Should fat people run?
November 13, 2007 2:47 AM   Subscribe

Should overweight people run?

I'm 238 pounds, couch potato, looking to get around 150. To do this I'm making a lifestyle change and integrating daily exercise. I'm aiming to jog a 5K race within a few months, and then 10K, and so on. This goal-based thinking is the only way I can bring about a change.

But I read online that jogging isn't a good idea for fat people because it damages the knees in a permanent way. I've just been out for my first session and got pretty bad shin pains, although this could be down to incorrect footwear and I don't want to be put off before I've even started.

So should fat people run? Don't tell me to do gym work for six months first because that just ain't gonna happen. If I wanted to do that I wouldn't be 238 pounds.
posted by long haired lover from liverpool to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think there is anything wrong with overweight people running, but it's important that when starting out you run within the limits of what your body is able to handle. If you're coming from a pro-longed period of no exercise or just started running I would take it quite easy and for the first week or two, mixing light jogging with periods of walking.

Jogging can be very hard on your limbs, especially running on concrete, so running round the park on a softer surface will help a lot. Then once you find you can run constantly for time, start introducing concrete sections into your run. My philosophy on exercise is to pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you feel pain then stop and take it easier for a while.
posted by Hates_ at 3:09 AM on November 13, 2007

The program you've linked to is very good -- it's similar to one that I followed when I first started running. It specifies a target date of two months from start -- if you want to be safe then I'd suggest you just stretch the exact same program over a longer duration...say...four months. And make sure you allow proper recovery between sessions -- longer than what the program schedules if necessary.

Initial shin pains (known as shin splints) are normal. The shin muscles are the final absorber of the impact from your heel striking the ground. Wait until the soreness completely disappears before you go out on your next session. You'll still suffer a bit but I'll bet you'll be amazed by how much your tolerance and endurance goes up with each session.

The most important thing is to listen to your body and not to push it. At first it's hard to tell what kind of pains are normal and what indicates injury. The rule of thumb is that if you feel sharp pain during or immediately after excercise, then you've injured yourself (it could be minor or it could be really bad). If the soreness does not come until several hours later or the next day, then this is part of regular adaptation. It's known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Like I said, wait until it goes away before you run again. Your recovery period will shorten as you become fitter and stronger.

Make sure you get a good pair of shoes. Go to a specialized running shop and ask them to recommend a pair that is appropriate for your degree of ankle-pronation (flat footedness). Don't be afraid to spend up to $150 on good shoes.

For the first month or so, make sure you concentrate on maintaining proper form with EVERY footstep, until it becomes absolutely flawless and second nature. It's very easy to twist your ankle if you have a sloppy running style. You might want to do ankle-strengthening excercises too.

If you choose to run on a softer surface, make sure it is a properly maintained running track. If it is uneven ground such as grass or gravel, you WILL end up tripping and hurting yourself unless you are an experienced trail runner. I learned this the hard way -- I broke my ankle in the woods near my university and had to crawl out to the nearest road on my hands and knees. And give yourself time to adapt to a road surface before you race on it.

Bottom line: take it easy, don't rush it.
posted by randomstriker at 3:18 AM on November 13, 2007 [3 favorites]

Yes. If you take it easy and don't rush it. I know a lot (A LOT) of people who started at or above your weight and did just fine and continue to run today.
posted by OmieWise at 4:02 AM on November 13, 2007

I know plenty of "overweight" people who run. A lot of them lost weight by running. People will tell you running is bad for your legs, but my research indicates this is absolutely not true as long as you run within your comfort level.

Never, ever run if anything hurts. Take things very, very slow. Remember that even once your cardio level (or your ability not to get winded) improves enough for you to run longer sprints at a time, your muscle level might not have caught up yet.

And absolutely, before you begin running, seek the advice of a doctor. Some doctors may tell you you can't run at your weight. Seek a second opinion. Make sure you ask your doctor at what level you can be running, not whether you should be running at all.

Running is by far my favorite form of exercise. It's totally portable and extremely effective for overall cardio health and weight loss.
posted by Brittanie at 4:26 AM on November 13, 2007

Get good shoes. I think that's the absolute, most important thing, no matter what your weight, but especially at a higher weight. (Well, along with the sage advice about seeing a doctor, of course.)

