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Designing a running program for obese and non-athletic individuals

Running has rapidly increased in popularity; nearly every social group has that one person who walks in and says, “I ran 14 miles this morning before breakfast,” and everyone stares at them as if they just declared they’d found the cure for cancer. My opinion is that running 14 miles can be done by any stubborn person with or without a healthy body. Running can be effortless if your body is in alignment and healthy. So what of the non-athlete, obese, overweight or the injured individual wanting to run like their friends and the health nuts in the social media? Should they risk a weight-related musculoskeletal injury? Should the academic minded non-athlete just listen to the advice of their friends and blogs and jump out there and begin running?

I say no. Non-athletic individuals and obese people should have three goals for running: gradual weight loss, avoiding injury, and making physical activity a habit as part of a healthy life style. The best way to achieve this is to improve overall athleticism. Athleticism is more than just a mind set that is created from challenging your body, it is having a sturdy build or well-proportioned body structure. It’s working purposefully with deliberate steps. Being an athlete does not mean you have a sport specific gift. True athletes can adapt and adjust in all physical environments. So before you start running, get medical clearance and then follow these steps to improve overall athleticism.

1) Start by walking, stationary cycle training and reducing caloric intake for 3-6 months before running. One way to increase the caloric burn is to shorten the stride length and add some incline walking. “Healthy” non-athletes with no joint pain can begin the walk-to-run transition sooner. To reduce overuse injury with this type of fast walking allow a day of rest between sessions. Add non-running activities such as swimming, yoga, Pilates and strength training to your fitness plan.
2) Transition to continuous running by starting off slow and fast walking for longer periods of time. Gradual exposure to increased training load will permit bone tissues to rest and avoid mechanical failure. Continue non-running activities as this will promote weight loss, thus making running easier and safer. “To prevent injury, do not progress duration/milage more than 5% per week” ACSM Health & Fitness Journal suggests.
3) Intermittent Walk Jog/Run. As training adaptations occur, individuals will be able to work harder for longer intensities. I wouldn’t recommend running for anyone obese or overweight unless they can do so without joint pain or injuries. Non-athletes and novice runners should follow the same guideline. If there is a physical set-back or injury, you should see a sports-medicine doctor who can determine what the problem is and prescribe some physical therapy. If the problem is linked to your running form, you might consider seeing a running clinic with a biomechanist, where someone can evaluate your running gait, strength, and flexibility.

Mental Prep:
Skip the hype items. It’s not a fashion show and don’t brace/wrap/compress anything unless there is a true need. As long as you’re running comfortably and injury-free, there’s no reason to believe any of the items you see celebrities and fellow racers wearing will help. Good form is better than any product you can purchase.
Set the intention. Intention is the starting point of every dream. Everything that happens in the universe begins with intention. Detach from the outcome and fall in love with the process of taking care of yourself. Mind. Body. Spirit.
Cross train. Forgive me for saying this but most runners who don’t cross train look skinny, broken and have saggy butts. What does it prove? My intention is to live prescription free as long as I can and be healthy and fit. I don’t want to be abnormally skinny or muscularly. My intention is to give my body the chance to heal itself. So if you want to be a runner- be a healthy runner that can run indefinitely. Do this by cross training. Cross training with strength training will offer exercises to help offset any muscle imbalances. Cross training with yoga will train your mind to be calm by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Cross training with Zumba/barre/insanity (or whatever group class that catches your fancy) will boost your confidence, add accountability and make exercise fun.
Be the observer. Ask someone to video tape you running (front, side and behind) and watch your own form. You don’t have to be a “runner” or professional to observe excessive or incorrect body movements, wild arm swings or bobbing head. According to Coach Braylen Bennett, “runners should have relaxed shoulders and allow arms to swing forward and backwards in their sockets. The arms dictate the pace of the legs and shouldn’t swing across the body. The foot strike and stride will be different for each runner but the knees and feet should be pointing in the direction of the run.”  I want to add that women should be mindful of the bras they are wearing while running. I have trained large breasted women and found that they shrug their shoulders when they run due to the weight and lack of support of their sports bras. It’s important that you purchase a bra that will lock and load your “girls”. Underarmour makes sports bras that you can purchase by the cup size or see your local sports store professional. In Columbia, SC Jack & Jane Sports has a great variety of bras to help with every activity level. Finally, watch your posture and how your heels kick back. Take your videos and notes and talk to a professional if you see anything that doesn’t look natural and comfortable.

For anyone wanting to become a “runner,” add crossing training, running and a hybrid of group exercise options and you’ll find a lifestyle and body that supports your goal.

Coach Bennett is a former University of South Carolina football player. He is currently AAU and USATF Certified Coach and serves at the Hammond School track and football coach.

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