as warming up is, so don’t rush it – or worse, skip it.

Scheduled runs and distances​

So here’s the good news: There are seven days in a week, and you only have to train for three of them. It's very important that you rest, too, so your muscles have time to heal.

Running a 5K may be a challenge, but you don’t have to overthink it. You can make this training work for you by mixing your running with walking and cross training, so you don’t get bored with being on a treadmill all of the time.​

Pick the three best days of the week that work for your training. Try and isolate your training times, so that they don’t conflict with your existing commitments. If you meet your friends for dinner once a week, don’t pick that day to train. If you start to feel that training is interfering with your life, you're going to become less likely to run. Consistency will help you stay on schedule, and will keep your program working for you – not against you.

Now that you've picked your three days, it's time to organize your schedule so you know how much time you'll have to dedicate on those days. For new runners who are learning how to train for a 5K on a treadmill, the following schedule is a great example, and is based on a 10-week training program.​

Weeks 1 and 2: 30-Minute Workout

  • Walk for 5 minutes
  • Jog and/or run (or a combination of both) for 20 minutes
  • Walk for 5 minutes

Weeks 3 and 4: 36-Minute Workout

  • Walk for 5 minutes
  • Jog and/or run (or a combination of both) for 26 minutes
  • Walk for 5 minutes

Weeks 5 and 6: 40-Minute Workout

  • Walk for 5 minutes
  • Jog and/or run (or a combination of both) for 30 minutes
  • Walk for 5 minutes

Once you're into your 5th week, it's important that your jogging and running intervals are not pushing you too hard and you're keeping an easy pace. If, at any time, you feel exhausted, shaky or tired from jogging or running, walk until your body recovers. Once you feel you've regained your strength, start to jog again. Never feel as if you have to keep running if your body is telling you not to, as you can injure yourself easily by not respecting your body’s signs. There's nothing to be ashamed of by breaking your running stride for a walk. Your safety and well-being is the most important part of preparing for the race.

Weeks 7 and 8: 46-Minute Workout

  • Walk for 5 minutes
  • Jog and/or run (or a combination of both) for 36 minutes
  • Walk for 5 minutes

At this juncture, you should be able to hold a conversation with someone while jogging, without becoming incredibly winded. Since you're running on a treadmill, this might be hard to test at the gym, but if you're in comfort of your own home, try and say a few things – even just by talking to yourself – to see how you feel after. This is a comforting milestone, and will boost your confidence incredibly!

Weeks 9 and 10: 50-Minute Workout

  • Walk for 5 minutes
  • Jog and/or run (or a combination of both) for 40 minutes
  • Walk for 5 minutes

One possible goal, even for beginners, is to run an 8-minute mile, which means you would finish the race in just over 24 minutes.

If that sounds aggressive, don’t worry! No one is judging you, or your time. The primarily goal is to train properly and safely, and finish the race.

Cross training​

Another activity that is beneficial in preparing for a 5K is cross training. Cross training means something different to everyone, and that's completely fine. Since this is your first race, it's best to find the groove that works for you.

When considering getting into cross training, in addition to your three days of scheduled runs, it's important not overdo to it. It's advantageous to cross train in ways that improve your running. This can mean riding a stationary bike to improve your leg muscle tone and flexibility.

You can also lift weights to improve strength, or train in the pool to keep yourself stretched and limber for the treadmill. The good news is, you can substitute 20 30% of your running training with cross-training!

Keep in mind there are always more aggressive plans to get you ready for your first 5k, and it's possible to prepare in six weeks, but those plans are expedited and will require complete dedication from start to finish.

Shape provides a number of power-pumping ways to get your 5K training out of the way quickly and aggressively.​

Although six weeks in completely doable, it's important to know your body and what it can handle. It’s best to start out slow, and see where the training takes you, instead of diving into the deep end and risking the possibility of getting hurt as a result. Only you and your body can decide how aggressive you want to get in terms of training tactics.

Disciplined running and training​

Here’s the good news: Although preparing for the race may seem daunting at first, and carving out time for training may seem like a burden, once you get started, your body is going to start craving exercise.

You're going to start feeling better and looking forward to the days you have to work out. Although rest days are important for your overall physical and mental health, you're going to see an amazing change in your attitude and energy level as your training regimen progresses.

It is important to remained disciplined, especially at first. Even if you aren’t feeling the benefits right away and start to become discouraged, keep at it! You'll get there, and your body will thank you!

The importance of hydration 

It’s no secret that being more active means you're going to sweat. And when you sweat, your body is losing important nutrients as a result.

Staying hydrated will provide a number of benefits to your running health – and overall well-being.

This includes:​

  • Weight loss
  • Skin elasticity
  • Muscle efficiency
  • Balanced mood
  • Temperature control
  • Memory function
  • Joint lubrication
  • Healthier bowl function
  • Better digestion
  • Better immune health

Although each of these benefits are optimal to your health, the running you will particularly enjoy the lack of cramping when you run, and the ability to stay balanced without overheating.

Healthy eating habits​

Undertaking a 5K is a commitment, and there's nothing worse than feeling overwhelmed.

Much like staying hydrated, eating healthier will come naturally when you consider your goal of getting through the race. And here’s why: You're not going to want to eat a cheeseburger and go for a run. You're not going to want to step away from your workout and eat an entire pizza, negating the healthy feeling running gives you.

Hunger can be satiated in smart ways, especially after a workout. Don’t be afraid to grab a protein packed salad to eat after your shower, or enjoy a banana the minute you open to your gym bag. Cutting calories is great, but you never want to feel ill or undernourished because of your diet and running can take a lot out of you, so eat!

Simply make smarter decisions when it comes to the foods you eat, and don’t beat yourself up over indulging in fries or dessert while hanging out with friends. It is all about moderation, and enjoying the process!

The night before the race​

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t stay out all night, or drink or eat too much of anything that will upset your stomach or leave you lagging the day before race day. Here are a couple of other tips:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Lace out your race clothes, bib and shoes the night before
  • Hydrate

It is also important not to do anything new. Just keep the routine you have had for the past ten weeks, and get some rest for your big day!

It's race day!

First things first: DON’T BE NERVOUS! You’ve got this!

Follow these easy steps on race day, and you’ll be at the finish line in no time!

  • Arrive 45 to 60 minutes early
  • Use the restroom
  • Warm up and stretch

Keep your pace slow to start, as you will be caught up in the crowd until everyone has the chance to spread out.

Once you can, jog at a comfortable pace for the first two miles and then kick it up a notch for the third, pushing yourself a little – but not too much so that you hurt yourself.

How to train for a 5K

Image: 5K Race

Take the last couple of hundred yards to bask in the glory of the finish line, which is increasingly closer!

Don’t forget to cool down, and take advantage of the snack and hydration options the event coordinators will provide at the end.

Stick around and mingle with other runners, or head your own way to enjoy your victory!

And pat yourself on the back, because you've done it! Congratulations!​