The Best 5K Workout
I love the 5K. It’s such a great race, requiring speed and stamina plus a hefty dose of racing IQ and mental toughness to run your best.
And I’ve been lucky. I’ve coached 5K runners running just over 13 minutes as well as runners for whom finishing 3.1 miles never seemed possible. (Plus, I’ve even won a few 5Ks myself.)
In this article, I want to share the world’s best 5K workout. Similar to my Best 10K Workout for the 10K, I’ve found one workout that is the absolute best to prepare you for the distance.
And as with my best 10K workout, the best 5K workout isn’t easy. So, you need to build up to it with a sequence of goal pace workouts (mixed in with all the other workouts to build your fitness). Do it right and you will head into your next 5K with a boatload of confidence that you’ll hit your goal time.
THE BEST 5K WORKOUT: 5 x 1000 METERS
If you can perform five 1000-meter repeats at your goal 5K pace in the last one to two weeks before your race, you will achieve your goal time. Period. It’s a simple workout but oh-so-hard to accomplish. As such, you must build up to it, and this buildup of workouts turns out to be some of the best training you can do to run a fast 5K.
BUILDUP WORKOUT #1: 10-12 x 400 METERS
[NOTE: I suggest you do a buildup workout every other week leading into your goal 5K race.]
Eight to ten weeks out from your 5K, run ten to twelve 400-meter repeats at your goal 5K pace, taking 200 to 300 meters recovery jog between each. Don’t be surprised if you struggle in this workout. Many athletes can hit goal pace on the first few repeats but then struggle to complete 10-12. Don’t worry. This is normal.
I will caution, however, that the biggest mistake runners make is running their first few 400-meter repeats FASTER than goal pace. This is a big no-no in this workout sequence. The goal is to run right at goal pace. So, don’t go out too fast. And, be prepared to be challenged mentally and physically on the last few repeats. That’s part of the benefit of the workout so if you struggle on the last few repeats, know that you are providing a very large stimulus for your body to build greater fitness.
Lastly, a quick note about the recovery interval on each workout in this goal pace sequence. Feel free to play around with the recovery interval distance/time but always default to one that allows you to hit your goal pace. In other words, you could shorten the recovery interval and make the workout “harder”, but I have not found this makes a big difference in the race. It certainly provides a greater physical and mental challenge. But, for this workout sequence, I find that allowing sufficient recovery is the key to success. I like when the runner can hit goal pace for all the repeats and runs stronger and stronger at the end of the workouts later in the sequence.
NOTE: I recommend you do a buildup workout every other week, not every week.
BUILDUP WORKOUT #2: 8 x 600 METERS
Six to eight weeks out from your 5K, advance to the following workout: Run eight 600-meter repeats at your goal 5K pace, taking 300- to 400-meter recovery jogs between each. As with Workout No. 1, don’t run too fast. Focus solely on hitting goal pace. Not only does hitting goal pace provide more pace practice so that you really have your pace dialed in on race day, but you have more energy for the last few repeats. Again, this workout may feel hard but just know that the stimulus from these first two workouts will result in a fitness boost by race day.
BUILDUP WORKOUT # 3: 6 x 800 METERS
Four to six weeks out from the race, the workout advances yet again. This time run six 800-meter repeat and take 400 to 500 meters between each repeat. I prefer the recovery jogs be slow running but if you need to walk for a portion for the recovery interval, feel free.
By now, you should be feeling more ready to attack your goal time. Your body is becoming calloused to the mental and physical stress of 5K pace. If, however, you’re struggling to hit your goal pace even on the first few repeats, then your proposed goal pace is too aggressive, and you should re-evaluate.
I should have noted earlier that it’s best to perform this workout sequence on the same surface and terrain as your race course. So, if you are running a track 5K, do these goal pace workouts on the track. Your 5K is on a hilly road course? Then, run these workouts on a hilly road loop. Cross country racing? Then, hit the cross-country course for these workouts. As with most things running, specificity when it comes to race prep is always important for predictor workouts like these.