Go to a good running store and get them to help you find a pair, and ask why they're recommending a particular shoe, too. You want them to tell you something about your pronation, not just about your weight.

Like randomstriker says, it's gonna be more expensive than you think it should be. Speaking from personal experience, it won't be as expensive as a few appointments with the sports medicine doctor who has to see you about that injury you got wearing the wrong shoes.
posted by adiabat at 5:03 AM on November 13, 2007

I want to re-emphasize that running with improper form will hurt you. If your feet turn in or out, you are pretty much guaranteeing ankle and knee problems. And if you hit the ground too hard, you will hurt your knees and hips.

There's a book called Chi Running that's about half silliness and about half really good advice about running form. The point is to avoid injury by making sure your joints are relaxed while you run. I tried it and a lot of my knee pain and hip pain went away. Take a look at it- you have a golden opportunity now to start running correctly before you have learned bad habits!
posted by ohio at 5:10 AM on November 13, 2007

You could probably drop to below 200 lbs within four or five months if you implement a strict diet. After that, running will be a lot easier, and probably safer, for you.
posted by Caper's Ghost at 5:39 AM on November 13, 2007

nthing that you can run...just take it slow and ramp up as appropriately. While I was training for a marathon I saw lots of big people running (including me).
posted by mmascolino at 5:41 AM on November 13, 2007

For the shin splints -- STRETCHING is really important. Do it before and after you run. Sounds obvious, but it didn't occur to me to stretch my shins (especially after) until I'd been in (temporary but repeated) agony for ages.
posted by obliquicity at 5:51 AM on November 13, 2007

Ohio reminded me of something. You should read some books about running. Your profile doesn't say whether you are male or female, but the Complete Guide to Running for Women (or something like that) has good advice for both.

For example, you should alway exhale and inhale on odd numbers. The author suggest exhale 2 steps, inhale 3, but I feel more comfortable doing the opposite. The idea here is that you're hardest contact with the ground is on the first exhale breath. If you exhale 2 steps and inhale 2 steps, you're always going to hit the ground hardest with the same foot — this is why most people suffer more injuries on one side of their body than another.

The same goes for running on a circular track or the side of the road. Most roads are graded, meaning higher in the center and lower near the curb, so water can drain off. If you always run on the right side of the road, you are always running at a slope that puts your right foot lower than your left foot, which can lead to injury. On a circular track, if you always run clockwise you're always leaning into the same foot. You should switch up sides occasionally to work both legs evenly and avoid overstressing one or the other.

Find a book that addresses more advice like this — stuff that's seemingly obvious but many runners don't learn until it's too late.
posted by Brittanie at 6:05 AM on November 13, 2007

In 2004, I was at 285 pounds. I lost a lot of the weight because of my running and walking program. I would say the best thing is to find a track to run on at first. You don't want to add the stress of running on concrete to the stress your joints are already under because of the weight you are carrying.

As for the shin splints, I think it is either incorrect footwear or that you are pushing yourself too hard right now. I would say go to a sports store and get fitted with the proper size shoe for your feet. There are also shoes that can help if you overpronate or underpronate while running.

Good luck! I know that it's tough to get started, but you will feel much better as the weight begins coming off.
posted by reenum at 6:08 AM on November 13, 2007

Don't tell me to do gym work for six months first because that just ain't gonna happen. If I wanted to do that I wouldn't be 238 pounds

then it's very likely that the whole losing weight is not gonna happen either.

it'd be nice to know your height, but unless you're very tall, 238 is a lot for a runner who doesn't want to bust his knees, ankles, etc

get a stationary bike for cardio as you're losing weight thanks to your new diet; when you start to get down to a lighter weight (it won't take six months) you'll be able to start running with some proficiency. if you run now, out of shape and as heavy as you are, you'll be slow as shit, you won't have fun, you'll sweat like a horse, and you may damage some ligaments.

if you get hurt, you'll ruin your plans, you'll have an alibi not to get in shape, and will soon get even heavier

the smart money is on diet and some reasonable cardio, for, I don't know, 2 months. then start running
posted by matteo at 6:38 AM on November 13, 2007

long haired lover from liverpool: "So should fat people run? Don't tell me to do gym work for six months first because that just ain't gonna happen. If I wanted to do that I wouldn't be 238 pounds."

