I'm a big guy.
I always have been a big guy.
Pretty sure I always will be a big guy.
After many years of struggling with the idea of being a larger-than-average dude, I've kind of come to terms with it. I still want to be healthy and fit and look good...but I know that I'm never going to be a 160 pound runner with Greek-god abs. In fact...I'm 205 pounds right now (on a 5'11" frame), and that's after losing about 15 pounds over the past few months! Like I said...big guy.
But you know what? Us "big folk" like running too! Yeah, I know, crazy right? So this article is for all you "crazy" people out there who like pounding pavement, even if it makes the sidewalks shake a little bit...
First let's talk about running for a second. If you haven't noticed...I love running. I think it's an amazing sport, it's great for getting and staying in shape, and it can do wonders for your mental health. With that being said...
Running certainly isn't for everyone
It pains me to say that, but it's true. I don't want to let my love for running persuade others into thinking it is the best exercise available. As someone who is overweight I know that running can be pretty damn hard on your body. Active.com states that anywhere between 65-80% of runners will get injured from running in a given year. That's a ridiculously high percentage!! There are lots of reasons why this happens but the fact still remains that running is an incredibly high impact sport which can wreak havoc on overweight runners. If you don't think your body is ready for this kind of abuse there is good news...you can still swim, bike, use the elliptical or walk! They are all amazing exercises that provide many of the same benefits as running, while delivering much less impact! But if you're like me and you just can't say no to running, I have some advice for you.
As heavier runners we need to be aware of a few things, especially if you are new to the sport of running.
First, you really need to find the right shoes. I'm not going to tell you that the 5 shoes on this list are the only shoes that will work; far from it. There are an endless number of shoes that will work for heavier runners, but there are also some that probably won't work, those are "minimalist" shoes.
Minimalist shoes became all the rage in the early 2000's (and probably earlier) with Vibram Five Finger, Vivobarefoot and basically every major running shoe brand coming out with their own version of the minimalist running shoe, getting us all one step closer to "running barefoot". The problem was that heavy runners, weaker runners and people with poor running mechanics just couldn't hack it without a bit of cushion to provide a buffer (myself included). Less cushion underfoot means more impact on your joints. Surprise, surprise...immediately after the minimalist craze, the "maximalist" shoe hit the market!
To my knowledge, Hoka One One (pronounced Hoka oh-nay oh-nay) was the first major brand on the scene, introducing their massively cushioned shoes that took the running world by storm and haven't let go yet! We'll talk more about shoes in a minute...
The second thing to be aware of as a heavier runner is that your weight makes running harder, not just on your cardiovascular system but also on your musculoskeletal system (that is the system of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc). This means you need to run less, run slower, and prehab. and rehab. better than most runners. There is a lot of science behind all this that I'm really not qualified to explain but I'll give you the gist to the best of my knowledge...
Every time you damage your muscles via exercise (or any other way) they heal themselves to make the muscle grow stronger and bigger.
An example of how we get stronger in the gym: Do a set of squats which cause your muscles to break down. The next few days as you rest, your muscles heal into bigger, stronger muscles.
Well the same basic principles apply to your leg muscles when you run. And, the same basic principles apply to your bones! Bet you didn't know that! When you perform weight bearing exercise your bone will actually become more dense and therefore stronger.
The problem that most runners have is that they do too much too fast, and then they get hurt. The injuries you sustain doing too much running are called "overuse" injuries and if you've been running for more than a year you probably have first hand experience with overuse injuries! These injuries include things like shin splints, stress fractures, tendinitis, IT band syndrome, and so on. The problem is, it's a fine line between pushing yourself to become a better runner and over training. Your musculoskeletal system takes a long time to adapt to running, so you really just have to take it easy.
A good way to keep your mileage in check is to follow the 10%. This rules states that you should not increase your total weekly mileage any more than 10% from one week to the next. For example; Week 1 you run 10 miles total. For the following week you should not increase your total mileage by more than 1 mile (10% of 10 miles = 1 mile). So for week 2 you can run up to 11 miles following the 10% rule. It's slow going, but that's the point!
The last thing I want to talk about is running form. Most people think that because they have been running since they were a kid they don't need to worry about form. But, being able to run 100 feet is very different than being able to run a mile or more and it certainly doesn't mean your running efficiently and effectively in order to avoid injury and improve strength and endurance.
Another common mistake is thinking that your big, cushioned shoe will fix your running form or make it less important. Wrong on both counts. Running form is one of the most important aspects of staying healthy throughout your running journey. If you can afford a running coach, hire one. If you have friends who are experienced runners, ask them to help you. If you have access to the internet, search YouTube for running form tutorials. Lastly, if you have a running shoe store near you, ask someone there to take a look at your form. Bottom line...pay attention to your form and always try to improve!
Alright, I went on a bit of a tangent there, but I want to make sure you don't think buying a nice pair shoes will solve all your problems...it won't! Now with that being said, let's talk a little bit more about shoes and why they are important, especially for us big-boned people!
Did you know that a 150 pound runner can strike the ground with over 1,000 pounds of force! Check out this article for details. Just think about that. That is half a ton! Now think about how much force that would be if you were 200 pounds...or 300 pounds!!
You can see how important it is to find a shoe that provides the right amount of cushion for your knees, ankles, and hips! Notice I said the "right" amount of cushion, not necessarily the most cushion. Everyone is different and even if you're a bit on the heavy side, that doesn't mean you're going to fall in love with max-cushioned shoes. It's all about finding that balance of cushion and response.
