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

Expert running tech and tips to help you conquer that difficult first 5km
From couch to 5km with wearables
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If you're looking to go from the couch to 5K, wearable tech and apps on your phone can help you make the leap.

While the running bit is still down to you, keeping track of your activity 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.

Essential reading: Best fitness trackers to buy

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 for those 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

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

Walk before you can run

Using a fitness tracker 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 Xiaomi Mi Band 3 to the stylish Fitbit Alta HR, 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 and book yourself a place and stick it in your diary. Alternatively, for our Brit readers, aim for something like completing a Park Run, which doesn't cost a thing to enter.

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 Couch to 5K iOS app offer GPS tracking within the app but we'd recommend also using a GPS running watch or heart rate monitor for added insight.

Couch to 5K

From couch to 5km: Best apps and devices to get you started in 2017

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.

£1.49, iOS | Android

Official C25K

From couch to 5km: Best apps and devices to get you started in 2017

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

From couch to 5km: Best apps and devices to get you started in 2017

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 great for getting you in the mood to run.

Free, iOS | Android

Couch to 5km: Best running watches

The key thing to remember here is you don't need to spend big on a watch. You want something that's going to be easy to use, does the basics well and gives the metrics that matter. We think these three options firmly fit the bill.

Garmin Forerunner 35

From couch to 5km: Best apps and devices to get you started in 2017

The Garmin Forerunner 35 costs less than most 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, heart rate, GPS and notifications, bridging the divide between an fitness band and serious sports watch. And for those in Europe who want a cheaper variant, the Garmin Forerunner 30 is also available.

In depth:Garmin Forerunner 35 review

£169.99, | Amazon

TomTom Spark 3

From couch to 5km: Best apps and devices to get you started in 2017

TomTom has officially been out of the wearable business, but you can still pick up its watches from other retailers and you won't break the bank for a really good value watch. 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, meaning it'll play via a pair of wireless headphones.

In depth: TomTom Spark 3 review

£219.99, | Amazon

Polar M200

From couch to 5km: Best apps and devices to get you started in 2017

The Polar M200 is a couple of years old, but it still represents a solid and affordable running watch. It works as an activity tracker and a running watch, monitoring daily movement and how far you've run. But what takes the M200 to the next level are the fitness test and heart rate training smarts. This combination makes it a great budget option for anyone just starting out who might go on to keep running in the future.

In depth: Polar M200 review

£129.50, | Amazon

Listen to your heart

Monitoring your heart rate isn't just for wannabe elite runners. Knowing what your bpm (beats per minute) 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

From couch to 5km: Best apps and devices to get you started in 2017

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 H10 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 Wahoo 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.

Heart rate monitors are of course now built into most wrist-based sports wearables. Accuracy though can vary for a variety of reasons and it's why using chest strap remains the gold standard for measuring your heart rate during activities like running.

If though you don't like the idea of wearing a chest strap or just don't get along with them from a comfort point of view, you do have another alternative. You can now buy heart rate monitoring armbands like the Polar OH1, Scosche Rhythm24 and Wahoo Tickr Fit. We've tried all three and have found them to be on par with what we've managed with chest straps. So you do have options here.

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