Running When You Are Overweight – How to Get Started

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Getting started with running can be challenging for anyone. But running when you’re overweight can be more daunting—you might wonder if you have what it takes.

There’s good news! If you’re considering it, we feel confident it will help you lose weight, improve your cardio fitness, and build muscle.

Here’s our best advice on how to get started running when you’re overweight and how to stick with it for long-term results.

Can You Run if You’re Overweight?

Of course! Running doesn’t discriminate—it’s for just about everyone. Despite what you might think – or what others say – running is possible regardless of how much you weigh.

We’re here to tell you you can run, no matter your weight! You’ll need to take some precautions and start slow, but in the end, you might lose a ton of weight, get fit, and gain a ton of confidence along the way.

Is It Harder to Run if You Are Overweight?

Running is going to feel harder if you’re unfit. If you’re overweight, your fitness is probably not where it should be, so yes—expect running to feel difficult and not too much fun when first starting out!

There will also be extra strain on your joints and muscles, putting you at risk of developing injuries when you first begin.

But if you structure your runs and recovery the right way and stay consistent, it won’t take long for it to start feeling a LOT easier than it did at the start. Plus, you’ll greatly reduce the chance of injury by starting slow but steady.

You’ll need to set yourself up properly, be strong, and push through the discomfort, but seeing that progress is incredibly rewarding!

Before You Start Running

Before you lace up your shoes and hit the road, here’s what you should do to ensure you’re starting on the right foot.

Talk to Your Doctor

This is more important than you think. It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any exercise, but it’s particularly important if you have (or may have) underlying health conditions.

Tell your doctor your plans to run. They’ll be able to give you valuable guidance and advice based on your current health, including how to avoid aggravating existing injuries.

Get Your Gait Assessed

This is a step that new runners often skip. It’s especially important if you’re overweight, because excess body weight means your weight gets distributed differently on your feet.

Properly assessing your gait will help you make the right shoe choices. Here’s why you NEED to take this step before starting any running routine:

Proper Support for Joints

The more weight you carry, the more strain you’ll have on your joints, especially hips, knees, and ankles. Getting your gait analyzed will help show where the problem spots are and counteract them.

Cushioning & Shock Absorption

The cushion in your shoe adds to the comfort, but its main purpose is shock absorption. Those who weigh more generally need more cushioning because the impact is greater on every foot strike.

Choose shoes with adequate cushioning, and your joints and tissues will thank you as much of the vibration will be dampened. But neglect this, and you might find that your feet take on a lot of shock, leading to injury and pain.

Dealing With Muscle Imbalances

Knowing your gait means knowing which shoes are right for you. And wearing the right shoes means there’s less likelihood of developing muscle imbalances, which take time and focused training to fix. Do what you can to avoid them from the beginning!

Stability & Balance

Balance can be difficult if you have a few extra pounds on your frame. Choose footwear that’s stable enough for you when you’re moving to prevent falling or stalling during your runs. You’ll only be able to figure out what footwear that is if you’re aware of your gait.

Comfort Levels

Having more pounds than you’d like on your body leads to discomfort in various ways. Don’t let your shoes be a source of discomfort, too!

Assessing your gait will ensure that you find shoes that fit properly, move with your feet and stride, and maximize your comfort. This goes a long way towards making running more enjoyable!

Reducing Injury

Wearing the wrong shoes for your gait DOES increase your risk of developing an injury due to abnormal movement of your joints. When you’re trying to build a running habit, an injury that sidelines you can be extremely disheartening.

Wear the right shoes, though, and you’ll be much more protected and less likely to be injured, allowing you to push through for the long term and see real results!

Invest in the Right Gear

Don’t underestimate what proper running clothes and gear can do for your comfort and motivation! If you’re serious about running, invest in new gear to make you feel good, look good, and perform at your best.

  • Shoes: Make sure they fit right and suit your gait.
  • Clothing: Polyester or Merino wool for moisture-wicking. Avoid cotton.
  • Sports bra: Ladies, this will be your best friend! Make sure it’s supportive enough.

Set Goals

Starting a running program without goals is like getting in a car without knowing where you’re going—you may or may not like where you end up! But if you know what you’re aiming for, you can work towards that specific goal.

Your goals don’t have to be lofty and grand. Remember, you’re just starting this journey—choose goals within your reach. And when you reach them, you can move on to new, bigger ones. Here are some good ones to start with:

  • Run a mile without stopping
  • Lose 5 lbs by the end of the month
  • Finish a 12-week running program

These are all excellent starting goals. Choose something similar that’s more catered towards you—and once you achieve it, you can set another close to being within your reach.

