How to Run Your Fittest 5k Ever

Running has a ton of great physical and mental health benefits. And when combined with other workouts like weight lifting, you're well on your way to all-around stellar fitness. (Not to mention a strong and lean physique!)

No matter your fitness goal, there's a plan to help you get there. (Image: Mikolette/iStock/GettyImages)

So if you want a training program that gives you the cardiovascular benefits of running with the muscle-building benefits of strength training, look no further. As part of our Best 5k Ever Challenge, we've created a five-week program that will guide you toward not only finishing a 5k race but also help you get stronger in the process (and maybe even set a 5k PR).

Strength training and intervals are your best friend when training for your fittest 5K ever. (Image: Tong Li / LIVESTRONG.COM)

The Training Plan for Your Fittest 5k Ever

YOUR GOAL: Build muscle, tone up or lose weight while training for a 5k

YOU'RE READY IF: You've been running two to three days a week for at least four (ideally six) months and completed at least one 5k race already.

OVERVIEW: There are three day of running, two days of strength training (or one day of strength training and one day of cross training) and two rest days (or one day of rest and one day of active recovery). Alternating between running and other workouts gives your muscles time to recover from each workout, while still staying active.

WARM UP/COOL DOWN: Each run begins with a five-minutes warm-up (brisk walk or easy jog) and ends with a five-minute cool down (preferably walking, with stretching afterward). You'll be tempted to skip these — but don't! Warming up and cooling down safely transition you body into and out of exercise. So even though it's not noted on the calendar, you should warm up and cool down for EVERY workouts.

Doesn't matter where you run; just get it done! (Image: Westend61/Westend61/GettyImages)

What Should These Workouts Look Like?

Now that you have your training calendar, be sure to print it out and hang it somewhere you'll see it every day. And be sure to read through the following breakdown of the main types of workouts and some tips for making the most of your training.

EASY RUN: These workouts are steady runs done at a comfortable, conversational pace (60 to 65 percent of your max heart rate or a 5 on a rate of perceived excursion scale — 1 to 10). If you're struggling to finish the workout, slow down.

INTERVALS: Interval training involves short bursts of speed followed by rest or recovery periods. For each workout, after your warm-up, you'll run (or sprint) as fast as you comfortably can for the prescribed time. Then, you'll either jog, run a bit slower or walk to recover.

Your speed bursts should be fast enough to challenge you for the duration but not so much that you have to stop completely (especially important for week 3's two-minute speed bursts). Similarly, your recovery should be fast enough to keep your heart rate up but not so fast that you can't speed up.

LONG RUN: Long runs build the base of distance running: endurance. And these are noted differently on the calendar (miles instead of minutes) so that you measure the distance of your run rather than time to get a better mental image of what a 5k will be like. Your impulse may be to run these as fast as you can, and while you want these to be harder than an easy run, you don't want to burn yourself out.

If you don't live near a walking path that has miles marked, head to the track (4 laps equals a mile) or download a smartphone app like MapMyRun. You could also run on a treadmill, but you want to make sure a lot of your runs are outside to more closely mimic race course conditions.

STRENGTH TRAINING: Adding strength training to your 5k training plan not only rounds out your workout regimen but can also help you run faster. On days you choose to strength train (one or two days a week), pick from one of the following workouts:

CROSS-TRAINING: Let's say you have a favorite boot camp or spin class you just can't miss for the next five weeks. Use your optional cross-training day to keep it as part of your weekly routine. Cross-training is essentially any other workout besides running that gets your heart pounding and your muscles working. Pilates, kettlebells, TRX, swimming, Zumba, CrossFit, barre — it's all fair game.

ACTIVE RECOVERY: Unlike full-on rest days (keep reading for more on that), your active recovery days will involve some physical activity, but it shouldn't be strenuous. Try walking/hiking, yoga or stretching or even foam rolling to continue to burn calories without burning out.

REST: Rest days are full days off (yay!), and they're the perfect time for some self-care. Soak your tired muscles in a warm bath, get a massage, treat yo'self! The point is to give yourself a mental and physical break from training so that you don't end up overtraining and get injured.

DAYS OF THE WEEK: Plans change sometimes. If you need to rearrange training days, go for it. Just shift the days forward or back, or do your best to preserve the every-other-day plan.

Ready to join us? Make sure you're a member of the LIVESTRONG.COM Challenge Facebook Group for more info, motivation and answers to your questions.

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