There is a good solution to this: swim. It can be a lot of fun, it's whole-body, and it's low-impact, as far as stress to joints. I really love swimming, myself.

I know, however, that swimming might not be everybody's favorite thing, however, so there's the other solution: get yourself a bike. And not a stationary one-- those are somewhat boring. I think you'd be happier on a real one. It's running without the impact on joints. It's also a great way to get around.
posted by koeselitz at 7:13 AM on November 13, 2007

Spin class!
posted by konolia at 7:14 AM on November 13, 2007

Also, I wish you luck. I'm embarking on a similar "get-healthier" quest myself.
posted by koeselitz at 7:14 AM on November 13, 2007

I did it - back in college, anyway, so my joints were young and able to withstand a bit of a beating. As many have mentioned above, good shoes and soft running surfaces make everything better. Concrete is about the worst thing you can run on...even running on the asphalt is supposed to be better.

Good luck to you - I myself am trying to get back into healthy habits as well.
posted by po822000 at 7:19 AM on November 13, 2007

I'd say ride a bike instead. I've been a lifelong runner and cyclist and I never had knee problems in my entire life (including marathon training for several years) until I went north of 200 pounds. A couple years ago I tried running regularly and for the first time in my life I started having hurt knees. Even just short 2-3 mile jogs were enough to do damage.

So instead I've moved over to cycling for exercise and my knees have been just fine ever since. I think I'll wait until I get below 200 before I try running again.
posted by mathowie at 7:27 AM on November 13, 2007

I went from 260 to 220 primarily from running. I was ~245 when I ran a 5k run in ~32 minutes (respectable pace).

6'1". I also found I lost alot of weight from biking, which seems less stressful on the body in general. I also started on the treadmills at a gym.

If you hurt yourself, let it rest! I managed to get mild shinsplints my first couple times running outside, so I slowed down, and started running outside a bit more carefully.
posted by SirStan at 7:33 AM on November 13, 2007

Initial shin pains (known as shin splints) are normal. The shin muscles are the final absorber of the impact from your heel striking the ground. Wait until the soreness completely disappears before you go out on your next session. You'll still suffer a bit but I'll bet you'll be amazed by how much your tolerance and endurance goes up with each session.
Shin splints should not happen and can lead to stress fractures.

Re: OP - cross-train with a stationary or moving bike intensely (it's winter anyway), and diet before putting in a lot of miles.
posted by tmcw at 7:37 AM on November 13, 2007

My orthopedist specializes in knee problems, and he's made a few points about exercise (which jibe with what other docs and physical therapists have told me):

1) Listening to your body works for avoiding acute injury but not for avoiding osteoarthritis because it progresses in a highly nonlinear manner. There are plenty of people who are largely asymptomatic until the serious pain starts. As such, you need to plan your activities to reduce knee stress rather than expecting your body to tell you its limits.

2) From a knee perspective, running is and always will be bad. This is not to say it's unique (any weight-bearing or knee-using exercise will cause some knee stress) or that the benefits don't outweight the cost in knee terms, but distance running, in particular, is both highly repetative and quite jarring to the knee.

3) Similarly, from a knee perspective, you can't be too skinny. It's a lever, and more weight is going to equal more stress.

To sum up, being an anorexic couch potato would give you the healthiest possible knees, but not much else, healthwise, so it's a matter of finding a happy medium. The orthopedist runs, but he's pretty skinny, limits himself to a run or two a week, and presumably can gauge better than most what he's doing to his knees in the long term.

As for you, OP, what's worked for me is losing weight first through diet and then adding in exercise (walking -- the orthopedist would prefer swimming or using an elliptical, but I don't enjoy those much) once I was lighter (with "lighter" being 340 pounds; I'm now at 275). The weight-loss effects of exercise are generally overrated, and I've found it helps to stay on course with both the diet and the exercise to know that if I don't exercise for a couple of weeks due to injury/laziness/whatever I'll keep losing weight.

