I’m Heavy and Running to Lose Weight. Should I Worry About My Knees?

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I’m Heavy and Running to Lose Weight. Should I Worry About My Knees?

Q. I’m heavy and I want to start running to lose weight. Should I worry about my knees?

Yes and no. Let’s deal with the yes first. You should be cautious because extra pounds put a lot of extra force on your knees. Consider that the weight translated through the knee during running can be four or five times your weight. So the grim math goes like this: If you are 15 pounds overweight, that’s an extra 75 pounds on your knees, and an extra 50 pounds is equal to up to 250 pounds.

Okay, enough of the doom and gloom. Running will help you lose weight—and you’ll see an even bigger impact if you combine that new activity with dietary changes. As you lose the extra weight, the pressure on your knees will decrease exponentially. Another good result, running and other weight-bearing activities will load (force applied) and unload (force removed) your joints, which will improve circulation in the area, bringing in fresh blood and oxygen and flushing waste away from the joint. But—and this is a big BUT—if the joint is out of alignment, you risk injury.

So let’s talk about a balanced body. I believe that balance is the single most important factor for you across the board. If you are balanced you can do anything.

A balanced body is in proper alignment, is fully functional, and is able to recruit all muscles appropriately. Essentially, it is the way most of us felt when we were 16. As a teenager, there was no, “This is gonna hurt tomorrow,” mentality. We barely cared about warms up and had no idea what a cool down might be. We just worked. If we wanted to run 8 miles, we did it. And our bodies just worked.

Your muscles are your first line of defense in any activity. If muscles don’t absorb the force properly something else will have to absorb it. That something else is going to be your bones, joints, and cartilage.

In an imbalanced body ankles roll, backs hurt, hip flexors are tight, and so on—you get the idea. If you are imbalanced, your force absorption is imbalanced. Running increases the force translated through your joints and therefore increases the imbalance force.

Back to the knee: A knee is designed to bend and straighten (frontal plane movement). No one wants to see a knee twist (transverse plane movement). Injury occurs when the knee moves in the frontal and transverse plane in either one big gigantic disaster or from prolonged misuse. If it’s not working when you’re walking, then surely you’re not running properly.

Here are a few concrete suggestions:

1. Warm up properly A proper dynamic warm up is useful to make sure your muscles are working reflexively. After sitting for 8 hours, you need to prepare your body for exercise. A dynamic warm up is a specific movement pattern that will turn on muscles that you need to properly do a movement, such as lunges or squats, not just reaching for your toes and holding.

2. Strengthen your core Developing core stability and strength will help your body absorb force properly and take some pressure off the knees. When I say core, I mean abs, as well as glutes, lats, and hips.

3. Adjust your running form When you run, focus on keeping your knees in alignment. Unbalanced runners tend to have their knees fall in—try to keep them straight.

4. Gear up! Get yourself some good, supportive shoes designed specifically for running.

5. Pay attention to your body My advice for running and all other activities is to listen to your body. If it causes you pain, stop doing it and get checked out by a medical professional.

If you want to run, by all means, run. Just run smart!

Got a question for David? Ask in the comments below and you might see the answer appear here on the blog in a few weeks!

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  • Legion

    Great article ~ and perfect timing. I’ve just begun interval jogging/walking in the park and see so many people of different ages, body types and fitness levels doing the same. It’s very encouraging! Good to have some tips on preventing injury and building strength in a bit of a tender spot (the knees!). Thanks!

  • koneko

    i would love to start running. i have osteoarthritis in my knees, i take an aleve daily for the discomfort and pain. my dr told me to not to run until i lost some weight, so that i don’t wreck my knees further. i’ve lost just about 25lbs so far and would like to start soon. but my knees “crunch” i don’t know how else to put it, but when bending them or taking stairs, i hear them grinding or crunching. it freaks me out and makes me scared of starting to run. is there anything i can do about that?

    • trapitt

      Contact your local pools to ask if they are available for pool running. basically you run in spot with a belt that helps you stay upright. It is very low impact, but helps build muscle and endurance. Runners use this method to keep in shape while recovering from an injury.

