Many individuals turn to running as a weight loss tool—it is one of the best forms of exercise for burning calories and improving aerobic fitness, after all—but there are also many people who have a larger frame and enjoy running for various other reasons. While running is safe for most generally healthy adults, studies have shown that, all things being equal, higher body mass is linked with a higher risk for running-related injuries.
Luckily, there are things heavier runners can do to mitigate those risks and reap the benefits running has to offer, mile after mile.
Learn and Use Proper Form1 of 7
Good form is key to preventing a running injury, but many people don't know exactly what good form looks like. For starters, run with a high, open chest, not hunching over or bending forward at the waist. Keep your arms and hands relaxed, bent about 90 degrees or slightly less at the elbow. Most importantly, pay attention to where your foot lands with each stride—it should fall directly below your center of mass, not out in front. Propel yourself off of that foot by extending your leg strongly out behind you with each stride and swivel naturally at the hips.
Train With a Coach2 of 7
Running with proper form can feel really awkward at first, but working with a running coach can provide you with valuable personalized feedback on exactly what you need to tweak to get it right. A good coach will also help you set up a safe and effective weekly training program and tell you when it's time to increase mileage and/or quicken your pace.
Wear the Right Shoes3 of 7
While there is much controversy over whether your running shoe can really make a difference in either performance or injury prevention, one thing is certain: If your shoes don't feel comfortable, they're not the right type for you. The best way to find a shoe that will give you the right mix of support and cushioning is to go to a brick-and-mortar running shoe store and try on—and run in—many different pairs.
Now is not the time to get swept up in the latest trend in shoe design, either. If you're curious about a particular type of shoe, go ahead and try on a pair, but remember that fit and comfort are the two most important qualities in any running shoe, no matter your size or weekly training load.
Run Often, Run Slow4 of 7
Elite runners and their coaches know that running slow is the way to not only avoid injury, but to also improve performance. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, this strategy works because one of the greatest predictors of running performance is average weekly training mileage. In fact, because the force of ground impact increases with speed, if you run too many of those miles at a fast pace, you actually increase your risk for injury. By running more often (but more slowly) you can safely increase your weekly mileage and become a better runner.
Run Short and Build Mileage Gradually5 of 7
Some of the best news for heavier runners is that, in some cases, a higher BMI may actually be protective against injuries. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Science in Medicine and Sport found that a higher BMI was inversely associated with injuries among novice runners with low weekly training volume. The study's authors hypothesized that heavier runners attained their weekly volume over more sessions of lower mileage than those with a BMI of less than 25. This relatively low mileage per run was believed to be the reason why the heavier runners in the study sustained fewer injuries than their lighter counterparts.
Interestingly, the same study concluded that, across all groups, a higher weekly training volume was associated with a reduced risk for injury. So, increasing your weekly mileage is better than okay, as long as you do so gradually. Progressing too quickly can place undue stress on your muscles and joints, increasing your chance for injury.
Run With a Group6 of 7
Even if you normally like the alone time that running offers, there are a few reasons why you should consider running with a group once or twice a week. First, having a regular group run on your training schedule provides more accountability than going it alone does. Meeting regularly with a group of runners at your same pace and fitness level can keep you motivated and help you hit your weekly training goals. Also, there's a good chance that one or two people in your group are seasoned runners with helpful tips and tricks to pass along. Finally, running with a group is a much healthier alternative to the typical after-work happy hour. This type of social interaction is not only good for your emotional health, but it's great for your body, too.