Starting to run when overweight or obese: Tips and Advice

Megan Smith
 min read

Starting to run when overweight or obese offers several benefits.

starting to run when overweight or obese tips and adviceIt causes loss of fat tissue, fat burning, weight loss, and it also improves the metabolic efficiency of our muscles.

Jogging also reduces inflammatory molecules in the blood and reduces the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

In addition, jogging is a way to enjoy several psychological benefits.

It improves mental well-being and self-confidence.

Once achieved, running helps to maintain the target weight, which is easier than other cardio exercises, such as hiking.

Tip: Are you obese and want to start exercising? Then begin slowly and build up gradually.

It’s a fact that even slow jogging can reduce visceral fat and body weight!

Exercising if you’re obese and starting to run when overweight

Many people are not aware that walking is a highly efficient exercise for weight loss.

However, if you’re obese, you should know that walking puts a significant strain on weight-bearing joints, which may increase the possibility of osteoarthritis.

Obesity itself contributes significantly to the development of systemic inflammation, joint pain, and joint degeneration.

Exercising and walking when obese requires extra effort, which could reduce your enjoyment and satisfaction.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable, then you could feel less self-confident, which in turn isn’t much of an encouragement to stick with it.

There is evidence, however, that there are ways of mitigating these risks. So we need to start running without risking musculoskeletal injury.

Limiting musculoskeletal injuries as a key to weight loss success

There are some key musculoskeletal concerns if a previously inactive obese patient wants to start running.

The safest forms of exercise are cycling, walking or swimming. So it is not ideal to start running without a transition period.

People with excess weight often already have some chronic pain in the low back and lower limbs.

But acute pain can also occur suddenly from a workout they are not used to.

Untrained, overweight people have a much higher risk of musculoskeletal injuries if given the same training program as average-sized people.

Musculoskeletal injuries can occur in +/- 3 out of 10 overweight or obese participants, even with a basic walking program, usually affecting the back, legs and feet.

New runners preparing for certain distances (5 or 10 km, for example) may experience musculoskeletal issues during their training sessions.

These complaints are partly related to their Body Mass Index (BMI) and body fat percentage.

In conclusion, walking is less risky than running to prevent musculoskeletal complaints.

So you can understand that if you’re heavily overweight, walking would be a great idea for weight loss as this is perfectly possible with the right approach and strategy.

Overweight people with related metabolic risks must consult with a physician before embarking on a running program.

Setting adequate goals is imperative

Often, the goals of overweight or obese people are not compatible with a safe training regimen.

It is common to expect too much in the short term or participate in a race beyond their physical and mental capabilities.

An example would be an overweight person who already wants to participate in a 10 or 15 km race within a few weeks of starting out.

Such goals are unrealistic and unwise for people who have little or no understanding of running.

Such goals are usually born from a lifestyle change, new resolutions or the desire for a slimmer appearance.

Musculoskeletal discomfort will develop quickly if you push yourself too hard from the outset.

For a sustainable running lifestyle, adjusting your goals is essential.

It is far better that your main goals for running include gradual weight loss, avoiding injury, and having fun while training.

Goals such as distance and speed should be secondary and only come into play when a certain endurance is achieved.

You should focus primarily on the positive health effects of weight loss and the pleasure of training rather than the total weight loss in pounds.

Starting to run when overweight or obese: Insights

There aren’t specific running programs developed for obese patients, but you can draw inspiration from other running programs.

For example, there are start-to-run for beginners and return-to-run programs for people with stress fractures.

These running programs have a step-by-step build-up from walking to running intervals with a gradual build-up to continuous endurance runs.

Walking-jogging programs may also mean that the main exercise is jogging, with walking used for recovery.

These forms of interval training can be interesting as a certain distance can also be covered with a continuous slow jogging program (as opposed to a running schedule).

So, no matter which running program one chooses, starting to run when overweight invariably starts with regular walks to prepare the body (the legs, torso, heart, arms, and so on).

