From couch to 5km: Best apps and devices to get you started

Expert running tech and tips to help you conquer that difficult first 5km
From couch to 5km with wearables

If you're looking to go from couch to 5K this summer, wearable tech and smartphone apps can help you get started with your running.

While the running bit is still down to you (sorry about that), keeping track of your runs with one of the best running watches is a great way to visualise your improvement, help you follow a sensible training plan, and for many, get more satisfaction from improvement.

Ask any runner and they'll tell you that the hardest part of running is the first three outings. Those first few miles where you're building stamina and fitness are among the toughest you'll ever run, but get through it and the achievement is well worth the initial pain.

So if you're looking for a little support, here's our guide to the running tech to take some of the pain out of going from couch to 5km.

Couch to 5km: Getting started

Couch to 5km

Walk before you can run

Using a fitness band to monitor your daily steps is a good starting point. There are now loads of options to choose from catering for all budgets.

From the cheap as chips Misfit Flash to the wallet-bashing Fitbit Surge, fitness trackers encourage you to gradually increase the number of steps you take each by adding in short walks when you would take another option. Walk the escalator, take the stairs where possible or stroll to the next bus stop. All of these will help to improve your base fitness so that when you do start to run you're far better prepared.

Sign up for a race

Okay, it doesn't strictly require a piece of wearable tech to do but setting a goal, with a deadline, is a brilliant motivator. Find a 5km run that's happening six months from now, book yourself a place and stick it in your diary.

Then head to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and tell everyone you know that you're doing it. Once it's out there there's no going back. Your friends and family will hold you accountable, offer support and encouragement along with delivering the necessary kick up the ass as required.

Couch to 5km: The best apps

There are lots of versions of the couch to 5km programmes for iOS and for Android. These provided pre-planned schedules with all of the walks, walk/runs and runs you need to do to turn yourself into a 5km runner.

Many of the apps, like the original iOS app offer GPS tracking within the app but we'd recommend also using a GPS running watch or heart rate tracker for added insight.

Couch to 5K

This app gets our nod thanks to its Apple Watch partner app on iOS. The app itself sorts out your schedule into a useable plan, while the Apple Watch element guides you when to run, when to walk and when to stop.

$1.99, iOS | Android

Official C25K

Free to download, the official C25K offers zero barrier to getting started on your fitness journey. It sets out your plan and tracks your runs, is compatible with Spotify and other music services to control your playlists while you train, and you can have data integrated with MyFitnessPal to keep tabs on those shredded calories.

Free, iOS | Android

One You Couch to 5K

Created in a collaboration between the BBC and British National Health Service, the One You app is actually the weakest in terms of features, with no live tracking. However, you do get access to a podcast, which is a great bit of content to get you in the mood to run.

Free, iOS | Android

Couch to 5km: Best GPS watches

Garmin Forerunner 25


The Garmin Forerunner 15 costs a fraction of the price of its peers, and is ideal for new runners, couch to 5k-ers and those who want a little more info on their regular runs. It also boasts all-day activity tracking, bridging the divide between an fitness band and serious sports watch.
Buy it for: GPS distance, pace, calories, basic step tracking.
From £89.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Polar M400

Couch to 5km running guide

The Polar M400 works as an activity tracker and a running watch, monitoring daily movement and how far you've run. But what takes the M400 to the next level are the fitness test and heart rate training smarts.

This combination makes it a great option for anyone just starting out who might go on to keep running in the future.

£134.50 (£169.50 with heart rate sensor), polar.com

TomTom Spark

As well as the usual running metrics (distance, speed, time), it has a built-in optical heart rate monitor which aced our tests, it plugs into nearly every running app going and has storage for MP3s, which it'll play via a pair of wireless headphones.

In depth: TomTom Spark review

$249.99, tomtom.com | Amazon

Listen to your heart

Monitoring your heart rate isn't just for wannabe Mo Farrahs. Knowing what your BPM is during exercise is the best way to ensure you're getting the training effect you want.

You also don't have to run flat out to lose weight. LIT (low intensity training) where you exercise for longer periods at 50% of your maximum heart rate (MHR) can also have superb effects for those starting out.

It's also brilliant to see when you're perhaps over reaching yourself and can help you be more objective about how tired you are.

For example, if your BPM hits 175 during a run/walk session, it's a good sign that it might time for a period of walking recovery. In the early days, when you're looking to build distance and stamina, it's better to slow down, catch your breath and let your heart rate drop rather than pushing to the point where you can't go on.

Invest in a Bluetooth LE chest strap

If you don't want to invest in a pricey running watch, another option is to buy a chest strap that'll pair with apps like Strava, Endomondo or Polar Flow.

The Polar H7 or Wahoo TICKR Run are both good options but be sure to check your smartphone's software compatibility before you buy as not all straps work with all smartphones.

A chest strap heart rate monitor that also has a built-in accelerometer, the TICKR X is a brilliant piece of kit for all-round fitness tracking. It'll clock your heart rate and your movement, giving you movement stats for gym workouts as well more detailed running data like cadence - or how often your feet strike the ground - which is a good indicator of correct running form.

It pairs via Bluetooth with iOS and Android smartphone apps to collect all your data and offers a great cheaper alternative to a more fully featured GPS running watch.

Run better with your GPS watch

Be sure to check our guides to using Polar Flow and Garmin Connect for more help on building your plan, and check out our comprehensive running guides below once you start breezing through 5km...

Your running watch explained

How to train better using heart rate zones

How to start interval training with your running watch

How to stay injury free with wearable tech

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