11 Essential Tips For How to Improve 5K Time

How to Improve 5K Time

If you’ve clicked onto this article looking into how to improve 5k time, chances are that you’re an avid runner who is looking to improve their craft. 

There are many ways to learn how to run a faster 5K, so we have included 11 tips that allow our readers to see which one works best.

We will cover:

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What Does ‘5K Time’ Mean?

Every passionate runner will want to learn how to improve their 5k run time. However, before we get into our key tips let’s first explain what the phrase ‘5K time’ actually means. 

‘5K time’ simply refers to the time at which runners complete a 5-kilometer run. 

Your overall 5K time can be influenced by a number of factors such as age, sex, or skill level to name a few examples. 

Please note, before you even consider how to improve your 5K time, that completing this type of run is an achievement in itself. You shouldn’t feel too disheartened if you take a little longer than most individuals in your age group, instead look for ways to improve on your next attempt.

What Is The Average 5K Run Time?

If you’re a competitive runner you may want to learn how to improve your 5K time in order to compete with others in your division. 

Knowing the average run time of your group may help to make your training that much easier, as you have a target to work towards. But what is the average 5K running time of each group?

We have already talked about how both age and sex can influence your overall 5K time, a fact which is supported by the evidence present within this table (above). However, just because you will naturally fall into one of these categories does not mean you will automatically conform to these average times.

Within every group, there will be outliners who are faster or slower than the average time. Your skill level can heavily influence your final 5K time, as naturally newer runners will take more time to complete this. 

With this in mind, you may be interested in learning how to improve 5K time as beginner. In this instance you should know that the average 5K time for beginners is 25 minutes, estimating it at 8-13 minutes per mile. 

With all this information on what is considered to be the average 5k times for different runners, let’s now turn our attention to our tips on how to improve a 5k time. 

11 Tips on How to Improve 5K Time

This section is dedicated to providing tips for how to improve 5K running time. Please keep in mind that some of these examples will be better suited for different skill levels.

#1 - Engage in HIIT Workouts 

For all those looking at how to improve 5K running times one of best recommendations we can give is to engage with HIIT workouts. 

HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training and consists of short bursts of intense exercise, followed by low-intensity periods that will allow the body to recover. 

One of the benefits of HIIT is that it is highly adaptable to any fitness routine be it long-distance running or weight training. For this reason, any athlete can implement HIIT in order to learn how to run a faster 5K.

HIIT can benefit runners who are looking to improve their overall run time as it increases your anaerobic threshold levels. This is because the repeated strain of high-intensity training will improve your ability to run hard without having to stop or slow down for oxygen. 

Essentially, HIIT increases a runner’s endurance levels, which means that you can continue at a fast pace for extended periods of time, increasing the likelihood of finishing the 5K in less time. 

Whatsmore, high-intensity interval training can also be used to build muscle strength and increase the leg's range of motion. By improving both of these factors the runner's overall performance will improve during races, making it easier to reach top speeds without the worry of strain or injury.

#2 - Train Your Muscles For Endurance 

If you’re wondering how to improve a 5K run time as a beginner you should attempt to focus on workouts that will train your legs for endurance running. 

Weight training will be particularly beneficial for teaching your legs how to run a faster 5K time. This is because strong muscles will assist you in areas such as:

  • Improved coordinator and power
  • Reducing the risk of injury 
  • Provide more power for pushing off
  • Make your muscles work more efficiently

In order to improve your 5K time, we can recommend performing weight training 1-2 times per week. This will help to build and maintain strength, without causing too much strain on your legs.

Some weight training exercises that you can perform if you want to improve your performance are:

  • Weighted Lunges - This will build a propulsive force in your legs that will help to drive you forward.
  • Box Jumps - The forceful jumps will train your legs to cope with the impact of running. 
  • Push-UpsWill strengthen your legs, upper body and core that will help to add more power to your run. 

Once the muscles in your legs have strengthened, so will their range of motion. This will assist during the process of running movements such as pushing off the ground and landing. 

Therefore, when questioning how to improve 5K times we can say that squats will increase your stride length whilst you run, meaning that your overall 5K run time will decrease as a result.

