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As the title says, I'm a bit confused about the standard Couch to 5k. The common recommendation will have you running 3 times a week with intervals changing from walking to running. I myself followed this program for about 8 weeks before a bad pair of shoes completely ruined both my wallet and my schedule.

Now, I want to start all over and I went to a shop specializing in runners, bought a pair of running shoes, and the guy behind the counter who has completed several IRONMAN challenges told me to start out easy and follow a similar schedule, but only run twice a week, the justification for this being that starting out with 3 times a week invites problems with the both knees and shins in the long term.

Of course I want to take the extra precaution, and he certainly has the experience over me, but I can't seem to find anyone reporting issues like he (and the pamphlet the shop makes) claims, and that sticking to twice a week should save me down the line.

So, my question is, is the guy right about the possible damages long term, or are all the people who, supposedly, are professional trainers wrong in pushing beginners too much?

  • As the existing answers state, it's individual response. However, I would add that a professional trainer should be able to assess their clients and adjust to add more or take away workouts depending on how their clients are responding. Client X may be able to do 5x a week right away, while client Z may only be able to handle 2x a week to start. – JohnP Apr 11 '16 at 14:52
  • Fair point, though the professional trainers I was referring to was more the people who create these general training regiments which are then applied to the general masses through apps and websites, not personal trainers who know you. – Elsarild Apr 11 '16 at 22:07
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Quite honestly, it's hard to give you a direct answer because this is a highly individual thing. My experience with the C25k program as someone more or less starting from scratch was that the 3 times a week schedule did not lead to shin splints or knee problems. Frankly, the ramp up is slow enough that you're walking for a good bit of the time, and by the time you get to actually running a decent amount of time, you've built up enough endurance that you're not likely to be causing yourself damage.

That said, you mentioned that you nearly completed the program before (I'm assuming since you said you were doing it for 8 weeks and it's a 9 week program). That actually introduces a new risk in that you've done the running before. On the plus side, it will improve your confidence and your body is already partially conditioned, which means you'll probably get into shape even faster. On the minus side, the first few weeks are probably going to feel boring and you're going to be tempted to run more than they say. Be wary about following that impulse because the mind is a powerful thing, and can get you pushing yourself too hard too fast. If you get bored in the earlier weeks, don't skip more than a week ahead at a time, and always listen to what your body tells you the next day. If you wake up in pain, or barely able to summon the energy to get out of bed, the chances are that you pushed it too far, and you need to scale back to the schedule. Fortunately, the rest day will usually soothe most of the aches.

Best of luck with your running!

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  • Another facet of my question is a fairly petty one, because I bought an app to help me keep up, and C25K apps seem to be a dime a dosen, but an app that isn't extremely basic that allows creating a custom interval for training often requires a monthly subscription, so I'd really like it if I could make due with the app I bought, rather than a subscription, at least for now. That said, thank you for your answer, I think it pairs nicely with what the guy below said, that he was probably playing it safe, as they get hundreds of customers a day nationwide and they'd rather cover their ass. – Elsarild Apr 11 '16 at 22:03
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I believe the answer is that both are correct.

In general a beginner at any physical pursuit improvement will come from regular 2x per week sessions, but improvements will come faster at 3x per week.

However, humans are all different, we adapt to training stimulus at different rates, we have various different issues with our gait, leg lengths etc that can cause pain and/or injury.

The guy in the shop is just playing it safe, which is quite a valid approach when giving advice to a relative stranger.

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If you have to limit yourself to running 3 times per week or less to avoid injuries, then you need to make sure you do some cycling or swimming a few times per week to make the total amount of cardio work to be at least 5 times per week sessions of at least half an hour of quite hard exercise. Otherwise, your cardio fitness won't improve a lot. Now, you can start out at 3 times per week of running, but as soon as you can run the whole length and are able to increase the speed, then it's time to double the cardio exercise frequency, which you can do just as well by adding swimming and cycling to the routine.

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I'm a beginner (40 years old) who started running the 5k three times per week. It took about three or four weeks but I started to develop shin splints. Not to mention aches and pains in my hips and joints. I'm back to running just twice a week which gives my body plenty of recovery time. And I'm doing great, have my 5k time down below 24 minutes. I also weight train twice a week and I'm considering biking on the weekends for cross training. It doesn't sound plausible but twice a week is working for me.

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