    • CathyC

      Don’t do it. I too suffer from osteoarthritis in my knees. I used to suffer all your symptoms, especially after skiing, laughed about it and called them my noisy knees. I had the cartilage trimmed and tidied up 5 years ago and that helped for a few years. Because of my knees I then didn’t do much exercise and gained a lot of weight. I am now waiting to have my knees replaced, in June. I have lost 70lbs over the last year and exercise six days out of seven. There are plenty of low impact exercise routines you can follow and cycling and swimming are great. Stay away from high impact stuff like running and put off the inevitable sugery for as long as possible. Good luck!

  • CG

    I tend to run “on my toes,” and this stride type tends to spare the knees (or so I’ve been told), since it transfers much of the force of the impact to the big hamstring muscle. Unfortunately, in my case, my forefeet still take a great deal of pounding. After a couple of fractures in my metatarsal region, I have resolved to lose weight first thru changing my eating habits before taking up ambitious distance runs again. I need to learn patience with my body and not push things so fast.

  • sahara page

    I use a cross trainer because of the low impact. Running is not for me.

  • Akam Köhler

    I have issues with my knees but my doc told me that I can still run. He also adviced me to ride the bike more often in order to strenghten the upper leg muscle. It seems to work ok so far!

  • keshia

    When i first starting running i was really heavy and I wasnt running very fast or anything but it seems that to start my knees and legs were fine. However, one day i felt my bones feel like they were grinding together 🙁 I could barely walk and the doctor said that it was a sprain. After about two weeks i went back to running but i would mix it up with walking and I pushed myself as I started to lose weight. After 30lbs of weight loss I had no issues

    • rje1017

      That’s awesome Keshia, good job on the weight loss! And it doesn’t matter if you run fast or not, only matters that your doing it 🙂

  • dd

    Start with walking if you are not sure

  • la

    i’ve been walking gentle trails (4+-mph) because i know i have bad knees (injured in college YEARS ago) (something about cartilage behind the knee shifting) …

    i’ve also started biking (both recumbent stationary, and gentle trails)

    i’ve been using an ace knee (neoprene lightweight) thing and it actually limits/eliminated knee pain

    i also have a difference in leg length, and a “slightly” club foot and walk on the outside of both feet …

    i’ve discovered that good sneakers have make a help (though apparently when learning to walk on your foot the ‘correct way’ doing 20 miles in 3 days may not be the best idea .. yup – ankle – used tape and a week later 90% better!) … i’m not “officially” overweight but would rather be 10-15lbs lighter

    any ideas on good warm-ups and ideas on ways to protect my knees ?

  • BitsyBet

    I tried to do intervals with power walking and jogging, and started with knee pain. I had to go back to power walking alone.

  • marva

    I run really slowly and though it sux to be last in races, I think it helps me to avoid getting injured. I always walk to warm up. I didn’t realize lunges and squats would be a warm up for running.

  • Lee

    Thanks, I have been slowly integrating interval jogging into my daily power walks; I thought I had good shoes until I started jogging and began having pain in my shins to the point they were bothering me in other areas of daily life/exercise; I went to a Fleet Feet store in St. Louis, got fitted for proper ortho insoles & running shoes and am so glad I did – they are worth every penny I paid. I’m happily jogging/walking pain free now.

  • PT Student Sarah

    Good article. Except I think you meant the knee is designed to move in the sagittal plane, not frontal plane.

  • Alpgirl

    Cycling is far better, and you get further. Loads of cycling groups. Highly sociable!

    • Manfred

      Cycling is less effective if you want to loose weight. Calculate how much time you need to spend to burn the same amount of calories when cycling compared to running. So I do both.

    • aprnmegs

      Agreed! Love my cycle groups. Yes it takes long to burn as many calories as running but less impact, more social like u said & there’s nothing like seeing ur coworkers react when u tell them u got in a 60 mile ride this weekend. Ha!