#3 - Increase The Duration Of Cardiovascular Exercise 

One way to learn how to improve 5K time for beginners is to extend the duration of your regular cardio workouts.

An easy approach to take is to implement the 5% rule into your training routine. This method will gradually teach you how to run a faster 5K, without an unwanted strain being placed on your body.

The 5% rule is a training method that sees the user gradually increase their performance by 5% increments. Hypothetically, if you run for 100 minutes the 5% rule would see your training rise to 105 minutes. 

This may have you questioning how to run a faster 5K with the help of increased cardiovascular training. 

Well, by gradually increasing your cardiovascular exercise you will be implementing a bodily process that has similar effects to that of interval training. Thus, by increasing the duration of your workout, your anaerobic capacity will also improve over time.

This is due to the fact that your cardiovascular system will work more effectively, prompting an increase in the growth of your heart and lungs. 

As a result of this process, your recovery time will decrease whilst your overall stamina will increase. This will allow you to push yourself for longer increments of time at a much harder intensity, without the need for a rest period. 

#4 - Set Yourself SMART Goals 

You must implement SMART goals if you want to know how to run a faster 5K. 

The term SMART goals is an acronym used to describe criteria that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. 

By having these manageable goals in place you will have something set in stone to work towards. 

However, the most valuable piece of advice we can give is to keep the ‘achievable’ part in the forefront of your mind. Don’t set a goal that is unrealistic, this will just lead to disappointment and a lack of motivation on your part. 

If your ideal 5K running time is somewhat well off don’t feel too disheartened, you can still reach this goal by breaking it up into manageable chunks. 

By implementing SMART goals you could effectively learn how to improve your 5K time in a month, or even earlier. An example of this approach can be seen below:

Specific - Reduce 5K Time By 1 Minute

Measurable - Run 5K every week and time results 

Achievable - Will be achieved through increasing cardio training throughout the week

Realistic - Based on existing performance as a runner (will differ from person to person)

Time - Aims to achieve this goal in 4 Weeks 

Think of how good you will feel if you complete this achievement within the assigned time frame, as opposed to how sad you would be if you set something that was out of reach. 

These goals can be used for so much more than just learning how to improve a 5K running time. For further guidance on how they can benefit your overall health and fitness why not read our article dedicated to SMART Fitness goals.

#5 - Use Tempo/Metronome Training 

Chances are if you’re searching for something along the lines of ‘how to improve my 5K run time’, you will be a dedicated runner who is not afraid to try new and exciting methods of training. 

Tempo training requires you to run to a specific beat, as a result, you will eventually grow comfortable running at a hard pace. This particular method is great for identifying weaknesses in your running method, it essentially ensures that your body is working harmoniously to guarantee optimal performance. 

With tempo training, your foot should hit the floor to the beat of a song or metronome. In order to build upon this training, you will need to ensure the speed of the beat increases to a faster rhythm. 

When seeking how to improve a 5K run time you should be looking to improve your overall speed and cadence. Tempo training helps with this process as it trains 5K runners to optimise their performance to reach 180 steps per minute. 

Many tempo training apps such as RUNZI will also share a recommendation for the amount of training 5K runners should strive for. Typically, these apps will suggest athletes get a minimum of 10-15 minutes per day, if they wish to improve their overall performance and time.

Therefore, we can say that an act as simple as counting the steps you take whilst running can improve your overall 5K run time. For more information on how you can personally achieve this check out our article and learn why running cadence matters.

#6- Running Uphill 

New runners may be wondering how to improve your 5K time through the practice of uphill running. 

By engaging with this type of exercise you will build strength in your calves, quads, and hamstrings at the same time. 

The best part of this exercise is that all of these muscles are engaged equally, as they have to work together to push you uphill.

Whatsmore, the hills will force your muscles in the hips, legs, and ankles to contract together while supporting your body weight. However, while specifically running uphill your muscles will contract with greater power, due to the fact that your body is working against the pull of gravity. 

As we have previously discussed, building muscle in your legs will increase your overall speed. 

Uphill running can also teach your body how to improve its 5K run time through your heart rate and depth of breath. Both of these factors will significantly approve with more training, meaning that your body will receive more blood and oxygen needed to perform at optimal speed. 