Create a Training Plan

Once you have your goal, you’ll need a training program. You don’t need to start from scratch here—you can find a wide range of ideal training programs online, including one further down this article!

Here’s what an effective training program looks like for overweight beginners.

  • Length: +-12 weeks
  • Running: 3 to 4 times a week.
  • Warm-Ups: Dynamic stretching, 5 minutes of slow walking.
  • Cool-Downs: Static stretching, 5 minutes of slow walking.
  • Cross-Training: 1 to 2 times a week.
  • Strength Training: 1 to 2 times a week.
  • Rest: At least 1 FULL rest day per week.

Plan Your Schedule

Consistency is key here! Choose which days you’re going to run, which days you’re going to cross-train, and which days you’re going to rest.

Try to stick to them as closely as possible, which will help you build a habit. Allow for some flexibility because life happens!

Include Cross-Training Activities

Cross-training activities are cardio exercises that AREN’T running, like elliptical, rowing, cycling, or swimming. Strength training means hitting the gym!

Adding them to your routine in moderation gives your body a break from the running motion, which helps lower your chance of overuse injuries while improving your overall fitness.

Prioritize Rest and Recovery Days

Don’t be tempted to skip your rest day—your body needs it! We recommend one FULL rest day every week—no running, no cross-training, and no strength training. Just relaxing and doing your normal daily activities minus any exercise.

Allow for one full rest day, but keep it flexible. If you’re feeling particularly sore or tired one week, you can up it to two or three to allow for healing and rejuvenation.

How to Start Running When You Are Overweight

So, you’ve done all the “before the run” steps and now you’re ready to hit the road! Here’s what to keep in mind as you start your running journey.

Start Slow

There’s no shame in starting slow! Push too hard, and you’ll exhaust yourself, so take it easy when you begin.

Remember, as your body adapts to each new activity level, it gets stronger and more flexible. If you try to push ahead before it’s adapted, you risk hurting yourself and ruining your training from the start.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Even if you’re going slow, don’t neglect your warm-up. Walk for a few minutes and do some dynamic stretching—it’ll get the blood flowing so your muscles will be ready for the activity coming, so there’s less chance of you injuring yourself. Cooling down can be just a bit of slow walking and static stretches.

Use the Run/Walk Method

This is the best way to build up strength and endurance. Alternate between walking and running until you build up to running for long periods without a walking break.

The intervals you choose are up to you, but a good start might be one minute of running to two minutes of brisk walking for 20 to 30 minutes.

When you feel like you could run more before switching over to walking, lengthen the runs and shorten the walks. For example, go for 1:15 of running, and 1:45 of walking. Then, move up to 1:30 running, 1:30 walking, and so on.

Build a Support System

This is a very underrated step when you first start running. Surrounding yourself with supportive people can be the difference between giving up and seeing it through to your weight loss goals!

  • Anyone who wants to train with you.
  • Friends/family to be accountable to.
  • Running club/online group.

Add Strength Training Into Your Running Routine

Two sessions per week should be enough. One should focus explicitly on legs—quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. Building muscle in your legs will increase your power and endurance, helping you to progress faster.

The second workout should include the upper body, focusing on the core. A weak core can compromise your form, a one-way ticket to injury! Plus, more muscle generally equals less injury as you run, providing solid support to the joints and other tissues.

And then there’s the fact that strength training helps to boost calorie burn and speed up the metabolism, so you can expect to lose weight faster if you’re doing strength training as well as running.

You don’t need to go to the gym. Start with bodyweight exercises, like squats, hip bridges, and lunges. You can build up to weighted exercises when you’ve gained some strength.

Focus On Good Running Form

If you get your form right as a beginner, you’ll be setting yourself up for success in the future! Proper form makes your running more efficient, lowering your chance of getting injured. Here are some tips.

  • Don’t drop your eyes—look ahead of you and keep your head straight.
  • Make an effort to relax your shoulders and neck as you run.
  • Move your arms forward and backward, not across your body.
  • Don’t lock your knees out—keep them soft while you’re running.
  • Aim to land on the ball or middle of your foot, rather than the heel.
  • Watch where that front foot lands! Keep it under your hips.

Learn the Art of Breathing

Next to form, breathing is the most important part of running. As your heart rate goes up, you’ll find yourself breathing faster so your body can take in more oxygen, which it needs to power your muscles.

Ensure you’re breathing down into your belly, not just your chest. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Try timing your breathing to your steps if it helps—inhale for three steps, then exhale for two, or any variation that feels good.

Fuel Your Body Well

You can’t be a successful runner and eat junk. Your chances of success will be much higher if you eat a healthy, balanced diet outside of running and try to stay hydrated.