(Before someone jumps on "overrated," I do think the quality-of-life benefits of exercise are underrated, so it's still a net win. I just think way too much emphasis is put on exercise for weight loss when it plays, at best, a minor role compared to diet.)
posted by backupjesus at 7:39 AM on November 13, 2007

I agree completely with the advice about being professionally fitted for shoes. If you don't feel comfortable or you don't feel as though they're taking the proper amount of time with you, try another shop.

The other thing you should know is that it's totally okay to run slowly. Even very slowly. Especially at first.

Don't get caught up in the "running = fast" trap. You'll have plenty of time to run as fast as you want to or can later, but for now, as your body (legs and lungs) gets used to it, slow is just fine.
posted by at 7:49 AM on November 13, 2007

Include some weight training. Burn some fat and build some muscle mass. Start simple - how many pushups can you do? How many pullups?

Also, measure your waist circumference before you start working out. That is another important indicator to track, perhaps more important than your weight itself.
posted by tiburon at 8:11 AM on November 13, 2007

Hi! I run and currently weigh 224. I started running when I was about 250 following the same program you are using. It's great. I now run 3 miles & am building up to 10K. I run in NYC (Queens) on sidewalks & streets. I also run on the treadmill at my gym when it is nasty out.

I run 3 days a week, with a rest day in between. I'll probably keep this schedule until I drop more weight because I don't want to hurt myself by overdoing it. Some advice I received and followed was not to skip ahead in the program even if the running seems easy. Even if you can handle it aerobically, your bones & muscles need time to get used to it as well.

I got fitted properly at a running specialty store and love my properly fitted sneakers over what I was using before. It was definitely worth the few extra bucks. I plan on getting fitted for my next pair as well since my weight is dropping & will probably change what I need in a sneaker.

Warming up is very important. Cooling down & stretching after is important too and will lessen muscle soreness. While running, at the first sign of shin pain stop & stretch out your shins. I like to write the alphabet with my big toe. Try running again and if the pain persists, stop running & walk a little. Don't run again until the pain goes away. Adding strength training will help with that too and help protect your joints & bones while running.

Just so you know, I am female & 6 ft tall. I topped out at over 280 this past May. I loose about 1-2 lbs a week due to a combo of exercise (run, hike & lift weights) and healthy, whole foods (about 1650 calories a day). When I started running, I didn't necessarily loose more weight, but the inches started dropping off me much quicker :-) My knees are good to go too!
posted by Empyrean_72 at 8:11 AM on November 13, 2007

Shin splints should not happen and can lead to stress fractures.
posted by tmcw at 7:37 AM on November 13

Have you ever done regular running?

Shin splints are a normal condition when you first start running regularly. While acute shin pain is not normal, pain and shin cramping when running will almost inevitably occur. Most runners' shins get strong enough to stop hurting after the first year of training.

Regarding the original question: If you want to run, definitely start off concrete. A cross-country trail or track would work. Even so, you're in serious danger of being too overweight to run without hurting your knees/ankles/hips, so if you have prolonged joint pain, stop and do swimming or biking instead.
posted by azazello at 8:12 AM on November 13, 2007

If you are concerned, start using an elliptical machine. They are very easy on the joints. Keep your speed at about 75-85 RPM and you'll get a great workout. I'm 170 lbs and I burn about 500 cals per half hour. You might be able to burn 600-700 at that speed. FWIW, the ellipticals at my gym actually burn more calories than running on a treadmill if you believe the little computer calorie/distance counters attached to the machines.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:18 AM on November 13, 2007

yes, you can run.
yes, you can do many things wrong.
yes, you are at a higher risk of injury.

get a personal trainer.
someone who can show you what shoes to buy.
someone who can evaluate how you run.
someone who can set up a training program that benefits and doesn't hurt you.

do not make the same mistake so many other males make: being to proud to ask a professional for help. the smart way is to get a good trainer and let them show you how to do it right.

and yes, your goals are totally doable.
posted by krautland at 8:28 AM on November 13, 2007

You could probably drop to below 200 lbs within four or five months if you implement a strict diet. After that, running will be a lot easier, and probably safer, for you.