  • Linda Jamison

    I have sketches running shoe apox.6-8 months old. I’m the type that jogs one block walk the next I began feeling the pain that I hear is called shin splints. So aprox. 1 & 1/2 Weeks ago I paid a great deal of money on orthodox. According to the pressure points on my feet. He sold me orthodox that is supposed to make running an walking easier on my shin splints. I’ve followed his instructions but, unfortunately I still have the same pain. Is it the age of my shoed or does the orthodox just not the route to take. Or should I purchase the new pair of shoes and place the orthodox in them. Just curious
    Thank you in advance for your advice.

    • Catherine

      Linda,

      • Catherine

        I used to have the same problem, and went to a running store and they did an evaluation, then recommended a pair of Brooks based on that. Haven’t had a problem since. You’ll probably spend $100-$150, but painless running is totally worth it!

      • Lee

        Agree with Linda, you not only need the insoles, but you need to have your running evaluated so they can advise of the proper shoe for you. You also need to make sure your shins are completely healed before starting again; they say wearing the compression socks can help as well, though I have no experience with them.

    • teresa

      I have brooks glycerin and I don’t have pain at all. they have great support

    • palolo

      Hi Linda, I used to suffer terribly from shin splints. I went to my GP and firstly he said to get a good pair of shoes with arch support that stops my foot rolling in when I RALK (this is the name my daughter and I give our running/walking sessions) and secondly he said to make sure the surface I RALK on needs to be flat. It doesn’t matter what it is…grass, concrete, bitumen …..it doesn’t matter, just needs to be level. He doesn’t mean no hills, just level side to side. The absolute worst place to run is the side of the road, because the camber of the road will make your shin splints so much worse. Best advice ever. I have not had a problem now for a couple of years.

    • palolo

      Hi Linda, I used to suffer terribly from shin splints. I went to my GP and firstly he said to get a good pair of shoes with arch support that stops my foot rolling in when I RALK (this is the name my daughter and I give our running/walking sessions) and secondly he said to make sure the surface I RALK on needs to be flat. It doesn’t matter what it is…grass, concrete, bitumen …..it doesn’t matter, just needs to be level. He doesn’t mean no hills, just level side to side. The absolute worst place to run is the side of the road, because the camber of the road will make your shin splints so much worse. Best advice ever. I have not had a problem now for a couple of years.

  • EiramAnna GB

    I have issues with my knees particularly my left knee, i want to run but the problem is I am worried that it will twist again. Aside from that, I experienced an extreme gasping if i run longer…

  • donnino

    With a bodyweight of 250 lbs, running for me was impossible…so I started walking fast pace…1 mile, then 2 then 3 bit by bit….after six months I have dropped about 50 lbs and felt my legs very strong. Wlaking for me was no longer a challenge. I even walked 9.1 miles once…so I started running, 1 mile and walking other 4, then 2 and walking the other 3…always doing at least 1 hr mixing walking and running. After 9 months I have dropped 65 lbs and running 5-6 miles daily !!!. I am almost 52 years old and never felt so good.

    • Ellen Beitzinger

      Awesome! I’m very heavy too and have been doing intervals and I’m feeling it in the knees. I may try fast walking…great idea 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story!

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    • jimvandam33

      thats great

    • Eyvonne

      I am 48 years old, 5’3″, 175lbs. You are an inspiration! I was just about to give up. Thanks for sharing.

  • JK

    Great article–can you recommend a basic warm up regime for interval walk/runs? Thank you!

  • ToChKe

    What about running with osteoarthritis in a knee? It seems like a catch 22..

  • Joe

    I prefer hiking. Ups and downs really get the heart pumping and is less strain on the knees (lower impact on the joints. I have run in the past, and might do it again in the future, but I’ve always hated it. Rather be in the woods IMHO. 🙂

    • will run for beer

      Trail run!

  • I have a standing desk and so am already on my feet for 7 or 8 hours a day, would you say thats sufficient enough as a “dynamic” stretching warm up? Can’t say I’ve run into any issues so far and I’m running up to 10 miles now within just 11 weeks of running. Anyone else use a standing desk?

  • Tiffany Whittemore

    I started running and did my first 5k at 300+ pounds. I have not had any knee trouble and have lost 60lbs so far. I feel great. I am not fast but am getting better each week.