Choose whole foods that are low in calories but nutrient-dense—nothing processed. You may have to start cooking healthier recipes and snacking on fruit and other healthier options during the day. You don’t need to avoid carbs, either—just choose carefully.

It’s also a good idea to use an app like MyFitnessPal to monitor how much you’re eating.

This will ensure you’re not wasting all your exercise by “eating back” calories that you’re burning because you won’t lose weight if this happens.

Track Your Progress

Using an app or training log to track your progress is the best way to see results! Track every workout you do, and you’ll eventually be able to compare your latest one to previous ones and see the difference.

This can be incredibly motivating! Track everything: time, distance, calories, how you felt, if you had any niggling pains, what the weather was like… This will help you spot patterns later and determine how best to optimize your training!

Staying Motivated

We all have different ways of staying motivated. Find what works for you.

If you’d like to display pictures of your ideal body, then do that. If you want to use a rewards model to help you reach those goals, that’s fine, too. Remember, your support system should also encourage and motivate you along the way!

Example of a Training Plan

Ready to dive into training? Here’s a good example of a training plan to get you into running when you’re overweight. It starts off nice and easy, and builds up through the weeks.

This is just a guide. You can tweak it to suit you, but remember the elements of a successful training plan: running, cross-training, strength training, and rest.

Weeks 1 to 4: Building Stamina and Walk-Run Intervals

Start with the below schedule for week one.

  • Day 1: Brisk 15-minute walk.
  • Day 2: Rest or light cross-training activity.
  • Day 3: Brisk 15-minute walk.
  • Day 4: Rest day.
  • Day 5: Brisk 15-minute walk, then 30 seconds of running, 4 ½ minutes of walking (repeat three times).
  • Day 6: Rest or light cross-training activity.
  • Day 7: Brisk 20-minute walk.

During week 2, follow the same schedule but increase running intervals to 45 seconds each. In week 3, increase them to 1 minute; in week 4, run for 1 ½ minutes during your intervals.

Weeks 5 to 8: Increasing Running Time

In this block, the overall goal is to increase your running time and build your stamina and endurance.

  • Day 1: Brisk 5-minute walk, then 3 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking (repeat cycle 3 to 4 times).
  • Day 2: Rest or light cross-training activity.
  • Day 3: Brisk 5-minute walk, then 3 ½ minutes of running, 1 minute of walking (repeat cycle 3 to 4 times).
  • Day 4: Rest day.
  • Day 5: Brisk 5-minute walk, then 4 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking (repeat cycle 3 to 4 times).
  • Day 6: Rest or light cross-training activity.
  • Day 7: Brisk 5-minute walk, then 5 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking (repeat cycle 3 to 4 times).

During the weeks that follow, stick to the same schedule but increase running intervals by 30 seconds to 1 minute each time.

Weeks 9 to 12: Progressing to Continuous Running

You’re into the final stretch of your training plan, and the end goal is to get you running for an extended period without needing walk breaks.

  • Day 1: Brisk 5-minute walk, then run for 10 minutes and walk for 2 minutes (repeat cycle once).
  • Day 2: Rest or light cross-training activity.
  • Day 3: Brisk 5-minute walk, then run for 12 to 13 minutes and walk for 1 ½ minutes (repeat cycle once).
  • Day 4: Rest day.
  • Day 5: Brisk 5-minute walk, then run for 15 minutes.
  • Day 6: Rest or light cross-training activity.
  • Day 7: Brisk 5-minute walk, then run for 20 minutes.

During the next 3 weeks, follow the same schedule but increase your running time by a minute or two for each run.

Tips to Help You Start Your Running Journey

Starting running when you’re overweight can be hard. But follow these tips to make it easier and more fun!

Choose the Right Running Surfaces

The softer, the better. A track, a treadmill, or grass are your best options, as they’ll absorb shock much better than the road.

Minimize Chafing

Chafing is a runner’s worst enemy, so tackle it from the start. We recommend an anti-chafing product to keep you comfortable and chafe-free.

Embrace Technology

A smartwatch can be the best help on your running journey! Shop around, though—make sure you choose one that suits you and isn’t too feature-heavy with stuff you won’t use.

Practice Mindful Running

Running is also a great way to be present in the moment. Focus on your footfalls, your breathing, or how your muscles feel. It’s a form of active meditation.

Take Breaks When You Need Them

There’s nothing wrong with taking a break, whether walking for longer than the program says or stopping for a moment to catch your breath. Listen to your body and don’t overdo it.

Celebrate How Far You’ve Come

Be proud of your progress! This is a long game, so congratulate yourself every step of the way, whether your milestone is small or big. This is the best way to keep yourself motivated!

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.