IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Turkey trot: A one-month 5K training plan for beginners

This walk/run training plan will get you to the finish line by Thanksgiving Day.
Chris Conlan leads the runners at the start of the 27th annual ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot in downtown Austin, Texas, on Nov. 23, 2017.
Chris Conlan leads the runners at the start of the 27th annual ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot in downtown Austin, Texas, on Nov. 23, 2017.Jay Janner / Austin American-Statesman via AP file

Are you signed up for a turkey trot this year? Whether it’s a family tradition, a fun way to squeeze in a workout before digging into the holiday spread, or an excuse to don a silly turkey costume while hitting the pavement, logging a 5K the morning of Thanksgiving is a popular ritual.

But for many people, a turkey trot with family and friends is one of the only times during the year they commit to a 5K race. And if you haven’t been walking or running, getting through the 3.1 miles can be a challenge. But it's not too late to get yourself in shape for the big day! We’ve devised a customizable “couch potato to turkey trot plan” just for beginners, and for those who are currently active but need to get their body into the swing of walking and jogging before the race.

Before you get started, Michael Conlon, physical therapist and owner of Finish Line Physical Therapy, has a few things to keep in mind. Conlon recommends consulting your doctor to make sure there are no concerns before you start your training plan. When you're ready to go, he recommends starting at slow pace, one where you'd be carry on a conversation while you're walking or running. Focus on developing your body’s ability to use oxygen and build your stamina over time.

Conlon also provided a few basic posture tips to avoid injury:

  • Keep your head up and focus on an object in the horizon at eye level. Avoid looking down at the ground.
  • Keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees. Focus on swinging your arms forward and back avoiding excessive trunk rotation.
  • Maintain the alignment of your rib cage over your pelvis to avoid leaning forward or back.
  • Keep your feet straight. Avoid turning your feet outward. And aim to have your foot strike the ground below your hips, keeping your body in a straight line, which will help you avoid putting undue stress on your knee and hip joints.

The workout structure

This walking and running routine will help you build you up to a 5K just in time for your turkey trot at the end of the month. The workouts are broken up into three different routines: Walking/running, stretching, and core work. Then, of course, there are rest days. Whether you plan to walk the 5K, run the 5K, or do a mix of both, this plan is the perfect way to ease your way into building up your stamina and muscular development.

You can do the stretch routine before and after your walk/run, to help you warm up your muscles before you hit the pavement and cool down when you're done. Then we have the core routine: It’s important to strengthen the core when you’re working towards a 5K because your core helps support your back and your breath control. It’s also important to maintain proper alignment while you’re walking and running by training your body to activate your core while you’re in motion.

>>Train, tone and lose weight this fall with more 30-day workout plans

Download your printable calendar here. Hang the calendar on your fridge, or keep it in your purse or car, for easy reference.

Couch to 5K Training Plan

Day 1: Walk ½ mile

Day 2: Stretch

Day 3: Walk ½ mile

Day 4: REST

Day 5: Core

Day 6: Walk 1 mile

Day 7: Stretch

Day 8: Rest

Day 9: Run ½ mile, Walk 1 mile

Day 10: REST

Day 11: Run ½ mile, Walk 1 mile

Day 12: Stretch

Day 13: Walk 2 miles

Day 14: Stretch

Day 15: Core

Day 16: Run 1 mile, Walk 1 Mile

Day 17: Rest

Day 18: Walk 2.5 miles

Day 19: Stretch

Day 20: Core

Day 21: Run 1.5 miles, walk 1.5 miles

Day 22: Rest

Day 23: Run 2 miles, walk 1 mile

Day 24: Rest

Day 25: Run 2.5 miles, Walk 1 mile

Day 26: Stretch

Day 27: Core

Day 28: RACE DAY! Run 3.1 miles.

Day 29: REST

Day 30: REST

Stretch Routine

Calf Stretch

To stretch the lower leg, perform this stretch against any wall (or even a curb in the park!). Simply stand up straight and press your right heel into the ground close to the wall, reaching the right toes up onto the wall. Lean forward towards the wall to feel a stretch in the right calf. Hold for a few breaths, and then repeat on the left side.

Quad Stretch

While standing, hold on to a bar (or park bench) for balance with your right hand. Then reach down with your left hand to grab your left ankle. Reach the knee down towards the ground, and pull your heel towards your glute, feeling a stretch in the quad. Release after a few breaths, and then switch sides.

Wide Leg Hamstring Stretch with Side Reach

Open your legs wide and slowly hinge forward at your hips. Reach your arms down towards the ground and allow your head and neck to dangle. Feel a stretch in the backs of your legs and also your spine. Then reach both hands over towards the right foot to stretch the left side of your body. Switch to the left foot and feel a stretch throughout the whole side waist.

Groin Stretch with Twist

With your feet open wide, bend your right knee and lower towards the ground. Feel a stretch in the right inner thigh/groin. From here, reach your left fingertips down towards the ground and then twist from your middle back to reach the right arm up towards the ceiling. Repeat on the other side.

Core Moves

Repeat circuit 3 times through.

Hug & Extend

This core move will get your whole body involved, which is perfect as a compliment to running and walking, which are also full-body workouts. Lie down on the mat and hug your knees into your chest. Curl your head and neck up off of the ground, and tilt your pelvis so that your low abs are engaged. Then, extend the legs forward into a 45-degree angle and reach the arms back overhead. Keep your low ribs pulling in towards your pelvis and keep your abs tight even while your arms and legs are trying to pull them apart! Exhale as you extend the arms and legs, and then inhale as you bring them back in to the center. Repeat 10 times.


Come into a plank position by starting on your hands and knees. Then walk the hands forward so that they’re directly underneath your shoulders. Spread your fingers wide to create a good base. Pull the abs in and step the feet back so that you’re on your toes with your heels reaching towards the back of the room. Look a few inches in front of you to keep your neck in alignment with the rest of your spine. Hold this for 10 seconds, and then rest on your knees. Repeat this 3 times per workout. Each week, you can double the length of time you hold your plank!

Criss Cross with Extended Legs

The obliques are important muscles to develop to support you while running and walking long distances. Lie down on your back and place your hands behind your head. Bring your knees up to table top. Curl up and reach your right elbow towards your left knee and extend the right leg forward. Then come back through center and switch to the other side. Continue this criss-cross motion 10 times to each side.


Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.