How to use your new smartwatch to do a couch to 5K in 2023

Garmin Forerunner 935
(Image credit: Future)

Congratulations on bagging yourself a new smartwatch. Whatever type you have – pricey like an Apple Watch Ultra or more affordable like a Garmin Forerunner 55 – what you now have in your possession is something that’s capable of tracking exercise, including your run.

You might not be into running yet, but if you're thinking 2023 is the year to make a change and start running regularly, that's great! It's a fun way to exercise, and an excuse to get outdoors and away from screens. Following a Couch to 5K program, and using one of the best running watches to help you do it, is a great place to start. 

Couch to 5K programs differ, but they tend to help you begin a running habit by guiding you through gentle cardio workouts. You'll jog for a spell, then slow down and walk for a bit, then go back to jogging again. Eventually, your jogs will get longer and your walking breaks will get shorter. 

Your smartwatch can help you track your progress and your vital stats, such as your heart rate and calories burned, while offering guidance on areas to improve. If you're a complete beginner, achieving the goal of running a 5K might even motivate you to stick to running long-term.

Here are 5 simple ways to put your smartwatch to good use, and get you off that couch and up and running. Keep an eye out for more great health and fitness tips as we get into January, including TechRadar's Get Fit For '23 week, which kicks off January 2. Don't miss it!

1.  Get to know what and how your smartwatch tracks

The Apple Watch Series 3 on a grey background

The Apple Watch 3 (Image credit: Apple)

The very first thing you want to do is get to grips with exactly what your smartwatch is capable of tracking and displaying when you run. More importantly, you can configure the information you see as you run, which will help you gauge your progress.

If you’re just starting out, you probably don't want to be overloaded with information, but some basic details you might find useful include distance and time. If you care about how quickly you’re going, you’ll also want to know your average pace. 

Smartwatches are now capable of showing all of that information, but how do you want that information to be displayed? Do you prefer seeing distances covered in miles or kilometers? Do you want all the information to appear on the same screen? Is it important for you to get alerts based on things like target time and distance?

Getting familiar with available settings, like changing units of measurement or adjusting the viewable fields of data, will help you make the most of your new gadget. You can find the settings on your smartwatch, as well as on the companion app that’s used to set it up. 

2. Find a couch to 5K plan to follow

If you literally have no idea how to get from the couch to running a 5K, there are heaps of plans online that will give you guidance. In the UK, the Couch to 5K plan on the NHS is a good place to start. In the US, the Mayo Clinic has their own couch to 5K plan.

Before you head online though, first check for running plans on the companion app for your smartwatch. Some apps do a better job than others making those training plans known. 

If you’ve picked up a Garmin smartwatch like the Venu 2 for example, you’ll find Garmin Coach, which offers adaptable plans for beginners. Fitbit offers plans through its Premium subscription service for its smartwatches, and Huawei provides plans through its Huawei Health app. If you don’t find a plan, there are other options too, which we’ll get into next.

3. ...Or grab a Couch to 5K app

There are many Couch to 5K apps out there, especially for those of you who own an Apple Watch or a smartwatch running on Google’s Wear OS platform. With one of those options, you have access to two of the biggest app storefronts for smartwatches. Any app you choose will live on their respective smartwatch, building personalized plans and sessions tailored to you while offering extra features to keep you motivated.

If you’re an Apple Watch owner, there are some great Couch to 5K apps to try, including WatchTo5K, which is one of our faves. It’s a standalone Apple Watch app so you can use it without your iPhone. This app features audio cues - to let you hear your progress - and supports music playback during run tracking. The app also works with Apple Health.

For Wear OS smartwatch owners, you can try something like C25K, which is also supported on Fitbit smartwatches and Tizen-based Samsung Galaxy Watches. This easy app will let you share you progress with friends on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

4. Calibrate your watch for treadmill runs 

Garmin Venu 2

Garmin Venu 2 (Image credit: Future)

This is an important thing to keep in mind if you’re planning to do a lot of your couch to 5K runs indoors, on a treadmill. All smartwatches rely on motion sensors as opposed to GPS to track your treadmill runs. Now, while GPS is a more accurate way to track distance and calculate core data when you're running outdoors, it won't help you track your indoor runs. When you're inside, running in one place - like on a treadmill - you need to rely on those motion sensors.

There are things you can do to improve the accuracy of running data specific to you. On Garmin smartwatches, like the Venu 2, try tracking a treadmill run for the first time with the treadmill mode for 1 mile. Once the mile is completed, check the display on your treadmill and enter that distance on your watch and save. The more you run inside and outside, the more tracking that you do, the more your watch will become accustomed with your running habits and achievements. So with a little bit of work, you can improve the accuracy of your treadmill runs.

If you own a Fitbit smartwatch, it’s worth looking into the app to adjust your stride length to improve the accuracy of the run tracking delivered. You can work out your stride length by simply running for a short period across a known distance, like a school track that you know is 1/4 mile per loop. Count your steps as you run and make sure you go for a minimum of 20 steps. Then divide the steps taken by the distance covered to work out stride length. You can then add your stride length in the Fitbit app by locating the Exercise tab.

5. Find some friends 

Now, no one here is advising you to be that person that litters other people’s feeds with every run you log, but that doesn't mean you shouldn’t be proud of your running achievements, big or small. A good way to stay motivated in your path to 5k and beyond is to share your achievements with other smartwatch owners using the same platforms that you are using to chart your progress. 

Fitbit offers a whole community within its app that you can be a part of, allowing you to not only share runs, but also join groups and take on challenges beyond running a 5K.  

For Apple Watch owners who are using Apple’s own Workout and Activity app, you’re plugged into Apple’s Move, Exercise and Stand Rings. You can view other users' achievements, see when they close their rings from runs tracked and completed and take them on in challenges too.

Michael Sawh

Michael is a freelance journalist who has covered consumer technology for over a decade and specializes in wearable and fitness tech. Previously editor of Wareable, he also co-ran the features and reviews sections of T3, and has a long list of bylines in the world of consumer tech sites.

With a focus on fitness trackers, headphones, running wearables, phones, and tablet, he has written for numerous publications including Wired UK, GQ, Men's Fitness, BBC Science Focus, Metro and Stuff, and has appeared on the BBC Travel Show. Michael is a keen swimmer, a runner with a number of marathons under his belt, and is also the co-founder of YouTube channel The Run Testers.