Running is kind polarizing isn’t it? Some people LOVE it while others despise it. I was on "Team Running Sucks" for a very long time because sometimes running while overweight isn't the most fun thing to do. It was not something I enjoyed. Especially at close to 300 pounds, it was just plain painful. My joints hurt, my shins hurt, my lungs burned, my cardio fitness level was crap and it was just all around not a fun experience. I used to envy people I would see out on casual jogs like it was no big deal. The people that said running helped calm them and clear their minds while I was wondering why people voluntarily participated in this form of torture.
When I first started, I couldn’t go past 30 seconds without needing to stop and take a breather. And during that 30 seconds I thought about turning around and going home more than once. But 6 years and 5 half marathons later, my tune has changed quite a bit. Running while overweight doesn't have to be miserable. Here are the 8 things I did to get started!
Now there are people that are capable of running no problem but they choose not to run because they find it boring. This post is not for those people. My goal is not to force you into doing something you don't like. This post is for people who may struggle physically with running due to being a beginner or carrying extra weight but have a genuine interest in wanting to improve. Let me also clarify that while I have made tremendous progress in the area of running, I am by no means an expert. I am not a running coach nor I am never gonna win any medals for speed. Aspiring professional runners, let me be the first to tell you you’re in the wrong place. But if you’re an Average Joe starting out where I was and are looking for small ways to improve, then I’m your gal!
1. Set A Goal
I used to tell myself I was going to take up running all the time. Tomorrow. I will start tomorrow. But this week I have too much going on. So maybe next week? Yeah, next week is perfect! But actually, I have that hair appointment and that other thing I need to do so next week might be tough. But for sure I'm gonna do it eventually!
You can see where I’m going here right? Nowhere.
I finally decided to stop messing around and I set a long-term goal of being able to run a 5K (3.1 miles) without stopping. This was a far cry from where I was at the time and it felt so daunting to think about initially. But once I had that tangible goal in mind, it became much easier to form a plan on how to get there.
2. Be Realistic
I wanted to lace up my sneakers and head right outside and go for an easy 3 mile jog. But there was a sobering reality staring me in the face. If 30 seconds of a light jog had me doubled over gasping for air and clutching my knees, then I probably needed to start small. So I set mini goals along the way. Things like running five minutes nonstop, then running one mile. I still remember that feeling of accomplishment when I ran that first mile non stop. Having those mini goals to aspire to really kept me focused and motivated.
We are all at different fitness levels so it’s up to you to determine what you can reasonably achieve. You want to push yourself sure, but you also have to be realistic about where your abilities are. If you head out on a jog and get through the first 5 minutes with no problem, then great! Set your sights higher. But if your skill level is somewhere around where I started, then you gotta walk before you can run. Both literally and figuratively.
3. Practice Practice Practice
You will not get better at something if you do not practice it consistently. My answer to not being able to run well was to not do it at all. Needless to say, that did not get me very far. In my post about my favorite fitness apps, I talked about an app called "Get Running: Couch 2 5K". This app was so instrumental to my progress with running. It takes you from sedentary (AKA me circa 2012) to running a 5K (the goal I had set). The app provided me with a training schedule that pushed me each week to run a little bit longer. You start only running for one minute, then a minute and a half, then 3, then 5 and then 9 weeks later, I was running 3 miles. Crazy right? I mean 9 weeks is nothin’. The time will pass regardless right? Might as well spend it working towards an attainable goal!
4. Try Rhythmic Breathing
I learned about this technique after I had already been running for about a year and when I practiced it consistently, holy moly, what a difference it made! I wish I had known about it in the beginning stages of my running. Usually I tried to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth but the second I got winded (which was pretty quickly into my run), I was a breathing like I was trying to consume the last bits of air on Earth. With rhythmic breathing, what you do is breathe in for 3 steps and then breathe out for a count of 2 steps. A step being any time a foot hits the floor. So each time you breathe out, you do so on alternating feet which changes up the leg you are breathing out on. The premise is that when you breathe out during a run, that is when the most impact of your weight is felt on your joints. Without forcing myself to breathe a certain way, I often tended to breathe out on the same leg each time. I found that when I started this technique, not only did my lung capacity improve as well and my ability to run for a longer period, my knees felt less sore as well.