As it goes with most things in life, when you want more of one thing, you tend to have to sacrifice another thing. That is certainly the case here with running shoes. If you want more cushion in your shoe, your shoe is going to be a bit heavier and you are going to lose some energy return. Again, lots of science behind this that I'm not smart enough to understand, but basically more cushion = slower shoe. Less cushion = faster shoe.
Now, if you're an average, everyday dude like me who runs for fun you absolutely should not care if a shoe is "fast" or "slow" because the shoe just won't have that much of an impact on your lap times.
What is far more important than shaving 5 seconds off your mile time is being comfortable and being able to join your run! With a more comfortable shoe you will also tend to avoid injury and recover better. For me it's a no brainer...wear the most comfortable shoe regardless of how "fast" it is.
I have another article that talks about more tips for overweight runners. You can find that article here: 10 Tips for Overweight Runners
Let's talk about running shoe terminology. Reading about running shoes can be a bit daunting, especially when you start reading about things like stack height, midsoles, outsoles, uppers, etc. So let's define a few things to prepare you to do your own shoe research.
Uppers - This just means the top of the shoe. The part of the shoe that actually wraps around the top of your foot. These are generally made of a mesh or "knit" material designed to be light, ventilated, and comfortable.
Insoles - You might know what these are because you've seen them sold separately from shoes (think Dr. Scholl's). This is the thin layer of material that your foot actually touches and can generally be removed from the shoe. It should provide some level of support for your foot.
Midsoles - This is the section of the shoe that makes up the bulk of the "sole" in a running shoe. When you look at the side profile of a shoe it is the thick "cushion" that will squish under each stride. These vary greatly in thickness. Minimalist shoes have very thin midsoles, maximalist shoes have very thick midsoles.
Outsoles - This is the very bottom of the shoe, the part that actually touches the ground. When you think about the lugs or traction of a shoe, that is technically called the outsole. These vary greatly depending on whether the shoe is designed for road running versus trail running.
Lacing system - Just as it sounds, these are all of the components of the shoe that allow it to be tied including the eyelets, portions of the tongue, and the laces themselves.
Tongue - This is the part of the shoe that sits between the laces and the top of your foot. Some are heavily cushioned so you don't feel any pinching or rubbing from the laces. An "integrated" tongue means the sides of the tongue are actually attached the rest of the "upper" in order to create a more comfortable fit or to keep out dirt, debris, or water.
Stack height - This basically means how tall the sole of the shoe is; the distance between the bottom of your foot and the ground.. A maximalist shoe will have a much greater stack height than a minimalist shoe. This can be important because a greater stack height tends to be less stable than a shorter stack height. People who frequently rolls their ankles might pay more attention to this number.
Offest or Drop - This refers to the difference between the height of the heel and forefoot of the shoe. Most shoes have a higher heel than forefoot. For example, if a shoe has a 10mm offset that means the heel sits 10mm higher off the ground than the forefoot. Remember this is a relative measurement; 10mm drop doesn't mean your foot is 10mm off the ground, it means the heel is 10mm HIGHER than the forefoot. Stack height will tell you how high off the ground your foot is.
Alright, now that we've got that in our back pocket, let's finally take a look at some shoes!!
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Top 5 shoes for heavy runners
As I said above, Hoka was really the first
major brand to make waves in the maximalist community and they have been perfecting their big-soled beauties ever since. The Clifton is a flagship running shoe for Hoka and after 6 iterations they've been able to dial in fit and feel while updating it with the latest tech. An easy choice for larger runners.
Altra is one of my all time favorite brands. They have a big, roomy toe box (which is important for me), zero drop from heel to toe and they have a wide variety of cushioned shoes. The Paradigm 4.5 is generally known as a "stability" shoe, meaning it is specifically designed to provide the underfoot support you need as well as the lateral stability that'll help with those tired or weak ankles!
I don't know if you've heard...but Nike has been killing it lately. Disregarding any bias I may have about the brand, Nike has come out with some of the most popular and innovative running shoes in the past several years (so innovative they've had several shoes banned from the upcoming Olympics). And in case you've been living under a rock...Eliud Kipchoge recently broke 2 hours in the marathon with the latest Nike prototype. The Nike React Infinity Run is not going to cause you to break any world records but it could be the reason you stay healthy! The Infinity Run is specifically designed to reduce injuries in runners. Check out their website for the details, but it seems like they have some good data to back up their claims...
The Bondi 6 is the most cushioned road shoe offered by Hoka One One, and
that's saying something! I don't think they are going to win any awards for their aesthetics (although they do offer a ridiculous number of color options) but you'll be able to leave the haters in the dust when you're able to consistently crank out miles in these puppies. One of the key features in the Bondi 6 is the Meta-Rocker designed to take you from heel to toe with less effort. This may be a particularly good shoe for all of you heel-strikers out there!
The New Balance 1080v10 is one of the cushier pairs that the brand has to offer, but I wouldn't consider this a maximalist shoe like most others on this list. What makes this shoe jump out to me is the claim that their new midsole offers a better return on energy than most other plush shoes on the market. If your looking for a shoe that offers a plush ride without giving up too much speed, you may wanna check this one out. However, if you tend to have issues with your heel or Achilles tendon you definitely want to try before you buy (or make sure you can return!) to make sure their more structured heel cup works for you!
Phew, we made it! Again, I don't want you to think that these are the only shoes that will work for us heavier runners...there are so many options out there I could make a Top 50 list and still barely scratch the surface. But these are shoes that I genuinely think will be a solid shoe for most runners, especially us big folk ;)
You know what time it is!!
I want to hear from all of you amazing runners out there! Do any of you currently use one of the shoes on this list?
Any other shoes you would recommend for us big guys and gals??
What other information do you want to know about for heavy runners?
As always, thank you so much for reading!