The 6 Best Couch-to-5k Apps for 2020

Try one of these running apps for beginners

If you're not especially active but want to do something about your fitness, taking part in the Couch to 5K movement might be just the ticket. Invented way back in 1996, it's an exercise program designed to let couch potatoes slowly, over the course of weeks or even a few months, build up their strength and endurance until it's possible to complete a 5K run. There are a lot of variations on the Couch to 5k training program, but a good place to start is with a mobile app that can help lead you all the way to your goal: running about 3.1 miles. Here's a collection of six of the best apps for Android to get you from couch to 5K.

The apps below are for Android, but we also cover running apps on the iPhone as well.

01
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C25K

Three views of the C25K app
What We Like
  • Ability to skip or repeat parts of a workout.

  • Route is mapped.

  • Curated playlists if you subscribe.

What We Don't Like
  • Week one is a bit too ambitious for some newbies.

C25K puts you on an eight-week training schedule. You ease into week 1 with alternating walking and running or 20 minutes, though even this baby step might be too taxing for some folks. The interface is simple, with a scrollable timeline of your exercises and you can jump into any session with a single tap. Once in a session, the app announces what you should do -- walk, jog, and so on -- and tells you how far into the session you are. You're in control; you can rewind and repeat a step or skip ahead to the end.

The app maps your sessions and you can post to social media. It's free, though there's a $5 per month upgrade (Zen Unlimited Pass) which adds additional features like curated playlists and the ability to track calories and distance. 

02
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Zombies, Run! 5k Training

Three views if the Zombies Run app
What We Like
  • Utterly delightful concept.

  • Fun voice acting keeps you engaged.

  • Run logs track route, pace, and calories.

What We Don't Like
  • Not enough story means long stretch of silence.

Perhaps the most clever training program ever, this zombie-themed app features a scripted narrative to listen to while you work out, with a compelling Walking Dead-style story to distract you from exercise. The eight-week program divides each exercise into sections, such as 5 minutes of walking, 5 minutes of running, some stationary exercises, followed by more walking and running.

While you can optionally play music, because there are lots of empty spaces between the voice acting, this app is best for folks who like listening to podcasts while they exercise. What's nice is the exercise instructions are integrated into the narrative. The app is free, but a $6 per month subscription gets you additional zombie adventures after reaching your first 5K milestone. 

03
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Just Run: Zero to 5K

Three views of the Just Run app
What We Like
  • Can choose zero to 5K or 5K to 10K.

  • Longer plan than many.

  • No ads or in-app purchases.

What We Don't Like
  • Not much personality.

  • No tracking or mapping features. 

If you want a simple trainer that does all the essentials without a lot of extra fluff, Just Run is a good choice. The app offers two different training programs. There's a zero to 5K plan and a 5K to 10K plan, so you can use Just Run to continue to train after hitting your first milestone. Another nice touch: The app extends the 0 to 5K plan to 9 weeks, so you can take an extra 3 training days to get ready for your first race. Each session builds smartly on the one before with a lot of variety in the structure and interval lengths. More so than many other training programs, you won't get bored.

 And while there are no in-app purchases or ads, the interface is bare-bones and boring, with no visual flourishes or extra features. And there are no tracking or mapping features to chart your progress.

 

04
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Start to Run. Running for Beginners

Three views of the Start Running app
What We Like
  • Customizable workouts.

  • One-time small fee to unlock entire app.

  • Can create weekly schedule.

What We Don't Like
  • No incremental changes every week to exercise plan.

  • No in-app access to music.

Start to Run takes a slightly different approach than many training apps. Rather than working towards a 5K specifically, you get to choose which of four training programs you want to dive into, with goals ranging from running for 20 minutes to running for a full hour. If your goal is a 5K, you might want to choose Level 2, the 30-minute goal.

Unfortunately, every workout within a level is the same, with the same mix of walk and run intervals from the first day to the last, so it doesn't really build you to your goal in an incremental way. On the other hand, you can tweak the plan on the fly during a workout; you can skip the walking intervals with a tap if you want more running, but you can't skip the running intervals.

For a one-time fee, you can unlock more features like the ability to make custom workouts and see more stats on your progress.

05
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Nike Run Club

Three views of the Nike Run Club app
What We Like
  • Large variety of narrated guided runs.

  • Custom plans in the My Coach section.

  • Elegant, full featured app.

What We Don't Like
  • Not as friendly to brand new runners. 

  • Must log in.

Nike doesn't let you use the app anonymously; you have to sign in. But that's a small price to pay for an app without in-app purchases or ads. More so than most of the other apps in this collection, the Nike Run Club is a general-purpose running app, but it also lets you create a plan to get to your 5K using the My Coach feature.

Here can pick a general plan, like the 4-week Get Started plan, and customize it with details like how often you can run each week. In addition to the Coach, there are guided runs narrated to help you get better and try different kinds of runs.

06
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RunDouble

Three views of the RunDouble app
What We Like
  • Lots of workout plans.

  • Inexpensive to upgrade.

  • Rich logging of your workouts. 

What We Don't Like
  • Ugly interface.

  • Need to pay for the 5K plan. 

RunDouble isn't focused exclusively on couch-to-5K; it includes over a dozen training plans to prepare you for everything from fun runs to a half-marathon. Only the fun run plans are free, but you can try the couch-to-5K plan for 2 weeks before paying to upgrade, and the upgrade is crazy cheap ($3 for unlimited access to $1.59 for the 5K plans).

The actual runs are repetitions of walking and running with a steady throttling until you are running for 20 minutes or more. The actual interface is plain to the point of downright ugly, but it's functional, and you can skip any interval (walking or running) at any point. When the workout is over, the log tracks a slew of information including a graph of your pace.