The 5 Best 5k Workouts

best 5k workouts

Previously we highlighted some of the best 10k workouts for runners to boost their fitness and predict their 10k finishing time. This was well received so we thought we would move on to highlight 5 of the best 5k workouts for runner.

Similar to 10k runners, 5k runners need a large aerobic base. This can be achieved through a lot of long easy running and tempo work. However, the 5k runner needs a bit more speed in their legs in order to improve their times. Today we’re going to run through workouts which provide the right amount of strength and speed development to help runners boost their performance specifically over this distance.

With track/sports facilities being closed due to COVID-19 induced lock downs, we’re going to format these workouts so they are easy to replicate on roads, grass and paths.

Workout 1: 6x3minutes

This is quite a fun workout, and can be used through the entirety of your training block. Doing this properly, your average pace for your intervals should be the pace that you can hold for a 5k race. This makes it a good prediction workout (as all of these workouts will be). If you’re further away from racing, you can use shorter recoveries between intervals to make it a more strength-focused workout (sacrificing a bit of speed development).

The full workout is: 6x3minutes with 90seconds walk/jog recovery in between, with the intervals being at 5k race pace. However, this is quite a malleable session. For example, if you want more speed development from this workout, then you could do 5x3minutes at race pace, then throw in 6-8x30seconds at the end. It all depends on where your strengths and weaknesses lie. If you haven’t done this kind of workout before or you’re not close to racing, start with 4x3minutes with 2minutes walk/jog rest in between. It’s always better to work up to the full workout gradually.

As with all the workouts mentioned in this article, be sure to do 15-20minutes of easy running before and after. It’s always important to warm up and cool down properly – reducing your chance of injury. With these 5k sessions needing to be pretty fast, it’s best to complete some drills and strides (relaxed sprints) to make sure you’re fully prepared before each session.

Workout 2: 3x5minutes

On the surface, this workout doesn’t look too menacing. However, if you are operating at your 5k race pace then it is certainly going to bite. The purpose of this session is to mentally prepare yourself for running race pace for longer intervals than usual. Most workouts tend to stop you after 3minutes for an interval, but this can be pretty harmful come race day.

The full workout is: 3x5minutes with 60seconds walk/jog recovery, with the intervals being at 5k race pace. The shorter recovery is the factor that makes this session particularly grueling, rather than the volume. If you’re priming for a race it’s good to add 4-6x30seconds after this workout, to teach your body to pick up the pace even when it’s tired. This will definitely make the last couple hundred metres of your 5k race feel a lot better.

If you’re working your way up to this workout, it’s best to alter the recovery period rather than the interval. Start off with 3x5minutes with 2minutes walk/jog recover, and work your recovery period down by 15 seconds each time you complete this workout.

Workout 3: 8x2minutes

This workout is a little different to the first two. The penultimate interval of this session should be done faster than your 5k race pace. Adding in this fast rep is a huge shock to the system and it requires a lot of effort to hold your race pace and running form for the last repetition. As well as being a huge anaerobic surge, this helps teach your body to operate efficiently even whilst fatigued. It’s definitely a fun one, and it feels very rewarding if you manage to hold on to that last rep.

The full workout is: 8x2minutes with 90seconds walk/jog recovery, with the 7th repetition being done faster than race pace. The other intervals should be done at your 5k race pace. If you’re not sure what that is, try this pace calculator, or simply attempt this workout and your average pace should be your race pace. If you want to work up to this, start off with 6x2minutes with 90seconds walk/jog recovery, with the 5th repetition being faster than race pace. The penultimate interval being hard is a key element to this workout.

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Workout 4: 4x(3minutes, 1minute)

Sometimes it can get a little boring repeating the same length intervals. So, it’s great to have sessions like this one when you need them. This can be an intense session if paced correctly – requiring a lot of mental focus to reach the end. The reason for it being tough is that the 1minute intervals should be done faster than race pace. The 3minute intervals, as with the other workouts, should be attempted at race pace.

The principle of it is quite simple: if you throw in a faster interval, then your race pace interval feels easier. If your race pace interval feels easier, then you’re certainly teaching your body to operate smoothly at that pace.

The full workout is: 4x(3minutes, 30seconds walk/jog recovery, 1minute) with 90seconds walk/jog recovery between sets. As mentioned before the 3minute intervals should be completed at 5k race pace, and the 1minute intervals slightly under that (10-15seconds/mile faster). If you’re looking to work up to this, then start off with 3 sets, with 2minutes walk/jog recovery between them. The short rest between the repetitions plays a key role in making this session so beneficial, so try not to alter that.

Workout 5: 20x1minute

The last of the best 5k workouts is a little different. This session is done continuously with alternating paces. Having no complete rest can be difficult as it forces you to run as efficiently as possible. If you don’t, you may struggle to hang on until the end, losing out on some value. As you can gather, this workout has a focus on strength rather than speed. This makes it ideal for the runners who usually tackle shorter distances but are moving up to the 5k.

The full workout is: 10x1minute under race pace, 1minute over race pace. The minute repetitions should only differ by a pace of 30seconds/mile. This meaning the ‘hard’ interval should be 15seconds/mile faster than race pace with the ‘easy’ interval being 15seconds/mile slower.

Throw a couple of these workouts into your training and see the benefits for yourself. These can be used as ‘speed sessions’ for marathon runners and good priming workouts for 10k runners.

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