Intermediate 5K Training Plan

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” – Christopher McDougall

The 5K Intermediate training plan is designed with similar mileage to the beginner 5K running plan.  This plan is perfect for those who have completed a 5K race and want to improve their time.  The plan includes four days per week of running with a mixture of easy runs, long-distance runs, speed workouts, rest days, and optional cross-training days.

This plan is 10-weeks in length and will have you running faster and more efficiently in your next 5K race!  Each running session is based on time instead of distance, leading to a reduced risk of injury, and a more enjoyable experience!

The speed workouts are meant to improve performance by focusing on a faster pace and efficiency.  In addition, the gradual increase in long-distance runs will have you running farther and feeling more comfortable while covering the distance.  As the plan progresses, the total running time and intensity of each session will increase.

I include optional, but highly recommended cross-training workouts in the Intermediate 5K plan.  These cross-training workouts allow you to incorporate other activities you enjoy with this training plan.  Cross-training activities may include cycling, yoga, elliptical, swimming, or weight-lifting.  With the goal on improving your 5K time, cross-training workouts can make a remarkable difference in building strength and efficiency.

Individuals will want to choose this plan if they have been running regularly at least 3 to 4 times per week for 40 to 45-minutes.  If you are currently running less, that is okay!  You may want to consider starting or repeating the Beginner 5K training plan and building your fitness up to this Intermediate 5K plan.

At a glance

  • Length: 10 weeks
  • Typical Week: 4 Day Run (1 Speed Day), 2 Day Cross Train, 1 Day Rest
  • Longest Workout: 60 Minutes
Download 5k Intermediate Plan
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Intermediate 5K Training Plan Terminology

The terms in the Intermediate 5K training plan are defined inside the downloaded plan, but let me define them for you here as well.

Warm-Up: Walk for 5 minutes at an easy effort before every workout (run-walk days and cross-training days). A proper warm-up will help to gradually increase heart rate, improve circulation, loosen up muscles, and prepare you for the days workout.

Cool-Down: Walk for 5 minutes at an easy effort after every workout (run-walk days and cross-training days). A proper cool-down will help to gradually bring your heart rate and breathing rate back down to normal levels after the days workout.

Perceived Effort: A way to rate your effort level based on your feelings about the level of intensity on a scale from 1 to 10. 1 is considered ‘At Rest’ and 10 is considered ‘An All Out Level.’ Use this scale to stay in the correct range listed in the training schedule for a given day (i.e. 6-7).

Heart Rate: If you have access to a heart rate monitor then use this device to stay in the correct range listed in the training schedule for a given day (i.e. 60-75% of maximum heart rate).

Cross-Training: Include activities other than running and walking in your training plan. If you are completely new to exercise, then you may want to wait until weeks 4 or 5 to add in a cross-training workouts. If you are already active 3 to 4 days per week, then start the cross-training as scheduled in the plan. Activities for cross-training may include cycling, elliptical, rowing, strength training, swimming, and more. Cross-training allows you to rest your running muscles and work opposing muscle groups. These activities will help to reduce the impact on your body and the risk of injury. Cross-training can also speed up recovery time between run-walk workouts. Cross-training workouts should be done at a moderate level, Perceived Effort of at least 7, or a Heart Rate of 75-80%.

Strength Training: A form of cross-training, strength training can be a great way to increase lean muscle and boost metabolism while at rest. Strength training can be completed using free-weights, resistance bands, weight machines, or classes such as pilates, yoga or cross-fit. Include exercises for upper body, core, and lower body. Warm-up with a walk or another form of cardio. If you are new to strength training, then start with 1 set of each exercise for 12-15 repetitions. The goal is to work your muscles to fatigue or until you can no longer maintain proper form during the exercise. Continue with 1 set of each exercise for weeks 1 through 4, then progress to 2 to 3 sets of each exercise for 8-12 repetitions.

Flexibility: Stretch lightly after every warm-up period. Stretch again after every workout to improve flexibility, increase circulation, and reduce the risk of injury.

Easy Effort: Easy pace/effort is considered slightly above what you can maintain a conversation, 70-75% of maximum heart rate, and 6 to 7 on the Perceived Effort scale.

Moderate Effort: Moderate pace/effort is where you can hear your breathing, but you are not breathing hard, 75-80% of maximum heart rate, and 7 to 8 on the Perceived Effort scale.

Short Bursts: Run the workout at an easy pace and include 3-5 short, 30-60 second “bursts.” Increase your pace to a challenging effort where you can hear your breathing (this should not be all out). Allow for a 2-3 minute easy pace recovery between each burst.

Speed Workouts: Warm-up with 10-15 minutes at an easy pace. Then run 4-6 times (repeats) of Run 2-minutes hard followed by 4-minutes at an easy recovery pace. The hard efforts should be at 90-95% heart rate or 9+ on Perceived Effort.

Fast Finish Runs: Run the first 40-60% of the run at an easy pace. For the last 40-60% of the run, steadily increase your pace every 5 to 10 minutes. Finish the last 10 minutes of the run at a hard effort, 90-95% heart rate, 9+ on Perceived Effort. These runs teach you how to pace yourself correctly from the start of a race, to a fast and strong finish of a race.

Download 5k Intermediate Plan