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Running When You Are Overweight – How to Get Started

If you want to lose a couple (or maybe more than a couple) pounds and are planning to start running, you might be at a loss about where to start. Even just the idea of running for 30 seconds might seem daunting! Don’t worry. We have you covered with 10 tips for overweight runners.

If you’re willing to put in the time and follow our advice, you’ll find yourself running faster, dropping pounds, and living an overall healthier life.

1. Start Out Right

If you’re serious about running, even if you haven’t exercised much in recent years, you want to make sure you start out right. That includes the dreaded visit to your doctor. You want to make sure that your exercise plan doesn’t make you susceptible to injury or other health risks. It’s best to ask a medical professional for advice.

Especially if it’s been a while since you’ve been to the doctor, you’ll have to go through an extensive physical exam. Your doctor will likely discuss any history of health issues, including heart conditions, kidney function, joint issues, and any medications you are currently taking.

Your physician can be of great help if you are honest about where you are right now, and what your training and weight loss goals are.

You also want to make sure that you are coupling your running with a healthy diet. Your doctor can also assist you here. If you’re running to lose weight, the last thing you want to do is counteract that with your diet.

Figuring out realistic ways to start eating more healthily will not only help you lose weight, but also provide your body with the nutrients it needs to run well.

Finally, don’t forget about getting the right running gear. While you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg, you should look into a good pair of running shoes, as well as one good running outfit (anti-sweat shirt, shorts/leggings, and for women, a sports bra). Having good running clothes may just motivate you to get out there more! We’ve gathered up the basic running gear for beginners here.

2. Take the Time to Stretch, Warm Up, and Cool Down

While this advice applies to all runners, it’s especially pertinent if you haven’t been exercising. You want to make sure that you avoid injury, and some of the best ways to do that are by stretching and warming up/cooling down.

By giving the body time to warm up and get limber, you prepare your body for the exercise you’re about to do. Plus, you’ll help maximize your fitness gains by taking the time to warm up – even for five minutes – before you start your workout.

Similarly, you don’t want to just end a run without helping your body to cool down. After you’ve finished your workout, take five minutes (or more) to walk it out. You don’t want to just stop after a hard run and give your body no time to adjust.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of stretching. Incorporate dynamic stretching before your run, and don’t forget to stretch after you run. It takes just a couple of extra minutes but can make a world of difference.

You might want to consider high knees, butt kicks, and leg swings before your run, and calf stretches, hamstring stretches, and so forth after your run.

running for weight loss

3. Take It Slow

While all new runners shouldn’t take it too hard starting off, this is especially true if you’re overweight. As much as you might want to run 3 miles without stopping, you might not realistically be able to do that right now. So take it slow and start small.

Depending on your level of fitness, you may even want to start with just walking first. Do whatever you can, even if it’s just 5-10 minutes of walking. Once you get to a place where you can easily walk for 30 minutes at one time, add running.

The run/walk strategy is a great way to safely build your running endurance. Once you’ve completed your warm up, try running for 30-60 seconds, and then walking for 60-120 seconds. Repeat this cycle for 15-20 minutes.

As you get more comfortable and more fit, you’ll be able to increase your running intervals and decrease your walking intervals, potentially to the point when you can run continuously without any walking breaks. Depending on your goals, you may want to reach this point, or you may be comfortable sticking with a run/walk as a long-term strategy. Some experienced runners even tackle marathons this way.

4. Find a Plan Designed for You

Running is extremely individual, but especially so for those who are overweight. You want to make sure that you find a plan that is designed for you and your fitness level. Whether you talk to your doctor or a friend, hire a running coach, or look for plans online, make sure that it is targeted to your level. We even have a free Couch to 5k training plan.

We Run coach Michelle Bird notes the importance of a tailored program, especially for those who carry a few extra pounds. You can find countless general running plans online that list specific time frames in which a beginning runner should be able to run a specific distance—often a 5k—but it can be discouraging if you try to complete that task in the specified time and cannot.

As Bird says, a plan designed for you will help you achieve your goals and assist you in setting “realistic goals based on your current fitness level, no matter what your starting point.”

strength training runners

5. Add Some Strength Training

This advice rings true for all runners. Strength training can be a great way to not only make you a better runner, but also help turn body fat into muscle. In addition, strength training is a great way to help prevent running injuries.

While you certainly could join a gym or buy special equipment, there’s no need to if you don’t want to. You can either grab those weights in the corner—and maybe brush some dust off—or you can try a variety of bodyweight exercise routines that you can do in the comfort of your own home.

