Let’s address the first thing that I know is going to bring around the trolls as I talk about running overweight.
Even though I’ve lost 35lbs, I’ve never been in the Athena or Clydesdale categories or classified as heavier.
So what the h-e-double hockey sticks am I doing writing about this topic?
1. I get questions from lots of new runners who wonder about it. And I would hope with over 20 years of running, 11 years researching it and 11 years of coaching I’ve learned a few things.
2. I ASK questions! I get advice from other people who have been there, but may not have their own blog to spread the word!
3. My first marathon partner was a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than me. I learned how it was different on his body to take the pounding and what that meant for training.
Great with that out of the way, I hope you can truly dive in to the information and make the most of it because on thing I ABSOLUTELY KNOW about running is that size doesn’t matter.
Size isn’t what makes you a runner.
Size isn’t what determines how fast you can go.
Size isn’t what says you’re healthy or unhealthy.
That last one is so key.
Weight isn’t the gold standard for determining our health and why wouldn’t you enjoy getting active if it’s going to make you feel better, move better, and be healthier despite the scale?
How to start running when overweight and out of shape?
In this article we’re going to dive in to the top tips to help you get started and keep going.
A big part of running is what happens between our ears and that’s why I started this post focusing on that. I also need you to understand that while it’s true, carrying more weight is hard, that doesn’t mean you can’t do this.
We’re going to break this down in to some key areas of training tips, dealing with common issues and nutrition.
So pick your goal.
Take it one step at a time!
Featured here is a runner I adore for her spirit and follow for her joy, regardless of size, Mirna Valerio.
Running is for Every BODY
The longer you run, the more you realize that this sport is for every body and damn that feels good.
I routinely get passed on race day by people 30 years older, women with jogging strollers and yes people who might not have what Runner’s World magazine features on the cover as a runner’s body.
None the less, the reason I ran my first marathon was Jake.
6’3″ in the Clydesdale category Jake.
Jake who convinced me I was the only person crazy enough to train for and run 26.2 miles with him.
Throughout our training, he’d often comment on how certain things felt different due to his size. Like the added pressure on his joints or simply the strength needed to move more body mass. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from him and many other fellow runners and wanted to share those tips for anyone who might need them.Don't let size, shape, age or fear keep you from #running. Get started with these tips. Click To Tweet
8 Tips for Heavier Runners
I’ve decided I don’t like the term overweight because it’s not accurate in all cases. I’ve also decided that while The Mirnavorator embraces Fat Girl Running to create a killer tribe, it’s not a word that everyone is quite there with yet. So we’ll say heavy.
Then I shall follow this up by saying, really there’s not a darn thing here that doesn’t apply to every single runner under the sun.
1. You’re like every other new runner
I basically feel like I could just push you on over to my beginner running tips and call it a day.
The truth is you’ve got all the same issues everyone else does!
You need to build your endurance one step at a time.
You need to overcome the mental blocks like there is a runner’s body or that people are watching you (they aren’t).
You’re going to feel like you can’t breathe while running.
But I know that’s not quite enough, so here are a few other tips, that go along with using the Couch 2 5K program.
While it’s true your weight may add some additional considerations, treat yourself like a runner and things will fall in to place.
2. What About Running on Softer Surfaces?
Anyone who has joint issues benefits from taking their runs to crushed gravel or the treadmill. Both surfaces provide more give, which means the lower leg is absorbing less impact.
I actually alternate between road running, trails and treadmill because it’s made my knees feel so much better and that’s going to keep me running for YEARS.
Fun tip: Running on the asphalt is easier on the body than running on the concrete of sidewalks. That’s why you often see runners along the side of the road, instead of sidewalks.
BUTTTTTT, new studies are a reminder that you still need to hit ALL surfaces. What you give up with the softer surface is some good running mechanics and an increase in leg stiffness.
So if you are consistently having trouble with your Achilles or Shins, you might actually be better off to hit the roads over a softer path.
3. Choose the Right Running Shoes
You need to get shoes which are going to support you. What you need may change as your body changes, your stride changes or how much you run changes.
You want to ensure the pressure on your knees isn’t ramped up from your foot rolling inward, which is super common when we start and lack hip/glute strength. Which we are going to dive in to with a coming tip.Example of knee drift!
One shoe that I particularly love is Hoka One One. The maximal shoe style provides built in stability, without over correcting the movement of your foot.
There is also a comfortable amount of cushion in a lightweight shoe, which is going to help your body as you learn to absorb the impact of running. You can opt for things like the Bondi with extra cushioning, but remember it’s not going to make joint pain from running go away.
There is an adaption process. And there are some things we need to do (like strength training) to help our joints.
4. Embrace the Walk
Nearly every new runner feels like it’s a sin to walk and they give up on running because they need to walk. Walking is the BEST way to keep building your endurance for running. Not for your endurance, but every tendon, joint and muscle takes time to adapt.
The more time on your feet, the more you’re training your body to get used to continuing onward. It’s a great way to build endurance and to not overtax yourself.
Whether you are taking a walk break during your run or adding on time with walking only, it helps.
I love taking walks on my recovery days or after a run to get in a little more time, while taking the intensity way down.
This story from Beauty and the Bench Press is a great example:
“My training schedule consisted of an interval run about 3-4 times per week. The days I didn’t run I started to feel guilty. Like I was being lazy or would lose all the progress I made. But running while significantly overweight took a toll on my body.
My body NEEDED the break. I had to learn to tell the difference between real pain and basic soreness.
If I was a little sore, pushing through a run usually helped work out my tired muscles. I got shin splints often the first few weeks. So much so, that I considered stopping all together.
But instead of stopping, I walked. If I had to repeat a training week because I couldn’t run, I did. I made sure to listen to my body and take the breaks I needed.”
As a running coach, I’m going to beg you to listen to that advice. If you’re consistently getting sharp pains, you need to drop back the intensity and/or volume.
Finding consistency is the long term win with running.
Power Walking vs Run/Walk
One thing that many runners are surprised by when working with our coaches is that we actually want them to go back to a brisk walk before transitioning to run/walk. We found this was an amazing way to build up their cardiovascular system without so much pressure.
Can you walk a 15 minute mile? That’s the goal.
Once you’re power walking at that pace, it’s great to transition over to the run walk intervals. You can checkout this Couch 2 5K training plan for a guide to follow.
Again this is something that applies running overweight or not! We too often skip the base!
5. Strength Train for Support
Give your body some extra support and you’ll become a better runner in the process. Again, this applies to every runner, everywhere. Yet, we all tend to skip it when starting out, which results in injuries slows our progress.
If your goal happens to be weight loss, then strength training in combination with your running is going to move the needle 10X’s faster than just running alone. It’s going to increase your lean muscle mass, which is going to boost your metabolism.
And of course, you’ll be creating a stable foundation that allows you to run farther and to pick up the pace. Extra weight is less of an issue the stronger you get.
Through strength training you’ll teach your body how to stay in proper alignment. It prevents your knees from falling inward which causes hip, knee, ankle, IT Band and other issues.IamTulin is such a badass.
What does strength training look like?
Don’t be afraid to start with bodyweight exercises. Remember our goal is to start where you are and build up to a stronger body. In fact, some of the best moves for injury prevention are things we often have runners doing in a dynamic warm up.
- Hip Bridges
- Bird Dogs
- Fire hydrants with band
- Banded monster walks
- Squat with band above knees
- All the core work!
6. Gear Up
Oh ladies, I can’t even imagine your world of two sports bras, but I do know that you need to get the girls supported.
Gear is NOT what makes you a runner, but a few of the right pieces can go a long ways towards making it more enjoyable!
Put so well by Alexis Pundis:
“Chub rub and painful feet do not have to be a consequence of being a fat runner.
When i first started out, I was running in Hawaii in cotton baggie shorts and loose fitting Tshirts. I didn’t know any better, I had just assumed that the chaffing and the chub rub was just a natural part of becoming a runner…”
She’s not wrong! I started in T-shirts and mesh basketball shorts and some random shoe. Oye. I’ve also heard from many of you that running overweight, you didn’t want people to see your body so you stuck to the baggy shirts.
If that feels right, cool. But know that there are brands like Athleta and Senita making gear that looks oh so cute on lots of bodies.
- As noted above, go to a running store and get the right shoes. They LOVE helping you because they want more runners in this world. No judgements.
- A motion control sports bra: Moving Comfort and Enell are two of the best I’m told!
- Inclusive sizing brands: Checkout Athleta, Lola Getts, Senita, Old Navy
- High quality socks that wick: checkout this whole post on finding them, it’s worth every penny
- Find a great anti-chafing cream – rub it everywhere to help with chaffing!
- Compression gear: this is a recommendation a few runners provided that it simply helped a bit like the sports bra to keep things feeling solid and in place for a more comfortable run!
7. Sports Nutrition
One of the best mental switches I ever made was to think about how what I ate impacted how my body felt. I could tell a difference in my runs and the lack of aches, when I ate more vegetables and less of my sugary treats.
While calorie counting or macro counting are certainly part of the process with weight loss…it just made me enjoy food so much more. I stopped fearing food!
👉I implore you not to get in to fad diets. Checkout this great sports nutrition course, created with a Registered Dietitian that talks all about how much you need to eat and WHY you gotta eat carbohydrates even when trying to lose.
- Start counting how many vegetables and fruits you’re eating (this is often eye opening)
- Remember that protein is key for building muscle (lean meat at every meal is a great start)
- Whole grains are going to give you a ton of nutrients and energy to workout
A healthy diet it so much more than veggies. You need to FUEL YOUR BODY. Doesn’t that just sound better?
8. There is No Perfect Runner Weight or Size
It’s easy for anyone to be intimidated to start something new. We tend to look at those who have been doing it awhile as our goal posts, when in reality they had to start somewhere too.
Decide what you really want from running. Is it to feel healthier? Is it to finish a race?
Maybe it is to lose weight, but I can guarantee that will become an afterthought once you start enjoying the satisfaction of pushing yourself.“A year later and I’m in the best shape of my life and look, tummy still has rolls and I feel unstopabble.” – Candice Huffine, model/runner reflecting on some journal entries after she took up running.
As much as anything, I hope this post reminded us all that the beauty of running is the variety. We needn’t be stick thin with wash board abs to enjoy this sport and what makes us a runner is basically the same regardless of the size of our shirt.
Running overweight doesn’t meant you can’t or shouldn’t. It might mean you have to work through some of the mental barriers holding you back. But truth be told…we all struggle with “am I a runner”. Which means we gotta stop comparing!
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