This technique also recommends that when you start to breathe a little harder, you breathe in for 2 steps and then breathe out for a count of 1. I employed that when I was trying to run faster, during sprints or when running uphill when things felt more taxing. This really helped with side stiches too if you’re prone to that like I was. It takes some getting used to especially if you listen to music while you run. So I tried a couple runs without my music just so I could learn to focus on my breath.
You can read more about it here.
5. Don’t Skip Leg Day
When someone asks for weight loss tips, one of the things I always say is do some resistance training! Lots of women tend to think all cardio all the time is the answer but weight training has so many benefits for your overall quality of life! When I first started running, it was all I did. I didn’t see the value in lifting weights. If only I knew then what I know now! Hindsight is always 20/20 right?
Strengthening the muscles you use to run can have a huge impact on your running abilities. I have tears in my ACL and meniscus of my left knee. I credit keeping up with lower body resistance training as a major reason why I am able to run even with a damaged knee. I recently went to a physical therapist and he agreed. Having stronger leg muscles helps propel me to run faster and keeps my legs from tiring out 5 minutes into my run. I recommend both strength exercises and muscle endurance exercises. You can check out my workout routine for some of my faves!
6. Work In "Sprints"
I put the word sprints in quotes because everyone's version of a sprint is different. In the beginning, my sprint was anything above 5 MPH. Actual all out intense sprints were not something I was able to comfortably achieve when I started but once I completed my 5K training, I felt more comfortable bumping up my speed. Now when I sprint, I run as fast as I can (about a 9.0 on a treadmill) for 1 minute followed by a 2 minute walk. I repeat this for about 20 minutes. I start with a 5 minute warm up and end with a 5 minute cool down walk for a nice 30 minute workout. When I really want to test myself, I will do a warm up jog for 5 minutes and then set the treadmill at either a 10.0. I sprint for 30 seconds and then leave the treadmill at the sprint speed and simply grab the side rails and hop my feet to the sides straddling the belt. Rest for 30 seconds and hop right back on. Going all out for 30 seconds and resting for only 30 seconds is killer and I can get in an amazing cardio workout in 15-20 minutes. You can always modify how long you rest to adjust this to your level. I found that adding sprints to my routine helped increase my pace when I went for a steady jogs.
If the thought of sprinting is a little scary, start like I did by alternating bouts of light jogging with walking. At the time, jogging was hard enough to feel like a sprint anyway! I did this through the Couch 2 5K app and like I mentioned above, I found it to be so effective and helpful in becoming a better runner.
7. Give Your Body A Break
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.
I had not yet signed up for a 5K so the only deadline I was working against was my own. Take the time to stretch and take the take the time to warm up. It’s one of the best ways to ensure a great workout and it always started and ended my workouts well. Not to mention stretching and warming up play a huge role in decreasing the risk of injury.
8. Enjoy your accomplishments
Being able to run a 5K that lead to a 10K and eventually a half marathon is one of my greatest non scale victories to date. There were times in my training when I got down on myself for not running at a certain pace or for stopping to walk. Then I remembered how far I had come. Your body is capable of such incredible things and remembering where I had started really put things in perspective. I went from complaining about not being able to run longer then 30 seconds to complaining that it took me over 2 and half hours to run 13.1 miles. Don’t let your perceived notion of where you think you should be diminish all the hard work you did to get to where you are!
I'll never forget that one day during my initial stages of the 5K training my friend Lauren posted something on social media about "taking it easy and doing a quick 3 mile run" as her workout for the day. I remember telling her that I WISHED a 3 mile run was my version of a quick and easy workout. She told me it would be soon. Sure enough, about a year later I posted on my Instagram account how I had gone on a "simple 3 mile run" for my workout that day and she quickly commented on my post and reminded me about my comment to her just the year prior. I remember feeling so much pride at that realization. Whenever you're feeling like you have so much further to go, stop and remember where you've been.
And there you have it my friends! Running while overweight is not impossible! I hope this was helpful and you can find ways to incorporate some of these strategies in your own running journey! If you have other tips that worked for you, let me know! I'd love to hear it! And just in case you're curious, here are some things I used during my runs to help make things a little more enjoyable!
A few of my favorite running accessories are:
- Plantronics Backbeat Fit Wireless Headphones (the best wireless headphones I’ve ever used!)
- BLOM Headbands (the only ones that hold up for me!)
- FitLetic Running Belt (holds a key, an ID and your phone)
- Click here to check out more of my favorite workout essentials!
Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. The products linked are ones I use personally and wholeheartedly recommend. Thank you for your continued support!