Monday, January 12, 2009

Overweight Runners Should Run Less

I often get angry letters from joggers because they say I'm too "harsh on running". But at the same time, these folks also complain about not being able to lose fat despite doing hours and hours of cardio per week.

The worst emails come from folks who are overweight, yet insist on running marathons. Here's what I think about that (note: This is sure to upset any overweight runners)...

If you are overweight and training for marathons, then clearly this training is not working for you. Frankly, I don't think running marathons is a healthy activity for an overweight man or woman. You are going to get hurt.

It's not a question of if, it's a question of how soon and how bad are you going to let the injury get before you stop trying to run marathons.

Most runners are smart enough that they wouldn't buy a beat-up used car for $300 and try to drive it across America non-stop, but they'll take their overweight, used up, beat up, weak bodies and try to run 26.2 miles in under 4 hours.

How does that make any sense?

The reason I'm so "hard" on running is because too many people do it that shouldn't do it. I have no problem with training for a marathon if your body is prepared to handle a marathon. But most folks have bodies that are not suited for running 26.2 miles in one day.

What you should do is run less, and do more resistance training, and decrease the carbohydrates in your diet (as most runners are guilty of justifying a high-carbohydrate diet due to their running).

Any general strength training program will help you improve your body composition and strengthen your muscles so that you have a reduced risk of overuse injury (from running).

But you don't need to be lifting three days per week - if running is going to remain your focus. All you need are two quick, total body strength workouts per week, doing 1-2 sets of a couple of multi-muscle exercises.

Master bodyweight exercises first when appropriate (i.e. pushups before chest presses). But if you insist on keeping marathon training as your main focus, just be careful not to do too much strength training that it gives you sore muscles.

I like to see runners do stability ball leg curls, 1-leg hip extensions, prisoner squats, step-ups, and split squats. Those are the basics to start with. Just pick two exercises per workout, and do 1-2 challenging sets.

But we need to address the 800 pound elephant in the room.

If you are an overweight runner focused on a marathon, the most important thing you can do is lose body fat. Your diet is probably the main problem. So fix it. Running 6 miles per day is not a license to eat whatever you want. That's a big mistake runners make.

So drop the fat and do a little bit of efficient strength training to help you get a better body for running before you hurt yourself.

Best of luck to you, and train safe.

Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS

Click here for a better weight loss program than running

27 comments:

yourexercisewizard said...

Hear Hear!

Well said Craig, funnily enough I just wrote a post on knee pain and running too much is in my opinion the biggest contributor.
Keep up the good posts.
I love em!

Tim James

Yoke said...

I agree! I'm sick of telling people who are unfit not to do running as part of their main fitness activity. Due to their weight and weak muscles, which results in poor technique (most of them end up doing a rather pathetic slow jog movement anyways), injuries are sure to happen.

IMO, running is a safe activity as long as you run in good form with the right shoes (I love running).

People make the mistake of running to get fit. The things is, you gotta be fit first before you can run!

Keep the posts coming...love your blog and articles :-)

Yoke

kimberlyhenrie said...

Overweight does not equal Unfit.

Fatty Frederick said...

Huh? I've been focusing on running and doing so has helped me to lose over 80 pounds in a little over a year. What's the prob? I see the carb/diet issue being a problem, but I don't see running as the problem as long as you start slow.

Patty said...

A few months ago this post might have made me angry and offended, but the truth is the truth. I am over-weight and tried to begin a running program and ended up doing serious damage to my knees. Bottom line is...our bodies were not made to carry too much weight and doing high-impact exercise will cause problems. Start out slow...lose a few pounds then begin running...it truly is the safest way.

Audra said...