  • nisha

    Whenever i jog continuously for half an hr or so…aftrwards i suffer from continuous bouts of coughing and wheezing in my chest..why this happen ?plz help.

    • Kit

      Asthma can do it. Sounds like exercise-induced cough-variant asthma. Have doctor check. If it is, it can be easily controlled.

  • Fiona Martin

    An excellent piece, well written.

  • Carrie

    Over the past year I have lost 90 pounds. I walk (very brisk) about 180 miles a month. On May 3rd I completed The Biggest Loser Half Marathon run/walk, finishing in 3 hours 20 minutes. I want to do it again, but in 2 12 hours, so I decided to add more jogging. My knee has been hurting quite a lot, over the top. What could this be? It feels like it goes from my thigh to the top of my knee cap. I have rested, iced and tried some PT exercises but it still hurts. Should I be worried?

  • Carrie

    Over the past year I have lost 90 pounds. I walk (very brisk) about 180 miles a month. On May 3rd I completed The Biggest Loser Half Marathon run/walk, finishing in 3 hours 20 minutes. I want to do it again, but in 2 12 hours, so I decided to add more jogging. My knee has been hurting quite a lot, over the top. What could this be? It feels like it goes from my thigh to the top of my knee cap. I have rested, iced and tried some PT exercises but it still hurts. Should I be worried?

    • Yana J.

      If you have been in pain for a few days now I say get it checked out. You can never be too cautious about your body!

    • Yana J.

      If you have been in pain for a few days now I say get it checked out. You can never be too cautious about your body!

  • Lisa

    I have been running about 10 miles a day during the week and a little more on the weekends (training for the Chicago marathon). I eat a very good diet (too good sometimes). I have actually put weight on!!! It is flipping me out. Very discouraging. I weighed less when I was power walking. I thought when I started running I would lose, not the case. I am not heavy at all, but…. The scale is going up. What is the cause? It cannot be all muscle. I am 4’11 so 3-4 pounds looks like a lot on me. 🙁

  • Lisa

    I have been running about 10 miles a day during the week and a little more on the weekends (training for the Chicago marathon). I eat a very good diet (too good sometimes). I have actually put weight on!!! It is flipping me out. Very discouraging. I weighed less when I was power walking. I thought when I started running I would lose, not the case. I am not heavy at all, but…. The scale is going up. What is the cause? It cannot be all muscle. I am 4’11 so 3-4 pounds looks like a lot on me. 🙁

  • Cyndy Higgins

    I’ve been running for quite some time. I’ve finished 3 1/2 marathons. I now have
    an issue with my left foot (ball of foot) becoming numb at about the 1-1/2 mile mark. I have to stop and tap it on the ground or stretch the front of my foot until feeling comes back. I’ve even starting experiencing this when I fast walk. I’ve tried changing shoe brands but that hasn’t helped. Can you advise on this?

  • Bridgitt Lee

    I think cross training with running works, do other cardio/strength activities and stretch a lot and use good shoes definitely. Diet is definitely important for good results.

  • Great article David! At 316 pounds I recently started running…well, more like walking. I have recently introduced some running intervals in my walks, very small ones. After reading your article I find myself concentrating more on how my knees line up when running. I think taking a run at your own pace is key, it’s never too slow if you are at least running!

  • You wrote “Unbalanced runners tend to have their knees fall in…”

    I’ve never really exercised before so I don’t understand what this means?

  • Julia TREVINO DE ARREDONDO

    I’m 45 years old and I staring running and walking ..I m 250 pound and ..I do struggle I try to walk /run 5 miles 3 times a week (more walking then running)..is it ok if I drink a prework out before my run/walk and drink a protin shake after my walk/run…substituting breakfast?…thank you!!

  • Steve S.

    Very inspiring article. I just happened to come across this. I’ve been recently trying to get back in shape as I allowed myself to tip my personal scales at 330 pounds, which is the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve lost 44 pounds in 4 months and have begun to add jogging intervals into my cardio workouts. This article gives me great tips on where to start and where to go. Thank you for writing this article! Running doesn’t seem nearly as daunting now.