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12 Tips to Start Running When You’re Overweight

Running is an excellent form of exercise that you can do anywhere, anytime, and on any budget. If you’re overweight and looking for a way to get active and shed some pounds, running will help you get in shape, achieve a healthy weight, and boost your confidence!

Before you jump right in and start running, here are some of the most important tips to keep in mind.

1. Talk to your doctor.

Doctor holding a red velvet heart.

Before you begin any new fitness routine, it’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor, especially if you’re overweight. When you check with your doctor, ask about any pre-existing conditions that may affect your ability to run regularly or any concerns they may have. You might also want to share your running and nutrition plans and see if your doctor has any opinions or recommendations to add to it.

If your doctor isn’t okay with you starting a running regimen, ask them what you need to do to get there. With other lifestyle and diet changes, you might be able to start running sooner than anticipated.

2. Dress comfortably.

Close up of gym clothes on a wooden floor.

Wearing the wrong gear can quickly make any run very uncomfortable. Although it’s easy to just throw on an old t-shirt and shorts or sweatpants, wearing clothes that aren’t designed for running (or general exercise) may cause issues like chafing or restricted movement. 

Instead, whatever you wear should feel comfortable and supportive, and it should be easy for you to move in. Lightweight clothes made of sweat-wicking and breathable materials are best. If chafing is still an issue, consider using anti-chafing lubricants.

If you’re overweight, the additional weight and stress on your joints could lead to injuries, so it’s a good idea to purchase some supportive running shoes if you don’t already have them. There are various types of running shoes out there to choose from, but whatever you get should fit you properly and provide plenty of support while you’re on the move. We wrote this blog if you need additional tips on how to choose running shoes.

For heavier runners, there’s a great selection of plus-size gym wear online or in various brick-and-mortar clothing stores. For shoes, a specialty running store is probably the best way to get high-quality footwear that fits you well and is suited to your running gait. The staff can help you choose the right shoes with a gait analysis, which will help reduce discomfort and injuries.

3. Remember, the first run is always the hardest.

View of a runners shoes hitting a track and field before he takes off on his run.

It can be challenging to keep things in perspective when starting as a new runner. Before you begin a new running routine, make sure you have realistic expectations and know that it will be difficult at first. You might even feel like giving up after your first few runs, but if you stick with it, you’ll likely develop confidence, feel better, lose weight, and even improve your mental health. There are tons of great benefits of running regularly if you stick with it.

4. Don’t forget to warm up and stretch.

Group of runners stretching on the cement trail.

The warmup is the most important part of a workout, so don’t skip it! Taking a few minutes to warm up before each run will help prevent injuries and maximize your fitness gains. When you warm up and stimulate your muscles, you raise their temperature and lower their resistance, which leads to better performance.

A proper warmup will also help you prevent shin splints, or pain along the inner edge of the shin bone (tibia), the long bone in the front of your lower leg. 

A few good pre-run warmup exercises include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Marching with high knees
  • Cycling on a stationary bike
  • Slow jogging
  • Walking lunges
  • Jumping jacks
  • Opposite toe touches

5. Follow an organized running plan.

'My plan' written on a notepad with view of the marker.

It’s easy to say, “I’m going to start running this week!” and then completely bail on your plan. By establishing an organized routine, you’ll set yourself up for success and make it easier to track your progress and reach your goals.

A running plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as mapping out three days a week for 15-minute runs, walking on a treadmill on two of those days, and resting on the other two. As your fitness improves, you can increase the intensity or frequency of your runs or add other cross-training activities for a bit more variety.

6. Start small and build up from there.

2 people walking, one in jeans and the other in workout clothes.

If you’re overweight, consider starting with a walking program before you begin running. Gradually getting into a running routine allows your body (ligaments, bones, muscles, etc.) to adjust and strengthen to handle physical activity better.

Once you are ready to incorporate some running into your training program, start slowly. Aim to run three times a week for 15 to 20 minutes each time. And don’t be afraid to use the run-walk strategy or Fartlek training! This is where you break up periods of running with short sets of walking to make the run more manageable. 

Focus on low to medium-intensity runs to reduce the strain on your tendons, muscles, and joints. Running at a pace where you can maintain a conversation is ideal because this pace will help boost your metabolism and, therefore, lose weight faster.

7. Cross-train on your “off” days.

A group of woman doing an exercise with a rope, mid-jump.

Cross-training is simply adding other types of exercise into your running regimen. For instance, when you’re not running on your “off days,” you might swim or do 20 minutes of yoga instead. Cross-training can help you gain additional mobility, flexibility, and strength, improving your overall physical fitness.