WORLD’S BEST 5K WORKOUT
After this buildup of workouts, you’re ready to attack the ultimate 5K workout. I suggest you perform this workout nine to 12 days before your race to allow enough time to recover before the event. Start with your usual warm-up (which you should perform for each workout described in this article), then run five 1000-meter repeats at your goal 5K pace. Take 400- to 600-meter recovery jogs between each repeat. Prepare for this intense workout like you will your race — be well-recovered, properly hydrated and fueled, use the equipment you’ll use in the race, run at the time of day that you’ll be racing, etc.
While the 5K build-up workouts occur every other week, the in-between weeks provide a great opportunity to perform other important workouts. I like full-spectrum training so some workouts that challenge the endurance/stamina side of fitness and some that work the speed/sprint side. Below is an example of workouts you could do. As always, you can mix and match as best suits you. For example, if your race has a big hill in it, then you might substitute a hill workout for one of the non-goal pace workouts.
Runners with more than one key workout each week should still just do the goal pace workouts every other week. But, you can add another workout during the week. Just make sure you are somewhat fresh/recovered for the goal pace workouts. In other words, you wouldn’t do a big sprint workout the day or two before the goal pace workout. Instead, you’d either have more recovery after the sprint workout or put the sprint workout a few days after the goal pace workout so you can fully invest yourself mentally and physically in the goal pace sequence.
SIMPLE EIGHT-WEEK WORKOUT SEQUENCE FOR A FAST 5K
Week #1: 10-12 x 400 meters (Goal Pace)
200- to 300-meter jog between repeats
Week #2: 4-6 x 200 meters (Sprint Zone)
Run the 200m repeats slightly faster than 5K race pace; 200m jog between
Week #3: 8 X 600 meters (Goal Pace)
300- to 400-meter jog between repeats
Week #4: 15- to 25-minute Tempo Run OR Tune-up race 5K OR shorter or 2-mile/3000m time trial (Stamina/Speed Zone)
A lot of personal bests in the 5K come after a tune-up race or time trial. This is a good week to do a test race or time trial instead of the Tempo Run if you like.
Week #5: 6 x 800 meters (Goal Pace)
400- to 500-meter jog between repeats
Week #6: 6-8 x 200 meters (Sprint Zone)
Run the 200m repeats slightly faster than 5K race pace; 200m jog between
Week #7: 5 x 1000 meters (Goal Pace)
400- to 600-meter jog between repeats
Week #8: RACE: 5K
Pair your new found 5K fitness with my proven Go Zone Racing method and you are on your way to a new personal best.
If you want to see how I’d prescribe the training for you and your 5K goal, you can try my 5K training for free with the free trial below. Also be sure to check out our 5k pace calculator. I look forward to working with you!
The Best 5k Workout Frequently Asked Questions
To prepare for your first 5k run, it’s important to gradually increase intensity over several weeks. New runners start by incorporating a mix of running and walking into your routine and gradually increase the amount of time you spend running. It’s also important to stretch before and after your workouts, wear appropriate footwear, and listen to your body to avoid overtraining. Advanced runners begin race-specific training 8-10 weeks before their 5K and this training may include speed workouts, hill workouts, goal pace workouts and time trials.
The length of time it takes to train for a 5k run can vary depending on the individual’s fitness level and training goals. Generally, a training period of 8-10 weeks is sufficient for most beginner runners to prepare for a 5k race.
To improve your 5k time, you can incorporate a variety of training strategies such as interval training, hill repeats, tempo runs, and speed work. It’s also important to incorporate strength training exercises to improve your overall running form and reduce the risk of injury.
Before a 5k run, you want a meal that is easy to digest and avoid gastric distress. Most runners find they don’t need a big meal for a 5K so a meal that you are used to and sits well during a high intensity effort is ideal. Practice in training to find what works for you. My go to is a bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese. After the race, it’s important to consume a meal that is high in protein and carbohydrates to help your body recover and repair muscles.
To prevent injuries while training for a 5K run, it’s important to warm-up properly, increase your mileage gradually, wear appropriate footwear, incorporate strength training, and listen to your body for any signs of discomfort or pain.
You can now try McMillan training plans for FREE! For a limited time, I’m offering a 14-day free trial of my training and coaching system called Run Team. Take a plan for a spin. Kick the tires as they say. If you like it, do nothing and your subscription will start. If you don’t like it, just cancel and you owe nothing. It’s a great way to experience training on what has been called, “The best training system on the planet.”