The lower legs of a runner with large calves

Too Fat to Run?

The Question

This question is from runorplod, who's worried about weight:


“I started running about 6 weeks ago to help lose weight. I've gone from 240 pounds to 228 pounds but my legs are in constant pain - mainly my shins and knees. I'm only running about 15 minutes three times a week. Is this a problem with technique or am I too fat to run?”

Our Coach's Answer

Simon - running coach
Simon Loughran - Middle-distance runner and UK Athletics Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF) and Athletics Coach

“It sounds like you've already made a great start. As you've discovered, running puts quite a lot of stress on the body. A lot of the problems you've been experiencing are common among new runners. I always recommend that anybody beginning running take a cautious approach, and my general advice is the same whether you're overweight or not.

Obviously, extra weight will mean a greater impact when you land and more work is required to move the body, so it's necessary to proceed even more cautiously when you're carrying a few extra pounds.

I would strongly recommend limiting the continuous runs for a while and include walking and walking/running sessions. You'll be able to spend longer exercising, meaning more calorie burn, and you'll build resilience in a more gentle way. parkrun now have tail walkers - literally somebody who walks the course at the back - so there are opportunities to take part in "running" events without actually running.

It's easy to feel you're starting your running journey with a handicap if you're overweight. But it's worth considering some positives:

  1. We usually think of fat when we think of extra weight, but you'll be stronger as a result of carrying that weight around. Consider adding some strength and conditioning to your routine. Not only will it help you maintain strength as you lose weight, but it'll also contribute towards your weight loss target, help injury-proof your body, and provide a break from the stresses of running.
  2. Not only will you continue to get faster as a result of improved fitness, you'll pick up speed thanks to being lighter. Less weight to carry around means faster times.
  3. Although you have a greater challenge on your hands in terms of developing robustness right now, when you have lost weight you'll be well adapted to handle the stresses that come with greater mileage and faster running.

So, be patient, take it easy, don't limit yourself to just running, and stay positive.”

Our Member's Answer

This answer is from Howard who suffered similar problems when he started running:

Howard - running swimmingly

“I had the same problem and almost gave up running completely because of it. It does get so much easier as you lose weight. I can't recommend swimming enough - it gives you buoyancy and you suddenly don't feel as heavy. Yes, I know swimming isn't running, but think of it as a way to get where you want to be. ”

Thanks, Howard. It's great to hear what has worked for others and sounds like swimming really did the trick.

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