Taking a short break from running also allows you to use your muscles, bones, joints, and tendons differently. It’s a form of active rest that still maintains conditioning. Strength training, in particular, is excellent for runners! It helps you burn more calories, increases lean muscle mass, improves your running performance, and decreases the likelihood of injuries.

If you’re unsure what type of cross-training to incorporate into your weekly running routine, think about the physical activities you enjoy. Whether you like swimming, yoga, or strength training, include one or two of these sessions in your weekly training plan for a more balanced exercise program.

8. Try rhythmic breathing.

A close up on a woman's face, with her eyes closed taking a deep breathe with the wind in her hair.

Struggling to breathe while running is a common complaint among new runners. That’s because your heart rate increases when you run, and you naturally start breathing faster to get more oxygen into your system. However, these quicker breaths are typically very shallow, so your body doesn’t necessarily get all the oxygen it needs. Once your breathing gets out of control, you’re likely to feel fatigued and may need to stop and rest.

You can try rhythmic breathing to maintain control of your breathing and breathe better while you run. This is where you time your breathing in rhythm with your steps. Inhale for three steps and then exhale for two. This strategy will encourage you to take deeper breaths, exhale all the CO2 you can, and get a better oxygen supply.

As you continue to jog and run regularly, breathing will become easier and your lung capacity will improve. However, if your struggle to breathe is very severe during physical activity, it’s definitely worth talking to your doctor about it.

9. Pay attention to your form.

A group of runners with an emphasis on their form.

If you have poor form when you start running, you’re more likely to experience injuries or shin splints, making it very difficult to continue running regularly. The best running form will vary slightly from person to person, but generally, it includes: 

  • Having the proper footstrike
  • Maintaining a straight and erect posture
  • Hanging your arms at your waist at a 90-degree angle
  • Keeping your head facing forward (instead of down)

Running indoors on a treadmill is a great way to work on your form, especially if you’re new to running. On a treadmill, you don’t have to compete with unpredictable terrain, inclement weather, or other unanticipated route disruptions.

Although running on a treadmill isn’t the most exciting, training apps like Vingo can make it more fun! Vingo offers exciting virtual running and cycling routes worldwide that you can explore alongside your friends. With additional features like an individualized avatar, customizable gear, and private group chats, running indoors doesn’t have to be boring anymore.

10. Focus on your nutrition.

A table full of fresh veggies and fruits in small bowls, making it a colorful selection.

If your goal is to lose weight by running, you’ll also need to be mindful of what you’re putting into your body. Unfortunately, it’s easy to give into unhealthy cravings as a “reward” for completing your runs. Or, your appetite might increase alongside your physical activity.

To achieve your weight loss goals, keep your refrigerator and pantry stocked with healthy options and eliminate all the junk. Snack on whole foods, like fruit, vegetables, yogurt, eggs, etc., and avoid processed foods. Try to cook at home as much as possible and aim to consume a well-balanced diet that consists of lean protein, vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy, and whole grains.

Many runners also prefer to eat six small meals over the course of a day rather than three big ones. That way, they feel satiated all day long and can more easily schedule runs because it’s easier (and faster) for the body to digest six small meals rather than three larger ones.

11. Listen to your body.

A chalk board with weights, apple and fitness and "listen to your body" written on the board.

If you feel pain or discomfort when you start running, you might be tempted to run through it, but listening to your body is always best! Don’t be afraid to rest when you need to, and give your body time to recover and adjust to the demands of running. It’s okay to take a day (or a week) off if you need it.

Trying to run through pain is more likely to result in injuries and may worsen any discomfort you’re already feeling. Additionally, overtraining is likely to do more harm than good when it comes to achieving your fitness goals. (Not sure if you’re overtraining? Read our article on some of the most common warning signs of overtraining and why it’s bad for you.)

12. Find ways to stay motivated.

A group of female friends hugging and smiling clossly.

Sticking with a running routine is difficult! But you can make it easier on yourself by using specific strategies to stay motivated. It may take some time to figure out what works for you, but a few ideas include:

  • Rewarding yourself with things like a new pair of running leggings, a massage, or a trip to the movie theater.
  • Finding a running buddy who will run with you regularly.
  • Setting concrete and realistic goals.
  • Tracking your progress.
  • Using a training app like Vingo to make indoor running more exciting.

Key Takeaways:

Running is an excellent way to get active, boost your confidence, and shed unwanted pounds. If you’re overweight, following these guidelines can help you have a more enjoyable running experience, maximize your fitness gains, and avoid injuries.

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