These are just a few examples of the benefits of running uphill, it can also be used for strengthening the tendons and ligaments in these areas will also decrease the chance of injuries from occurring. 

Naturally, during 5k runs any nagging or severe pains will negatively affect your overall time, so try to reduce the chances of this from occurring whenever possible. 


If you’re enjoying this article on how to improve a 5K running time then we think you may these other OriGym articles:

#7 - Train Outdoors 

In pursuit of answering how to improve 5K running times, we must stress that it is so important to train outdoors whenever possible. 

Typically, 5K races and events will transpire outside, so ensuring that your body is accustomed to the temperature, atmosphere and terrain is vital.

If you’re competing in a 5K race or event of any kind, you should ideally be training in the exact same location. If this is unavailable to you then please ensure to practice in a similar environment, as this will act as the best preparation possible for your body.

By knowing what environment you will be running in, you will be able to make adequate adjustments to your technique in order to lessen your overall 5K running time. 

For example, if you know a 5K race will take place in a wooded environment with lots of hills, you can incorporate more uphill runs into your training. 

For this reason, all those looking into how to improve a 5K run time may want to take up the practice of trail running. By doing this your body will naturally become accustomed to running in different outdoor environments. 

This isn’t to say that training on a treadmill is bad, this approach has many benefits in its own right. In fact, you can still learn how to improve your 5K time through this approach, but it may only be applicable to said treadmill.

If you choose to solely focus on treadmill training you may find that your outdoor 5K time worsens. This could be due to a variety of factors, one of which could be exhaustion as your legs aren’t used to hitting the hard terrain of the outdoors. 

#8 - Be Sure to Take Rest Days

Whilst in pursuit of your goals it's easy to go too hard and quickly burn out. That’s why if you want to learn how to improve a 5K time you must be sure to take rest days. 

While some athletes view rest days as a waste of time, they actually play a vital role in all sustainable exercise routines. 

But why are rest days so important? The simple answer is that they allow our body time to recover after grueling workouts. 

Running is a high-impact sport, meaning that our leg joints and ligaments are put through intense pressure when they are used to push off hard surfaces whilst running. Therefore, if you are running every day at a great intensity you will quickly begin to feel muscle fatigue.

Contrary to popular belief, rest days don’t mean you have to lay on the couch, you can still exercise but in a less intense manner. This is often referred to as ‘active recovery’ and can include activities as simple as walking your dog around the park.  

By taking it easy you will help your fibroblast cells to repair any microscopic tears created by running, which helps muscle tissues to heal and grow stronger.

Muscles that have become strengthened will help to improve your overall 5K running time, as they will be able to withstand the great pressure caused by high-impact running. Whatsmore, having stronger muscles will decrease the likelihood of injuries occurring, meaning that you won’t have to worry about your overall time being affected by pulled or strained muscles. 

#9 - Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle 

Those who are new to running will undoubtedly want to know ‘how to improve 5K time as beginners’. 

By making simple changes to your diet you will be able to see significant improvements to your energy levels, a factor that will better your running speed and overall 5K time. 

So, if you want to know how to improve your 5K time with the help of food we would recommend the following items, which have been found to specifically benefit runners. 

Bananas - Bananas are the perfect high-carb energy booster to support you through your run. Whatsmore, they are also high in potassium which will help you to retain the minerals you would otherwise lose through sweating.

Oats - Oats are high in fiber and carbs, both of which should provide your body with the energy required to run for prolonged periods of time. They are also low in glycemic index, meaning that your blood sugars will rise slowly, providing you with a greater sense of energy and decreasing the likelihood of fatigue. 

Broccoli - Broccoli has been found to be one of the best foods for runners as it's packed with Vitamins C and K. 

Vitamin C helps to ease pain in our muscles and will allow us to run for longer increments of time. Whereas broccoli’s high vitamin K count will be in unison with the vegetable calcium and folic acids to strengthen runner’s bones.

Whole-Grain Pasta - Did you know that some runners hold pasta parties the night before a marathon? This is because whole-grain pasta will help to build your glycogen stores, which will provide you with the extra energy needed to get through your run.

You may now be wondering how to improve a 5K running time with whole-grain pasta specifically. Well, whole-grain alternatives are also high in Vitamin B which helps endurance runners to build muscle.