I have been doing the TT for weightloss program for the past 10 weeks and LOVE IT!!! I love circuit and interval training. My improved fitness level has inspired me to push myself out of the "box". In doing so, I have found that I really enjoy running also and have begun competing in races. I now am going to train to do a 1/2 marathon on Thanksgiving Day. The reason that I am commenting on this post is because I am looking for an answer from Craig or anyone with an opinion about a fusion of TT and longer running. This post answered some of my questions, but I was wondering if there is a specific TT program for this goal. I don't want to give up the circuit training (maybe reduce to 2 days/wk like Craig suggested) because I LOVE the tangible results of a more firm and toned body!!!! But I also enjoy the feeling of running with a goal of an upcoming race, so I don't want to defeat myself with too much lifting. I have found that the interval training is actually very beneficial to improving my speed and power while I do my "cardio" running on the between days. It is amazing to feel strong!

Any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Right On Craig!!! Someone needed to say it!!! All those FAT people need to just give up!!!They will never run marathons and they are embarrassing themselves!!!! Why wont FAT people listen????

Anonymous said...

Fuck off you ball licking piece of shit craig

Anonymous said...

Congrats to "Fatty Frederick" on your weight loss and prudent approach to running and diet!

I am a very overweight half-marathoner who currently runs 20-25 miles per week. I worked up to this over an eight month period and feel great. And I've remained injury free.

So if I took your advice and never ran? I might be an obese couch potato. Which is preferable?

There are a few comments on this post that make it clear that some of YOU have a lot of work to do - EMOTIONALLY.

PenguinRunner said...

I think a large part of your argument is based on the false premise that if you run, then you are eating whatever you want. Not all runners do this. I stay within a 1200-1500 calorie range even on days I run. Just because you're training for a marathon doesn't mean you have to binge on carbs.
Also, I know many people who are overweight who have run marathons without injury. How can you write with such certainty when you have no proof? No matter what your fitness level, you build up your running stamina gradually, and this prevents injury (no matter how big you are).
I understand where you're coming from. But your credibility is diminished when you make sweeping generalizations and neglect to support them with any kind of data. There are many types of runners. Please take this into consideration.

Anonymous said...

I started out weighing 237...I have never been in shape and could barely run to the mailbox. I have lost over 33 pounds..decided to run the disney half marathon and finished before 2000 people who were in shape. Anyone...any size can do what ever they set out to do.

Anonymous said...

I am with fatty fredrick I have started a marathon training program and have lost 20 pounds so far. I am also eating right and eating all organic.

I am not eating whatever I please. and dont believe in the carb diet that a lot of runners do.

Overweight does not mean your not fit.

Anonymous said...

I'm overweight, and love running, always have. I run 4-5 5k's, trail runs, and just completed my first half marathon in Vancouver, UNDER my goal time. I've never injured myself, and I've inspired many to get off the couch. I'm sorry you feel I don't deserve to be an inspiration. In spite of your opinion, and many others, I will continue to run. Not everyone is built the same, if you love it, do it.

I didn't realize the Nike tag like was "Just Do it... Unless Your Fat".

Boo hoo to you!

Anonymous said...

There's actually a lot of truth in this article, but the poster who said 'overweight is not the same as unfit' is correct. Even then, there are different levels of unfit and overweight, so maybe they should not all be treated the same. So The wording could have been a bit better, but I see what you are saying.

You're right that most skipped the weight training - all because they think they will lose less weight that way. (Ha, how wrong.) But I think many could make a half marathon a very LONG term goal and still be fine. The smart ones will build up so they don't hurt themselves, all the while, the marathon provides the inspiration - the light at the end of the tunnel. Some are patient for their long term goals because they understand it's realistic that way.

Anonymous said...

Run, tiny man. Run lest I catch you.

Kacky said...

What a bunch of judgmental, self righteous pap. Why are any of you even LOOKING at other people, much less telling them what to do, when you haven't been there yourself. Yoke, "you gotta be fit before you can run?" Yeah, you don't get the say on that. Show me one of these horrible fat people who got hurt, as you insist will happen. Since you are so sure, there's gotta be one out there.

catherinees2007 said...

I'm 50+ Ibs overweight and just started a jogging program, but it's not like I'm trying to run a marathon overnight. Even though I'm borderline obese and attempting jogging, I still know my limits. I know I'm not going to go from couch potato with zero exercise straight to marathon runner in a short amount of time.

