Shin splints is a common injury amongst beginner runners, and is often a result of running too much, too soon. This often happens when runners are new to training, while their bodies are still adapting to the high impact demands of running. It’s important to note, especially for those running for weight loss, that bodyweight is a factor in why many beginner runners develop shin splints.
Increased bodyweight is a known risk factor for developing shin splints. If you are overweight (Body Mass Index of 26 or above) or obese, there is more risk of you developing shin splints when running.
However, there are steps you can take to help prevent this type of shin pain when running for weight loss, as I’ll explain in answering the question about shin splints below:
Question From Estelle
Hi, I’m overweight and am making a new start on improving my fitness and changing my life.
I only recently started running and was beginning to enjoy it, but developed terrible pain in my shins. I have been forced to stop running. 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 still there.
I have had a gait analysis done, have new insoles for my shoes, but am not sure what else to do as I dearly want to run and have entered a 10k (my first) in July.
Should I carry on running through the pain, or lose weight first?
Hope you can help.
Build Strength to Prevent Shin Splints >>
Free Workouts [PDF]
Does Being Overweight Cause Shin Splints when Running?
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 you can put your body through.
In fact, most running injuries are overuse in nature, and at least in part related to the fact that your body experiences forces of 2 to 4 times your own body weight with each and every stride.
You can certainly work on improving your running form, thus reducing unwanted impact and loading, but when it comes down to it, we all have to endure considerable impact with every single running stride. None of us can do anything about gravity!
Based on this review of Risk Factors for Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (the medical term for shin splints), runners who are overweight or obese, based on Body Mass Index (BMI), are at greater risk of developing shin splints. So more care should be taken when it comes to progressing your training load as your body gets used to running.
But as you progressively being to lose weight, your bones, joints, muscles and tendons will have less stress and strain to withstand with each stride as you run.
It’s very normal for beginner runners to experience various aches and pains as their bodies gradually develop the strength in key areas and adapt to an increasing frequency and volume of running. As you’re already feeling, the shins, calfs and knees are typical places for such aches and pains.
Unfortunately there’s a fine line between the typical aches and pains that come with getting used to training, and a full-blown injury. As you’ve found out, a slight ache in your shins can easily turn into a case of shin splints. Usually as a result of doing too much running, too soon.
Listening to your body is of key importance – one of the most important lessons you’ll ever learn as a runner. A lesson most of us learn the hard way!
So, to answer your question, in short. Please please don’t try to run through the shin pain. I’ve actually written an article which explains in detail exactly why you shouldn’t continue to run with shin splints. I think you’d find it an interesting read!
How to Prevent Shin Splints if You’re Overweight
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 your individual biomechanics.
Instead – In the relative short-term, I’d suggest putting much more emphasis on low impact high-intensity cardio workouts.
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, following a modified version of this return to running programme, for the next 6-12 weeks.
In this time focus on getting 3-4 HIIT sessions completed per week.
Following the return to running plan, you’ll be gradually increasing the running training load, at a rate that your body can hopefully adapt to.
You’ll be a stronger runner for it 🙂
Example HIIT Session
Here’s an example of a simple high-intensity interval training workout you can perform regularly to complement your running.
I hope that helps. Best of luck with your training!
Intense interval bike rides in the gym. I find a great alternative to running.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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
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.