Q&A: Overweight and Running in Pain

Question From Estelle

Hi – I am overweight and now on a new start to change my life.

I only recently started running and was really enjoying it, but developed terrible pain in my shins, so I stopped. That was about two months ago and this week I tried to start gentle running again, but pain came back. Not as bad but it is there.

I have had my gait analysis done, have moulded insoles so not sure what else to do as I dearly want to run and have entered a 10k (my first) in July.

Carry on running through it, or lose weight first?

Hope you can help.

Response From Coach James Dunne

Hi Estelle,

Thanks for the great question! Running is of course a fantastic way to lose weight and improve general fitness. It is however, one of the most high impact activities we can partake in. You can work on improving your running form, thus reducing unwanted impact and loading, but when it comes down to it, your body will still have to endure considerable forces step-by-step.

As you progressively lose weight, this will obviously have a positive affect on the loading your body has to withstand. None of us can do anything about gravity.

It’s certainly not uncommon for new runners to experience various aches and pains as their bodies gradually develop the strength in key areas to withstand an increasing frequency and volume of running. The shins, calfs and knees are typical places for such aches and pains… as you are acutely aware, it seems.

Listening to your body is of key importance – one of the most important lessons you’ll ever learn as a runner. A lesson to learn as soon as possible!

So, to answer your question, in short. Please please don’t try to run through the pain. In my experience, shin pain like the pain you describe will only get worse as you try to run through pain!

What Should You Do?

Rest? Well, you’ve already told me that two months rest from running has only resulted in similar (if less) pain when you returned to running recently. So there must be something more you can do…

You’ve had your gait assessed, and now have custom orthotics. Hopefully these are helping your feet move properly, which will hopefully help your shins. I can’t be more specific, as I don’t know the full details of the affected anatomical structures.

Instead – In the relative short-term, I’d suggest putting a great deal of emphasis on high-intensity strength training. There’s evidence to suggest that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) using various whole body strength exercises is a more effective means of fat-burning than steady state cardio, such as running. You’ll get the benefit of workouts that help you lose weight, while also building the strength and resilience your body needs to run in the long term.

The goal is to get fit to run before you can run to get fit.

Perhaps only run once or twice per week (and hold back on milage – work on form) for the next six weeks or so. In this time focus on getting 3-5 HIIT sessions completed per week. From week six, gradually increase your running. You’ll be a stronger runner for it 🙂

Example HIIT Session

Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.


  1. Intense interval bike rides in the gym. I find a great alternative to running.

  2. Have a look into barefoot running. You don’t actually have to go barefoot so don’t let that put you off, it’s more about having a different technique. Sounds as though you’re landing on your heels first. Barefoot means you land on your forefoot so no shin pain. I’ve found it makes my calves ache but not hurt. You also turn over your legs faster so take advantage of the natural spring and bounce in the balls of your feet so keep you moving. I’d highly recommend barefoot running and I’m overweight too 🙂

    1. Hi Leah,

      Thanks for your comments on barefoot running. As it happens, I’m actually pro ‘barefoot style’ running as it happens – in terms of the way in which it encourages an increased cadence / shorter contact time. However runners need to be careful about doing too much, too soon – both in terms of milage and frequency. I like to use barefoot as a training tool, then use more traditional racing flats for my training milage.

      Care should be taken when suggesting that a barefoot running style automatically equates to ‘landing on the balls of your feet’. Pete Larson (@RunBlogger) has done some great work recently showing that a significant population of barefoot runners still display a heel striking technique.

  3. Hi

    I was overweight and Lost allot with water running. Put a water belt on for upright stability and then run laps in the water. I know a friend who did his entire Full Ironman training water running as he was suffering from similar and did a PB on the day.

    Keep at it. Love Jame’s continual words of wisdom.


  4. Hi there,

    I had the same pain in my shins and I am not over weight at all so the two aren’t necessarily related. Rest didn’t help and i thought there wasn’t anything i could do but I went to see a physio who told me it was a build up of scar tissue and he used stones to massage it out. Since then I have had no pain at all in shins and I am doing an ironman in August!

    Keep up the good work


  5. I’m a runner who would be considered overweight, and I love it, too! I don’t suffer from shin splints personally, but some of my running buddies do (and they’re thin, btw). One friend wears compression socks during and after her runs, and she says they help immensely with shin splints. Another friend stops to stretch her calf muscles during runs if her shins start to hurt. I agree with some of the other suggestions, too – spin class and HIIT workouts have helped loads with my running! I shaved 3 min and 30 sec off my 5k PR last year, and I credit cross training and strength training for those improvements. I hope you continue to run, Estelle! It’s such a challenging and rewarding form of fitness! Best wishes to you.