The key is to take it gradually. Right now, I'm doing a 8-week jogging program for beginners that starts with just walking and gradually increases to all running.

Not all overweight people are equal in abilities. Two overweight people of the same weight can differ in the amount of physical exertion they can handle. Lack of fitness can be overcome in overweight people. It just takes time and patience.

With the training program I'm doing, I can jog four minutes straight without stopping at a slow pace. It might not be a big deal to you guys and is certainly not impressive, but it's progress no matter how small. when I started out, I could barely jog one minute.

Don't discourage overweight people from jogging. Instead, tell them to progress slowly and not try to progress to fast. You got to start somewhere!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm 52 and fat. Several times, when I weighed less than I do know, I'd try to move from walking to running and I always hurt myself....knees, Achilles tendonitis, you name it. I did some research and found that I did not need cushioning but motion control shoes. I made sure I could easily walk 3+ miles before I started. I swear by C25K. I'm now running 30 minutes continuously, with no injuries other than an occasional Achilles twinge.

I've lost maybe 15 pounds, but I've dropped three sizes. The weight is not such a big issue to me, but staying healthy is. Walking was simply not demanding enough to improve my cardio situation.

What has made it work for me is that I am fortunate enough to be in very good health, despite my weight. No diabetes, cholesterol, or blood pressure issues. My musculature is sound. I eat more protein than most of my skinny friends. I don't follow any specific plan other than avoiding prepared or packaged food and refined carbs.

My preteen daughter and I have now done three 5Ks together. Each race I have improved my time. I will never, EVER, be fast. But I am enjoying feelings of freedom, control, and strength that I never felt when I was 25, weighed 115, and could never make it to the 2 mile mark because I was starving myself to achieve a certain appearance on, ironically, a doctor-recommended 900 calories a day.

Bottom line: no one should go from a totally sedentary lifestyle to full out running. Training for a marathon is something I would never consider. I'm not built for it. It's that simple. But don't diss those of us who are fat AND fit. We may have muscles of steel under our jiggly butts!

Anonymous said...

Thank you!! I am overweight, and have tried running a few times, each time I had some injury & this just sets me back even further!!

Not to mention what it does for me emotionally!!Not only dealing w/ trying to loose weight but also trying to run & failing at both- Being the fat girl that cant run. I was frustrated by people telling me to run to help me loose weight.

Now, I realize that I CANT run until I get some of this weight off. And Im ok w/ that!!Small steps!
Thanks again for just being honest,

Anonymous said...

To the jerk whole wrote this:


Right On Craig!!! Someone needed to say it!!! All those FAT people need to just give up!!!They will never run marathons and they are embarrassing themselves!!!! Why wont FAT people listen????


I hope you don't have children. The last thing the world needs is more people like you.

AT said...

Hi! I am 70 lbs overweight and am needing some motivation, i feel like its such a daunting long term goal that i keep pushing it off! I love circuit workouts, but want to make sure im pushing myself hard enough to get some great results. If you were my trainer, what would u have me do?

Thanks for your help!:)

AmyC said...

Thanks for furthering the hate of the obese! Of course that is perhaps your view which you convey in your article. Some knowledgeable and educated you are discouraging folks from exercising and making incorrect generalizations.

Not everyone who runs does so for weight loss, some do so for other reasons. Who cares how slow a person jogs - they are still better off than they would be sitting at home on the couch.

You don't have to be fit or a certain weight or BMI to start running as there are plenty of programs geared towards such folks to start getting them moving in an activity. Thanks to muscle, my weight pushes me into the above normal BMI range - been this way most of my life thanks to sport and activities in my youth. I've worn a size 5 and been considered borderline obese by the outdated insurance industry's BMI chart. I don't define myself by my BMI or weight and at various weights running is the same for me. Of course my primary reason for running has nothing to do with weight loss. I've had more injuries when working out and running while on some fad diet than running at a higher weight. I am also one of those slow folks and am quite happy with that.

I volunteer for a program that aims to get sedentary people moving be it with walking or walk/run intervals. I see the success stories and see the confidence this program builds.