Starting with walking as the first phase

Starting to run when overweight might be a good idea, but pay attention to your feelings too… Starting to run when you are ashamed is not always easy…. If you suffer from being overweight, it may be smarter to build up your fitness with walking sessions first.

Walking requires obese people to burn more oxygen and calories than normal-weight people.

Overweight people have to do about 50% more work during running because of the following:

  • Being untrained
  • High body weight with excess pounds
  • High body fat percentage

Therefore, some weight loss before the running program can help your exercise regime seem less daunting.

So a brisk walking pace as a bridge between beginning and running is beneficial and promotes weight loss if done regularly and combined with a healthy diet.

But beware: Even with brisk walking, you must remain aware of the stress to the lower limbs and joints.

Physical symptoms of stress could be induced by the walking speed rather than walking itself.

Tip: Go for a walk and avoid long steps (focus on a shorter step length).

Shortening step length by about 15% yields two significant benefits:

  • Increase of calorie consumption by about 4.5%
  • Reduction of the knee adduction angle, which means your knee joint has less to endure.

So walking with a short step length increases energy consumption and reduces the risk of overloading the crucial knee joints.

Treadmill walking uphill

If beginners cannot walk at a brisk pace or experience mild joint pain, walking slowly at a slight incline can help.

In people with moderate obesity, this reduces the forces and pressure on the joints (just as trampolining does for obese people).

In addition, energy and calorie consumption remain the same at lower speeds as regular walking if against a slope of 6 to 9 degrees.

The speed we’re talking about is slower than 1.7m/hr. The forces and impact on the joints, on the other hand, remain lower than for faster walking on a completely flat surface.

Attention: Do not overly increase the inclination.

If the gradient exceeds 6°, the body is thrown off balance, which can cause discomfort in the tibialis anterior (the anterior shin muscle).

Two crucial tips regarding treadmill walking for overweight people:

  • Do not increase the incline by more than 1 degree per week. Build up the treadmill incline slowly and use a maximum angle of 6 degrees.
  • Some treadmills provide the ability to walk on an incline, but not all treadmills are suitable for overweight people. Look for appropriate treadmills for obese people on our page the best treadmill with weight limit of 300 Lbs or more to make comparisons.

Transition speed from walking to running for overweight young people

Younger overweight or obese people who are otherwise healthy without joint problems may opt for a more vigorous approach.

You can consider starting at a speed which is suggested as a transition speed from walking to running for older overweight beginners.

In other words, it is the speed at which walking is more comfortable than hiking. It provides an excellent metabolic stimulus and has less joint impact than classical walking.

You can quickly discover and establish this transition speed yourself by walking on a treadmill and slowly increasing the speed.

Once you find slow jogging easier than walking, you have found your personal transition speed.

Finally, here are some practical tips that you will find helpful:

  • You can use this speed as a training starting point. If you train at this speed 3 times a week for 6 months and gradually lengthen the training sessions from 30 to 60 minutes, a weight loss of 9% and a fat loss of 6% is realistic.
  • This approach puts a relatively heavy strain on the tibialis anterior (the anterior shin muscle), so it is wise to always take at least one day of rest between sessions.
  • How do I start exercising to lose weight when I suffer from joint pain? Suppose joint pain or severe obesity makes jogging impossible. In that case, cycling coupled with dieting (taking in fewer kcal) for 3 to 6 months is an excellent alternative to increase fitness and reduce weight. After that, you can start a build-up to jogging or walking. A longer-term plan, possibly spanning a few years, is more realistic for someone with severe obesity (with or without joint pain) for a safe transition from cycling to continuous walking (and jogging) as a lifestyle.

Transition to continuous running

The metabolism of an obese person is more heavily tested than that of a person of average weight.

We all know that walking feels more strenuous for someone who is overweight.

Another concern is that being overweight increases the angle of adduction in the knee, leading to injuries.

Ground reaction forces increase by up to 30% during walking as compared to normal-weight individuals.

Therefore, speed should not be important initially for overweight people but should instead concentrate on energy consumption.

As body weight decreases, walking will be easier, and the transition to continuous walking becomes more feasible.

