If you've been thinking of running a 5K, you should: Running just might be the most convenient workout going. You don't need to be a skilled athlete, and there's no fancy equipment involved; just lace up your sneaks and go. It's also one of the most efficient ways to blast fat and burn calories—about 600 an hour.
Sure, walking has its benefits, but research shows that running kicks its butt when it comes to shedding pounds. One study of 47,000 runners and walkers, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., found that the runners burned more calories and had a far greater decrease in BMI over a six-year period. The joggers who started out heaviest (those with a BMI over 28) lost up to 90 percent more weight than the walkers did.
Dropping pounds and toning up are hardly the only benefits of this killer cardio workout: You'll also reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes, boost your mood, temper stress, and build muscle, especially in the lower body and core. You don't even need to dedicate a lot of time to reap these rewards; do 20 to 30 minutes, three to four days a week, and you'll see significant improvement.
Ready to hit the road? Here's a 5K training plan for beginning joggers. And it's smart to add in one day of cross-training (think cycling or swimming) to rev up calorie burn and help prevent injury. Soon enough, you'll feel as if you were born to run.
This is the 5K training plan for you if: You're new to running and generally don't work out consistently.
Your goal: By the end of 8 weeks, be able to run for 20 minutes straight—and build up to a 5K challenge.
The 5K training plan: This eight-week, three-days-a-week plan by Nike+ Run Club coach Julia Lucas mixes walking with running to help prevent injury and overexertion. OK running for longer? Shorten or discard the walking time. Your ideal pace? One where you can carry on a conversation, but still feel like you're doing a brisk walk.
How to train for your 5K smarter:
1. Start off on the right foot. Making a small investment in gear now will save you loads of aggravation later—you'll feel more comfortable and avoid aches. "A good pair of running shoes can help ward off injuries like knee pain," says Susan Paul, an exercise physiologist and training program director at Orlando Track Shack Fitness Club in Orlando, Florida. Get a gait analysis at your local running store (it's usually free) to help determine your ideal shoe type.
2. Stop side stitches. Beginners are often plagued by this cramp, which strikes like a boxer's body blow and happens when an overworked diaphragm begins to spasm. To ease the pain, slow down and forcefully exhale each time your opposite foot strikes (so if the stitch is on your right side, breathe out when your left foot comes down). It also helps to massage the area with two fingers. And don't eat too much before you head out; a full stomach can be a culprit.
3. Think tortoise, not hare. "The biggest mistake most new runners make is they start out way too fast," says Paul. "It takes time for your body to get used to the demands of running. You have to condition your muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones, not just your heart and lungs." No matter how tempted you are to push yourself, don't. Slow and steady wins the calorie-burn race!