Thanks so much for perpetuating your obese people bias and feeding this prejudice. Thanks also for contributing the the obesity epidemic as your comments will keep more people from activity than anything else. Thanks for giving folks one more reason not to try to take one step at a time towards better health and fitness. Oh and feel free to provide some published studies to support your premise that obese people shouldn't run. Oh and feel free to prove you aren't prejudiced by removing some of the crass and tasteless comments on your page - ummm yeah fat people do complete distance races both when they are overweight and after they have lost weight, why are they embarrassing themselves and who cares, I find it great to see people out there trying to better themselves and become healthier.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 247 lbs 5'11" woman who loves running. The best days I have are after a run. I feel relaxed and calm all day. Why on earth would you discourage anyone from doing something that is improving their health and well being?

To all those "fatties" out there. I'm like you. Take it slow, and when you're ready for more speed, don't increase your stride length, increase how quickly your feet move. You will be shocked how easy it really is, and you won't hurt yourself. Wish me luck on my third half marathon this October.

Anonymous said...

I am overweight (5' 9" and 200 lbs) and am training for my first half marathon. I have lost 50 lbs already, but have hit a plateau. I need something to work towards so that I do not get discouraged as I continue my weight loss journey. I have been running for almost a year. I am able to run 5 miles in 60 minutes without walking. My co-worker is 145 lbs and can't even run a mile without stopping. I am much healthier than she is even though I outweigh her by 55 lbs. I agree that is it better to start slow and loose weight first, but come on. Can't you just be happy that us "fatties" are trying to do something to be healthier? How about supportive suggestions rather than name calling and insults?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, there is so much conflicting advice out there but this makes sense. I'm very overweight and would like to run, but even light jogging hurts my right knee - only a little, but enough to make me worry that I might be causing damage. I want to increase my fitness, but my knee can't take the impact enough to get my heart rate up much. I'll stick to walking, resistance and diet until I get to a healthier weight.

FiberJunky said...

As a very plus sized woman, I find this to be yet another less than helpful "help" piece. If you are morbidly obese, you often find yourself in a catch22. You need more than dieting to get your weight down. fat people, as a rule, are great dieters, it just doesn't work as a long term solution for many of us. Partially this is because the same factors that lead to our obesity are still present, and partially it is because staying on a diet for YEARS is next to impossible. Do the math: I am currently 150 lbs over my goal weight. With diet alone, I can loose about a pound a week. I would need to stick to this diet for 3 years, assuming that I experience no plateus, etc, in order to reach my goal weight. This is not sustainable for 99.9 percent of the population. Adding excercise not only speeds things up, it builds the muscle that helps a person SEE results faster. This is a huge motivator for someone who is struggling to stay motivated.

The problem is that once you get to a certain size, a lot of people will tell you that you are too fat to do excercise XYZ. You'll get hurt, you'll get sick, you'll sue, blah blah blah. Instead of harping on and on about how fat people should avoid your sport, maybe you could help someone find a way to work up to running safely. Wanting to run a marathon is a BIG dream. Some people do really well with a big goal to work toward as their motivation. If you actually talk to a lot of us, you'll find we are VERY aware of the limitations our bodies place on us. After all, we live in these bodies every day, we aren't happy with those limits, and that's why we are trying to change. But most of us are coming from a background of little to no understanding of how to train a body. We're flying blind, and the people we ask for help often try to make us stop, instead of helping us find safe ways to keep going. Do I have any expectation of running a marathon anytime soon? Hell, no. But I dream of running one someday, and until then, I'll be walking, and hiking, and stepping, and jogging, and C25King my way along until the day comes that I can RUN. And when that day comes, there will be a tattoo of mistletoe on my ass, and everyone whomever tried to stand in my way and tell me that I couldn't run because I was fat -well, they can kiss my formerly fat ass.

Fern said...

Tell this to my sister: overweight currently, has finished 6 marathons, 2 ultra-marathons, coaches running (and gets paid for it), and currently training for a 100-mile ultra. Injury-free for several years.