Running supplements are also great alternative ways to fuel your body for a long-distance run. However, before making any dietary change we strongly recommend talking to a GP or dietitian, who will be able to give you professional advice in accordance with the fitness goals you wish to reach. 

#10 - Warm Up and Warm Down

As your body is becoming accustomed to learning how to improve its 5K running time, you must ensure to execute proper warm-ups and warm downs.

When warming up we strongly advise you to use dynamic stretches which are movement-based and will engage muscles in a similar way to the exercise of your choice. 

Dynamic stretches will benefit your muscles and joints as it puts them through a full range of motions, in order to help warm up your body before exercise. Typically, runners will engage in stretches that require fast movements in their legs and arms. 

Examples of dynamic stretches that will help to improve your 5K time include lunges and walking. 

This will get the muscles warmed up to their ‘working temperature’, which ensures that you can ease into your workout and reduce the risk of injury. 

So many runners ignore their warm-down routines, an action that can have devastating effects on your body. By simply stopping after exercise you will increase the likelihood of getting injured, which means that your 5K time would worsen. 

We recommend always slowing down into a light 10-minute jog before walking to a gradual stop. 

Whatsmore, you could also choose to engage with static stretches during your warm-down routine. This is a process that will help to strengthen your muscles, readying your body for its next exercise.

#11 - Perfect Your Running Form

Those who are looking into how to improve their 5K time may believe themselves to be expert runners, but even the most advanced athletes can make mistakes. Thus, in order to improve the overall running time you should work on perfecting your form. 

Here are some helpful tips that you can use to improve your running form: 

Look Ahead 

As a runner questioning how to improve your 5K running time you should never look down at your feet, your eyes should always be focused on the ground that’s 10-20 feet ahead of you.

Avoid sticking your head too far forward, this will only put stress on your neck and shoulder muscles. Instead, you should opt for holding your head so that your ears are directly over the middle of your shoulders. 

Keep Your Hands at Your Waist 

When running, always keep your hands at waist level. One of the most common mistakes new runners make is to raise their arms to their chest, which will make you even more tired. 

This is due to the fact that this form will cause you to feel tightness and tension in your shoulders and neck. 

For reference, your arms should be bent at 90-degree angles so that you can feel a light brush against your hips from time to time. Additionally, avoid clenching your fitness and instead opt for a loser and more relaxed arm stance. 

Don’t Swing Your Arms

Swinging your arm whilst running may sound like a harmless action, but it can actually impair your breathing and result in insufficient oxygen levels. This could lead to minor issues such as cramps or stitches or severe incidents such as passing out. 

As briefly touched upon in the point above, when runners are exhausted their hands will start to move towards their shoulders. This may happen instinctively, so be sure to drop them back into position if this occurs. 

Relax Your Shoulders 

You will run faster when your shoulders are more relaxed, whilst rounding your shoulders too far forward will create a tightening in the chest that will restrict your breathing.

Periodically check your shoulders to make sure they stay relaxed. If you feel any tightening whatsoever, you should slowly roll your shoulder blades in order to stretch them.

Check Your Posture 

You must ensure to keep your posture straight, for reference your head should be held high, your back straight and your shoulders level. Remember, keep your shoulders under your ears to maintain a neutral pelvis.

Many runners have a tendency to lean too far forward or back on their waist. This can cause severe lower back pain, so if you feel yourself slouching be sure to poke your chest out to correct this. 

Don’t Bounce 

If you bounce when you run your head and body will move up and down, which can waste a lot of your energy. The higher you lift yourself off the ground the greater the shock you have to absorb when your foot lands, which will lead you to become tired faster. 

To minimise bouncing you should run lightly and try to land softly on your feet. Shortening your stride will lower the chance of bouncing from occurring, which will improve your overall running speed and 5K time. 

Therefore, from the advice provided above, we can directly see that good posture and form will help you become a faster runner, which in turn will positively improve your 5K time.

If you’re interested in developing this knowledge further, we can recommend reading this OriGym guide on the 17 tips that will help improve your running form


How Do I Calculate My Average Running Speed Into MP/H?

If you’re interested in learning how to improve a 5K run time, chances are that you’re already heavily invested in your running speed. In order to work out what your current speed is, OriGym would recommend using a pace calculator.

