How to Train for a Family 5K: Your 6-Week Race Plan

Whether you want to try a 5K or an obstacle-course event, we've got everything you need to do to happily cross the finish line together.

Family 5K Kids Laying In Circle Covered In Orange From The Color Run
Photo: Courtesy of the Color Run

You don’t need to be an experienced runner to try out a 5K—or any kind of family-friendly race, for that matter. If your kiddos can walk, experts say, they can race. “Parents ask me how old their child should be before doing something like this, and the fact is, there’s no data available to guide the decision. The more important criteria is to make sure the child has fun doing it and enjoys the training,” says Cynthia LaBella, M.D., who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness. “For most kids, the health and wellness benefits far outweigh the risks for injury.”

For most families, four to six weeks is all you’ll need to train, so sign up for that race and use the date as motivation to get moving, says Ewunike Akpan, a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise and a Master Build Our Kids’ Success trainer who specializes in getting both kids and adults into shape—and making it feel like play, not work. (You’ll see!) The plan she developed for us uses interval training to gradually increase your running stamina and also includes strength exercises to balance out all that cardio. There’s also info on how to prevent injury and make training days fun.

For your family 5K training plan, start by going on a test run and let your kids be the guide. Once someone starts breathing hard enough that you can hear it, have them slow down and walk to recover, then start again once they catch their breath. If everyone can run for at least five minutes straight, you can skip right to Week 3. Otherwise, start at Week 1.

Weeks 1 and 2

Plan To: Run/walk twice a week for the next two weeks for 30 minutes each time.

Warm Up: Always warm up for 5-7 minutes before beginning each training session. Walk for a few minutes, then do some fun moves to warm up your muscles. A few ideas: Walk, hiking your knees up toward your chest; do squats; march like a soldier, keeping your arms and legs straight and lifting them alternately; skip, kid-style; do butt-kicks; bunny-hop, taking small jumps forward with your feet together.

Running Intervals: Alternate walking and jogging at a slow pace. Jog for 2-3 minutes, then walk for 1 minute to recover. Repeat for 30 minutes.

Strength Training: Skip this until Week 3!

Cool Down: Cool down at the end of every session with some walking to lower your heart rate, followed by stretches, which will prevent soreness. Hold each stretch for 30–60 seconds. Some moves Akpan likes: Fold forward and reach for your toes; stretch your quads by grabbing your ankle and gently pulling your foot toward your butt; loosen up your hamstrings by placing your heel on a bench and reaching for your toes (keeping leg straight); stretch your chest: place one hand on a tree or doorframe at shoulder height and slowly turn your body away from it until you feel a stretch in your chest and shoulder.

Week 3

Plan To: Run/walk twice this week for 30 minutes each time, followed by 25 minutes of strength training.

Warm Up: Same as Weeks 1 and 2.

Running Intervals: Alternate walking and running intervals at a slow pace. Run for 5 minutes, then walk for 2 minutes to recover. Repeat for 30 minutes.

Strength Training: 3 planks, holding for 30 seconds each; 3 side planks; 10 supermans; 10 hip bridges; 5 forward crab walks and 5 back; 5 inchworms; 10 push-ups; 5 crab toe touches

Cool Down: Same as Weeks 1 and 2.

Week 4

Plan To: Run/walk twice for 35 minutes each time, followed by 20 minutes of strength training.

Warm Up: Same as Weeks 1 and 2.

Running Intervals: Alternate walking and running at a moderate pace. Run for 10 minutes, then walk for 2 minutes to recover. Repeat these intervals for 35 minutes.

Strength Training: Same as Week 3—but try to do all the moves in 5 fewer minutes!

Cool Down: Same as Weeks 1 and 2.

Week 5

Plan To: Run/walk twice this week for 45 minutes each time, followed by 15 minutes of strength training.

Warm Up: Same as Weeks 1 and 2.

Running Intervals: Alternate walking and running at a moderate pace. Run for 15-20 minutes, then walk for 2 minutes to recover. Repeat until 45 minutes are up.

Strength Training: Repeat the first four exercises from Week 3, then add: 10 squat jumps; 10 side leg raises; 10 bench step-ups; 20 calf raises.

Cool Down: Same as Weeks 1 and 2.

Week 6

Plan To: Run twice this week for 50 minutes each time, followed by 10 minutes of strength training.

Warm Up: Same as Weeks 1 and 2.

Running Intervals: You should be able to run the whole length of a 5K, but if it ever seems like too much, slow down and walk until you’re ready to get back to it.

Strength Training: 10 burpees; 10 planks with arm row per side; 3–5 cartwheels; handstand against a wall, holding for as long as you can!

Cool Down: Same as Weeks 1 and 2.

Tips for Success

These pro pointers will help you make it to race day without any hiccups.

  • Go easy at first. “If you or your kids aren’t already runners, it’s important to start slowly in order to help prevent injuries,” says Dr. LaBella. She recommends beginning with a walk/jog program (like the one above!) and adding no more than about 10 percent to your time or intensity each week. “Some kids may get very enthusiastic about training,” says Dr. LaBella. “So you might have to hold them back a bit to make sure they don’t overdo it.”
  • Listen to your body. It’s important not to get too hung up on your training plan. If you need to slow down your pace, or recover for an extra minute—or even jog for a little less time, that’s okay.
  • Invest in good shoes. Don’t just order any old thing online—actually go to a store that specializes in running. The staffers are trained to fit everyone’s unique feet and stride, and recommend the shoe that will work best. So worth it to keep everyone’s feet happy and pain-free! Check the fit every few months, too, says Dr. LaBella: “Kids’ feet are constantly growing, and their shoes need to be replaced more frequently than parents realize,” she adds.
  • Schedule it. Plan to run together two days a week, and mark those dates on the calendar—it will help you stick with your training. Akpan also recommends cross-training one day a week. It can be any activity other than running— swimming, playing soccer, whatever your family likes to do. “Mixing up activities will help you prepare for the race by building endurance, challenging your bodies in a different way, and keeping you injury-free,” she says.
  • Keep hydrated. Most kids don’t need a special diet when training for a race—your regular, healthy fare will do just fine. But do keep an eye on hydration: “Kids often forget to drink water during the day—even if they’re exercising. And that can lead to poor performance, migraines, and a bad mood,” says Stephen R. Daniels, M.D., chair of the AAP committee on nutrition. So make sure to water them well not just before, during, and after your runs—but also remind them to sip regularly throughout the day too.
  • Pump up the fun. While training, there are bound to be times when everyone feels a little less motivated. When it just feels hard, Akpan recommends making a family playlist that you can all listen to while you run, and treating your kids to a small reward after each workout, like a fruit pop, movie, or toy.
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