Typically, a weekly increase in +/- 10% training volume is a rule of thumb for runners of average weight.

However, for a new, obese runner, a 5-10% weekly increase in duration or mileage is more sensible.

And, of course, days with rest in between are essential for muscle and body recovery.

In obese individuals, the lower part of the tibia is put under great stress (which increases the risk of stress fractures).

The bones in the feet, designed to absorb load, can only handle this if there is adequate recovery between workouts.

This excessive loading from being overweight can also occur in the vertebrae, SI joints (the sacrum joints) and hips.

The bone and the ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and fascia are put under additional strain during running in obese people.

In runners without obesity, cytokine levels are seen to increase immediately after exercise and even for a few hours afterward. This substance can trigger inflammation in the body.

Someone with obesity, on the other hand, is already in a chronic inflammatory state (and could suffer from chronic inflammatory bowel disease for example).

This makes recovery and rest between sessions related to this cytokine increase crucial to minimize the risk of inflammatory responses.

Interval strategy of walking and running

Intensive interval training of walking and running is often easier to maintain than an intensive continuous running program.

An additional benefit is that the VO2 max increases more strongly with this strategy.

One can intersperse the walking part within an interval training program at a higher percentage of VO2 max, therefore burning more calories.

Scientific research proves that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is more effective and efficient for weight and fat loss than quieter endurance training.

Example of an interval program: Starting to run when overweight or obese

  • Running on a treadmill 2 to 3 times a week for 4 months in intervals and uphill (with a maximum gradient of 6%).
  • The running itself can last 3.5 to 4 minutes at a very high intensity (increasing speed until 80 to 85% of your heart rate reserve approaches).
  • After that, walk slowly for 3 or 4 minutes to bring the heart rate down, and then repeat.
  • In total, repeat these cycles for a total of 35 to 45 minutes.

Seniors and older people who struggle to keep weight off should be careful with these workouts because the risk of musculoskeletal injury is higher for such an age group.

Interesting fact for older men: Running can boost your sexual performance! Discover all the details on is running good for erectile dysfunction?

Incorporating adequate rest and recovery is a must

Pain should always be a guide to adjust, no matter what type of training program you embark on.

As a matter of fact, muscle pain is to be expected when an overweight person suddenly starts exercising his/her abs frequently for example.

But pain should be avoided as much as possible. If you feel any pain, the program should be scaled back.

Joint pain should typically subside in the first 24 hours after a training session.

Therefore, running with at least one day of rest in between is essential to prevent overload and inflammatory reactions for overweight people.

This recommendation of one day of rest between training sessions is not a fixed rule.

If the pain increases or persists, you should adjust your plans and include some more rest.

You can also start training less intensively for a while and possibly reduce the volume of the training.

Other points of interest regarding walking to lose weight

Obese people have relatively little muscle power in the lower limbs or lumbar region.

Consequently, muscle fatigue occurs quite quickly and can lead to overcompensation by other muscle groups, which can then cause the overloading of certain zones.

Overweight people, even if they are athletic, have reduced postural control and balance.

Therefore, as a heavy beginner, you should definitely avoid all endurance runs on uneven, unpaved terrain.

A strength training program before and while building up running sessions is therefore also very important.

Our final tip: Overweight patients who have undergone gastric reduction surgery may have a reduced energy intake.

As a result, fatigue during exercise also occurs quickly. We suggest that in such cases you work with a sports dietitian.

If necessary, choose brisk walking instead of jogging or running.

Sources of this article about starting to run when overweight

  • Vincent, Heather K. and Vincent, Kevin R. (2013) – Considerations for initiating and progressing running programs in obese individuals.
  • Stephen Gingrich and Mark Harras (2015) – Injury Prevention in Novice Runners: An Evidence-Based Approach and Literature Review, Current Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Reports
About Megan Smith

Megan has been fighting overweight and her plus size since her teenage years. After trying all types of remedies without success, she started doing her own research. Megan founded Plus Size Zeal to share her findings. She also developed various detailed buying guides for plus-size people in order to make their lives easier and more comfortable. Read More