So it's that easy? Thanks! And I thought weight loss was hard.

>Don't tell me to do gym work for six months first because that just ain't gonna happen. If I wanted to do that I wouldn't be 238 pounds

then it's very likely that the whole losing weight is not gonna happen either.

You're presuming a hell of a lot here. Maybe I just don't like gyms, and pointless exercise where you stare at a wall for 45 minutes? Maybe that's why I'm trying running, and setting myself goals, because gyms don't work for me (and, let's be honest, most other people, who join them then attend just three times)?

All the other advice here is good, however. Thanks everybody. The main things I take away are that, yes, it's possible to run as a fatty, but I must take it slowly, get good shoes, and don't do it on concrete/tarmac until I get more experienced. The last two caught me out this first time.
posted by long haired lover from liverpool at 9:20 AM on November 13, 2007

I'm a chunky dude, 6'2" 220lb., with a missing ACL in one knee, and I run two or three times a week, a few miles at a time, with no problems.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:25 AM on November 13, 2007

More thoughts:

What you lack is willpower and discipline. You want instant gratification. It's not something you can really change about your character, and I'm not trying to insult you at all. I'm the same way as you on some things in my life. The trick is to recognize what your real weakness is, and intelligently play games with yourself, and manipulate yourself into achieving a goal.

Going from 240 lbs to 150 lbs is pretty drastic. It's attainable, but it will take time. Up to a year, or even more. You need to break this monumental goal into smaller steps. 5 lbs a month is definitely within reach. 10 lbs a month is possible but requires drastic changes in lifestyle, which you've already recognized are unlikely.

Are you a nerd and are you into numbers? If so get a digital scale accurate to less than 0.5 lbs. Weigh yourself EVERY morning (ideally after you've done your toilet routine). If you see a decrease, pat yourself on the back. If you see an increase, just ignore it with the legitimate knowledge that your weight WILL fluctuate all the time (mostly due to hydration/dehydration).

Do you like playing with spreadsheets? Then record your daily weight. The most important thing is to maintain an overall downward trend. If you were to graph your daily weight, it should look like the USD/EUR exchange rate -- sometimes up, sometimes down, but generally decreasing.

The bottom line is that you need to structure this project in a way that you can reach attainable goals and stay motivated. Otherwise you'll just get demotivated and give up -- I'll bet it's happened before, right? Don't worry, a lot of us are like this. You just gotta figure out which game to play with yourself to keep yourself going.

posted by randomstriker at 10:44 AM on November 13, 2007

Nthing the shoes and taking it sloq. When I started running, I was 202; ran my way down to 170. When I first started, though, shin splints REALLY killed me. I had to learn to walk for 5 to 10 minutes, briskly, EVERY SINGLE TIME before I could run. I also used stretches for my soleus and gastrocnemius before and after runs. Finally, ice can be your friend. Try throwing an ice pack on your lower legs after you run. Did wonders for me.

Congrats on your new goal, and good luck!
posted by tigerjade at 10:46 AM on November 13, 2007

Guy, if you are really committing to this, you are about to embark on an amazing journey. I was significantly heavier than you and got down to 185 (my ideal weight). It was an amazing experience, and I did it primarily through walking/running, so don't let anyone tell you that it won't work! I am genuinely excited for you! You have NO idea how much this change will positively affect your life.

Anyway, the first thing you should know is that you shouldn't be afraid to walk if you get tired jogging. As a matter of fact, you might want to start out just walking briskly for a week or so just to get yourself used to the exercise. Point is, the time when you can run for a half-hour straight is a long way off, but in the mean time walking is your friend. Just KEEP MOVING. The Couch-to-5K plan you linked sounds pretty spot-on.

Second, stay committed and don't get discouraged. I'll tell you right now that you will most likely drop about ten to twenty pounds relatively quickly and then stop losing weight altogether. It will be frustrating, but keep your normal exercise and diet regimen going even if the pounds aren't coming off. Everyone hits those plateaus, but eventually the weight loss starts again.