Don’t underestimate how strength training can assist you in losing weight. With stronger muscles, you’ll run faster, keep your legs from tiring out just a couple minutes into your run, and improve your overall quality of life.

6. Don’t Forget About Intervals

As you start to get more comfortable with your run/walk routine, make sure that you continue to challenge yourself. Otherwise, your calorie burning efforts will start to plateau. You have to mix things up so that your muscles are regularly having to work.

You can work yourself into intervals/sprints by starting to add speed slowly. Warm up for a mile, then run at a faster pace for a minute, recover at an easy pace for a minute, and continue with this pattern for two miles before your cool down.

Once this becomes a breeze, start upping your goals. Increase the time of your intervals, or try some hill repeats. Modify your sprints (distance and speed) to match your level.

If you’re intimidated by even the thought of sprints, start really slow. Alternate light jogging with walking. If a jog feels like a sprint to you, that’s where to start! Intervals are a great way to increase your speed and help you become a better runner, so be sure to incorporate them into your training, no matter how fast or slow your “sprints” are!

7. Don’t Worry About Others

Some starting runners are hesitant to get out there because they are worried about what other people might think. Maybe when you mentioned your new idea to start running, you heard that dreaded phrase, “You don’t look like a runner.”

You have to realize that you are doing this for yourself. In the words of famous pop artist Taylor Swift, the haters are gonna hate hate hate. Try not to care about what other people think. It may be that your close friends and family aren’t super-supportive—maybe because they are jealous—and you’re going to have to work hard to ignore that.

Remember that at the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for you. Use the treadmill if you want, but don’t be afraid to hit the road. You’ll find that the running community is a very supportive group, and you’ll get kudos just for getting out there.

So when the naysayers come, be ready. Tell your friends and family why you decided to start running and encourage them to do the same thing! When you’ve started to see your progress even after several weeks, you’ll know that you’re doing the right thing for you. Your hard work is paying off, no matter if other people see that or not.

8. Set Realistic Goals

Depending on the type of person you are, you might be very ambitious. Or maybe not. In any case, it’s important to set realistic goals, ones that you can reach with some effort. You don’t want it to be too hard, because then you’ll give up. Likewise, your goals shouldn’t be too easy, because then it will be boring.

Only you are really going to be able to know what your goals should be. If you can’t even lightly jog for 30 seconds, you probably don’t want to run a 5k in one month. Figure out how to establish short, intermediate, and long term goals.

For example, maybe you want to set a short term goal of being able to run for one straight minute after three weeks. An intermediate goal might be training for a 5k in three to four months, while a long-term goal might be to lose 20 pounds in one year.

Whatever the goals are, some of the best advice I’ve received is to try to do just a little bit more each time. Whether it’s running one second faster or going even two strides farther than last time, do just a little bit more. Set your sights high, but not too high that you can’t meet them!

9. Be Consistent

Perhaps the best thing that you can do in getting started in running when you’re overweight is being consistent. This is the way to replace a bad habit with a good one. If you’re apt to veg on the couch after a long day at work, try to train your body to go for a run or walk instead.

If you want to get better at something, you have to practice it consistently. If you want to be able to run, you’re going to have to run. The first run is going to be the hardest, but there has to be a starting point, right? And it will only get easier from there.

There are so many ways to motivate yourself to get out for a run. Don’t try to do it alone. See if a friend will run with you, or join a running club. Another option is a fitness app. One woman who went from sedentary to running a variety of different length races likes the app called “Get Running: Couch 2 5k,” because it starts with where you are, and pushes you a little bit more each week.

Remember that it takes 21 days to make a habit. If you can consistently run and strength train for three weeks, you have a good shot at making that a habit. If you want to make it a lifestyle, you should try to maintain three runs per week for at least 16 weeks, as most fitness habits take that long to develop into a daily routine.

Finally, this will especially work if you’re a planner like I am: schedule your runs as you would a doctor’s appointment or hot date. You might be less likely to skip them if they are written down (and if you have a specific length/time and route planned) than if it’s just a vague “run today.”

10. Know Why You’re Running

At the end of the day, the way to solidify any change in your life is to know why you’re doing it. Everything is way easier to do if there’s a rationale for it. Know that for running, and make sure it’s a good reason!

You might start with the reason of wanting to lose weight, which is a great and admirable goal. But there’s a chance there is something deeper. Maybe you want to succeed with something; maybe you want to be healthier. No matter what the reason, know that deep “why” about your running, and it will help give you purpose on the challenging days.

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner