Running Advice for Overweight Runners

Plus size woman running in Central Park, New York during a beautiful day

LeoPatrizi / Getty Images

Being overweight is certainly not a reason to avoid running, as runners come in all shapes and sizes. If you’re overweight, running can help you improve your health, get in shape, boost your confidence, and lose weight.

Getting started with running may be a bit more challenging for overweight people since they’re carrying more body fat and tend to get winded more easily than those who are leaner. Here’s some advice for how overweight runners can safely start a healthy running habit and reap all the great benefits of running.

Check With Your Doctor

Before you start a regular running routine, you should check with your doctor to get medical clearance for running. This is an important step for anyone who’s new to running, but especially if you’re overweight. Share your running plan and goals with your doctor and have him/her assess your plan and any potential health issues. Talk about any pre-existing conditions or previous injuries that might have an impact on being able to start a regular running program.

If you’re hoping to lose weight by running, make sure you let your doctor know about your goals. Your doctor may also recommend that you do an exercise stress test on a treadmill to rule out any cardiovascular issues.

Get the Right Shoes

Wearing the wrong running shoes for your feet and running style can lead to injuries and general discomfort while running. If you’re overweight, the extra weight and pressure on your joints can make you even more vulnerable to injuries, so it’s crucial that you get the right running shoes for you.

Go to a running specialty store, where trained salespeople can do a running gait analysis and recommend the right shoes for your running gait, foot, and body type. You may need shoes with extra cushioning, good arch support, or some other special feature. Once you figure out the right running shoes for you, you can always save some money by finding deals online.

Start Small

Trying to do too much too soon may lead to injury and burn-out. If you’ve been inactive for at least a few months or longer, you should start walking.

You can begin walking on a treadmill, outside, or even in a pool. Start with just 5 or 10 minutes of walking if that's all you can manage. Consistency is key, so try to walk a little bit each day. Just get your body used to the activity and work up to a continuous forward motion for 30 minutes before you start to add some running.

Use a Run/Walk Strategy

Once you’ve built up your fitness through walking, you can get started with run/walk, which is an excellent strategy to safely and comfortably build your running endurance.

Start your run/walk session by warming up with a 10-minute brisk walk to get your heart rate up and blood flowing to the working muscles.

Next, run easy for 1 minute and then walk for 2 minutes. The walk should be an active rest, not a complete break. Don’t walk casually—do it with a purpose, like a power walk, to make sure you’re getting a good cardio workout.

Repeat this cycle for 15 to 20 minutes, and then finish with a 5-minute walk as a cool down.

As your 1-minute run intervals become easier, you can increase the amount of your run intervals and decrease the length of your walk intervals. While some people try to get to the point where they can run continuously without walk breaks, others decide to stick with run/walk as a long-term strategy, using intervals such as run 3 minutes/walk 1 minute or run 2 minutes/walk 30 seconds.

Mix Things Up

Once you’ve built up your endurance with run/walk, you should continue to challenge yourself by increasing your effort or distance during your runs. This will help boost your calorie burning efforts, improve your fitness even more, and help prevent you from getting bored with your routine.

You can start adding speed by warming up for a mile and then running at a faster pace (breathing heavy but still in control) for a minute and then recovering at an easy pace for a minute. Continue with this pattern for two miles, then cool down for 5-10 minutes. When that gets too easy, you could always increase the time of your speed intervals or do hill repeats instead.

Ignore the Naysayers

Are you hesitant to get started with running because you’re worried about what people will say or think if they see you running?

Try not to care about what others think! As a runner, you deserve respect from other runners and especially non-runners. After all, you’re working hard to improve your health and fitness and people should be impressed with and inspired by your efforts, not judging you.

In reality, other runners love seeing other people enjoying the sport, regardless of their pace, size, or shape. If you're worried about what non-runners think, just remind yourself how hard you’re working and that they’re missing out on all the benefits of running. And follow tips to feeling less self-conscious when running in public. As you continue running and building up your endurance, you’ll feel more confident about running and care a lot less about other people’s opinions.

Surprisingly, you may find some family members and friends to be unsupportive of your interest in running. Lack of support from people close to you is often the result of their own jealousy or insecurities. If people challenge you and tell you that you shouldn’t be running, then you can learn ​how to deal with the naysayers.

Add Some Strength-Training

If you’re not already doing some strength-training, try to incorporate at least one or two sessions in your weekly routine. Not only will you burn more calories while you're strength-training, but your increased lean muscle mass will improve your running performance, so you'll be able to run faster and longer, and pump up your calorie burn when running. Strength training also helps prevent running injuries, so you'll be able to maintain your commitment to exercise by staying injury-free.

You don’t need to belong to a gym or have special equipment to strength train. Here are some sample bodyweight exercise routines that runners can do.

Will You Lose Weight With Running?

Running is not a guarantee for weight loss, and some runners may actually make mistakes that lead to weight gain. But it can be a helpful tool for weight loss and maintenance if you’re smart about it.

One of the biggest obstacles to losing weight through running is eating too many calories because of your increased appetite. You can undo all of your hard work by giving into cravings or rewarding yourself with unhealthy foods. Try to keep your fridge and pantry stocked with foods that make up a nutritious, heart-healthy diet, such as whole grains, fish, lean meats, vegetables, and fruits. They'll provide essential nutrients, help fuel your workouts properly and aid in your post-run recovery. Aim to minimize the amount of processed foods you eat and avoid situations where you could easily give in to mindless eating.

It also helps to spread out your calories by eating five to six small meals throughout the day, rather than eating three big meals. You'll reduce your overall hunger and you'll also gain more flexibility in scheduling your runs because you won't have to delay your run until after you digest a big meal.

Tracking your calories using an app such as MyFitnessPal can help you stay more aware of how many calories you’re taking in and how many you’re burning. Research shows that people who track their food consumption are more successful at losing weight and maintaining it than those who don’t. You may be shocked at how many calories you're taking in, but it will help you identify areas for improvement. Keeping track of your food intake and exercise will also help you stay motivated to stick with your running habit.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • Stevens, V, et al. “Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 35, Issue 2, August 2008.