So good luck, bud! Keep at it!
posted by Willie0248 at 10:50 AM on November 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

Dude, why not break in gently by mostly walking to start with?

If you're that heavy, you're going to use a lot more energy than the average bear just by walking at a reasonable pace.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:01 AM on November 13, 2007

Initial shin pain is not normal -- that's a sign that your body is being overtaxed. Stretching and starting very slowly is going to be key for a running program for you. Shin splints and plantar fasciitis are two very common issues that can crop up, both preventable with consistent, moderate stretching of the two big muscle groups in the calves. I know that I've ramped up my running too quickly if I start to get shin pain.

Why not try brisk walking for a while, before you start running? You can get the heart rate up without the big impact on your shins and knees and it will force you to start off slowly.

Good luck! And good for you -- keep at it.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 11:32 AM on November 13, 2007

I've successfully taken up running for weight loss a couple of times. The schedule I've used was at an even slower pace than the one you linked to (I think I had 4 minutes of recovery time after each run at first). When you start, it *is* pretty uncomfortable. Parts of your body will jiggle in ways you never dreamed possible. Your shins will hurt. Your knees will hurt. But it gets better. Over time, all the parts that used to jiggle firm up. In my experience, they firm up faster than if I was just working out at the gym. You learn from experience which stretches work for you and which you can skip. In anywhere from few weeks to a few months, you feel like a runner, even if your body doesn't look it yet. Make your running schedule firm (I found only running three days a week makes me more prone to skipping--I go six or seven). Push yourself (even through pain sometimes) but be aware of signs of serious injury. Do what it takes YOU to stay motivated. This is totally doable. Uncomfortable at first, but doable. Good luck!
posted by wallaby at 11:50 AM on November 13, 2007

Yes, you can run, especially if you start slowly (as you intend to do) and don't try to do too much, but you're still more likely to tear the shit out of your legs than thinner people are, and you don't want to end up fat and gimpy. You should instead consider bicycling: low impact, so less damage and less unnecessary pain. You could join bicycle races, get into a touring club, actually go places (and be less bored) while you exercise. The company of others (friends or club members) would encourage you to keep at it.
posted by pracowity at 12:37 PM on November 13, 2007

Let me emphasize again that there are different kinds of pain. Very generally:

  • Sharp pains during or right after activity are bad!

  • Delayed Onsert Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is normal! Even in the shin muscles! It can be pretty acute if you're just getting into excercise, but it's nothing to worry about.

  • posted by randomstriker at 1:19 PM on November 13, 2007

    Not only will you need good shoes, you should get a heart rate monitor at your earliest possible convenience. I wear a Polar F6. A good heart rate monitor will allow you to have good numbers about how hard you're working, how quickly you're improving, and whether or not you can sustain the rate. It also has a nagging beep that tells you to pull your pace back if you start to go too hard.
    posted by phoebus at 1:20 PM on November 13, 2007

    I am a lifelong biker (and that's the beauty of biking, you can do it for a long, long time) but I run now too esp. because it's a nice way to be social and it burns a lot of calories.

    I found it uncomfortable to run when I was heavier -- and biking was my ticket to getting in shape and losing weight so that I could run comfortably -- and now that I am lighter, I only run every other day (most of the time) to give my joints etc. a rest. Also, if you want to kind of trick yourself into being more active, commuting or doing errands by bike is a nice way to get in some long rides/sustained exercise. (the commute by bike was the best part of my day for a while).

    Good luck!
    posted by nnk at 2:08 PM on November 13, 2007

    I'm 220lbs, 37 years old an just started the "Couch to 5k" programme you linked to this week with my girlfriend. We're running on dirt in a local park, rather than road running.

    Apart from the usual muscular aches, I've not had any problems with the running, save for the obvious lack of fitness.

    Good luck with it - it hurts for a while, but I'm quickly learning to love that too. No pain, no gain is not just a cliché...
    posted by benzo8 at 2:50 PM on November 13, 2007

    i run 9 to 15 miles everyday for 16 years,and my knees are just now starting to give me trouble!!
    posted by runner at 3:32 PM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

    posted by spinturtle at 9:56 PM on November 13, 2007

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