In order to calculate your speed into mp/h, you will need to know your total distance traveled and how long it took you to complete. 

Keep in mind that when using these calculators remember you aren’t using whole hours, so convert your hours into minutes and multiply by 60. 

For example, if a runner completes 5K (3.1 miles) in 25 minutes the following sum can be input into a pace calculator to work out your current speed.

3.1 ÷ 25 = 0.124 x 60 = 7.4mph

Working out your average speed may seem daunting, but with the help of this simple sum monitoring your process will be easier than before. 

What Is Running Cadence and How Does It Affect Your 5K Time? 

When searching ‘how to improve my 5K time’ you may be met with a lot of articles discussing your running cadence. This phrase simply refers to the number of steps you take per minute during a run.  

Some choose to count both feet as steps, whereas others will only focus on their right or left foot. For example, if you’re counting both feet your running cadence maybe 180, but if you only count one foot your cadence will be 90. 

Technically, your cadence can affect your overall 5K running time, as when you take more steps you will have an improved 5K time. This is due to the fact that you will be covering more ground within a minute, meaning that you will reach your finish line faster.

Typically, well-trained athletes will have a cadence of around 90 steps per minute. However, beginners are not that far behind with an average cadence of 78-82 steps per minute. 

If you’re questioning how to improve a 5K run time we can assume you will want to better cadence too. One of the most effective ways to do this is through the 5% method.

This refers to the practice of gradually increasing your current cadence by 5% until you reach your ideal goal. For example, if you usually take 100 steps per minute you will now want to take 105 steps per minute.

This is just one tip for how you can improve your running cadence, please be aware that this is no easy task and should only be undertaken in a safe manner. Don’t push yourself beyond your capabilities in the name of earning a faster 5K time. 

Can Dehydration Affect My 5K Overall Running Time? 

Did you know that dehydration can also impact your overall 5K running performance? This happens because without water your body won’t be able to sustain an increased running pace. 

Now, you may think that you drink enough water but dehydration or fluid imbalance can occur when runners sweat. During this process, you can lose a significant amount of the fluid you have acquired throughout the day.

By incorporating more fluid into your daily diet you can reduce the impact of fluid imbalance. But how much water should you be consuming to counteract this negative effect?

The answer is easy and if you follow this step-by-step process you won’t feel the effects of dehydration on your 5K performance.

  • Weigh yourself naked before you exercise and make a note of how much you weigh.
  • Weigh yourself following your 5K run and calculate how much weight you’ve lost.
  • Multiply this final weight by 1.5.
  • The result will indicate how much water you should drink in order to replenish your body. For example, if you lose 100grams then you will need to consume 150g of water. 

Without water your body won’t be able to operate at its full capacity, meaning that your speed will be significantly impacted. 

As we have discussed at length your speed is one of the primary factors that will influence your final 5K time. So, to stay at your regular speed be sure to replenish your lost fluids regularly. 

If this is a topic that greatly interests you then you will want to enroll in our Hydration for Sports Management CPD course. The best part is that you can graduate in as little as 2 weeks, becoming a fully certified hydration specialist in the process. 

Before You Go!

We hope that this article has provided more insight into how to improve your 5K run time. This process is not easy and should only be approached by implementing any of the tips we have suggested. 

Please keep in mind that due to the high-impact nature of running, pushing yourself too hard can result in injuries. Be sure to spread this training out evenly, without forcing your body to do something potentially dangerous. 

Before you go, remember that our personal training diploma is available for all fitness enthusiasts. Once you’re enrolled you will be taught by industry-leading professionals who are on hand to ensure your career thrives. 

Alternatively, you can read our FREE course prospectus in order to learn more about the many different courses we provide. 

Written by James Bickerstaff

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

James holds a BA (Hons) in Creative Writing and Film Studies and has recently gained a MA degree in Film, both of which he attained from Liverpool John Moores University. After taking up the couch to 5K challenge on a whim, James found a new passion for running, which he combines with his love for healthy cooking and writing. All of this led him to becoming a copywriter for OriGym.  

When he is not writing content for the site, James can be found researching new recipes, writing music reviews, reading and watching latest film releases.   

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