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This one has been bothering me for quite a while. I've heard different opinions on this, ranging from

There is absolutelty nothing to worry about, running is great for you!


You definitely shouldn't be running while overweight.

And since I'm asking this about myself, a few specs: I'm 195cm(6' 4"), about 124kg(275 pounds), and have been moderately active in the past.

In a nutshell: If I start running now, will it be detrimental to my knees, even if there is only discomfort, not something I would really call pain?

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Really interesting question. Altough im not overweight, still want to know that. Is running in general bad for your knees? –  Herr K Mar 1 '11 at 21:52
Try biking! It's a great start to getting into running and safer for the knees. –  KronoS Mar 1 '11 at 21:56
Ironically, the only out-for-months injury I've had in the last few years was a torn calf muscle from overenthusiastic (and apparently not well-executed) hill-climbing on the bike. Having said that, I greatly recommend it too. –  araqnid Mar 1 '11 at 22:23
Not running on your knees is bad for your weight. –  alord1689 Feb 22 '12 at 22:43
@KronoS - Actually, if you don't have a bike that fits or have a poor position, cycling can be incredibly bad for your knees. More muscular/structural related rather than impact, but still not good. –  JohnP Jan 30 '13 at 14:43

6 Answers 6

up vote 48 down vote accepted

When you're walking you apply about 1.2 times your body weight to the ground in Newtons (Fz = 1500N in your case). When you start running, this rapidly increases to two times or more. Furthermore, when you're walking you have bipedal phases, which means your body weight is carried by both legs. But jogging is characterized by going from bipedal to unipedal, so all the force is being applied to the one leg and thus one knee.

Fancy graph that explains nothing...

You're perfectly capable of walking, so what you are looking for is a speed at which the forces on your knees are higher than during walking, but not as high as during running.

What's also important is to reduce the moment arm your bodies center of mass has towards your knee. Because the muscles around your knee have to stabilize the joint, the further you put your foot (and thus knee) away from your center of mass, the larger forces they will exert on your knee.

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Now the single most common injury in runners is a jumpers knee or patellofemoral pain syndrome. You can bet that the tendons connected to your patella won't like the strains when you start to run faster.

So we want two things: lower speeds and shorter steps. Luckily, with shorter steps and the same step frequency, you automagically get... lower speeds! Now how do we know we're actually doing this?

Well one great way is to listen to your body or in other words: talk to yourself, out loud! If you're able to talk normally, you're walking at the right speed. Because as soon as you start speeding up, the words... don't... come... out... steady... anymore... You get what I mean? I can't check it with a heart rate monitor, but I'd bet it would be around 60% of your maximal heart rate, which is ideally for burning fat.

If you're more serious about it, you can get a heart rate monitor yourself and an accelerometer (like a step counter only fancier) and keep track of yourself, but really nothing beats listening to your yourself.

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This is a great answer. I'm a Clydesdale runner and I started out overweight. When I first began I did short runs and slow speeds, and gradually built up to faster and longer over the course of a year. I listened to constant bpm music to help maintain a slow rhythm at the start to avoid temptation to start rushing. –  Stewart Johnson Mar 1 '11 at 22:32
It's all about resisting that urge @Stewart, don't let the Sirens of tempt you into faster running, it will kill you! –  Ivo Flipse Mar 1 '11 at 22:34
I agree to this answer. Also another tip: First of all, learn how to jog/run/walk in good form. That is very important. An then, start walking a certain period of time- let's say 1 hour a day or every other day. What you can do is try to beat your distance record in that time- every day. Even though it is 5 meters more by your previous record, just keep doing it. This way you will end up much better. That's how I improved my wind sprint from 6,5 km/h when I started to my current 13,5km/h for the same amount of time. I hope it can help you. –  lightblack Nov 1 '13 at 11:46

Being overweight in general is bad for your knees. Stressing that and adding the intense of shock of running to the already overweight state is just asking for trouble. The amount you are overweight definitely has some to do with this as well, as 5 extra pounds is obviously going to be less damaging than 50. I would seriously consider starting with a brisk walk instead until you are down to a more manageable weight.

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Running long distances as a newbie (even when not overweight) will put stress on your knees. Issues such as correct footwear and running form will affect this. You need to consider what your goals are.

If you're only considering running to lose weight, then you might want to consider other options (such as focusing on your diet (80% of the battle) and walking to begin with whilst completing bodyweight exercises).

Running long distances needs to be built up gradually.

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I started running at about that sort of "build"- it certainly is something to be careful about, and I did injure myself a few times but never ended up doing anything really bad to myself (at least, as far as I know).

Being tall and being overweight both mean you have to take "build up slowly but surely", so if you're both tall and overweight then it goes double! Don't run if your knees are already aching, or you're limping. If you have to take ibuprofen just to sleep- ease off. Get proper running shoes.

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Agree with this. Generally, I find running a tricky activity for beginners. On one hand, there's zero barriers of entry. On the other, beginners easily pick up niggly injuries and soon give up all together thinking their just 'not cut out for it'. –  Adam Nuttall Mar 1 '11 at 22:20

Non technical answer: Yes it's bad for your knees, but everything in life is finite. What's worse is the damage your doing to the rest of your body by being overweight. Running is the quickest way to burn calories. Combined with a small caloric deficit diet and you have the ingredients for losing weight.

Will you have bad knees when your eighty? Maybe who knows. Will you even get to eighty if your overweight... unlikely...

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I don't think it's bad for you if you start off small and work yourself up to longer distances. While you gradually do that, your body will become used to it and hopefully you will also be losing weight gradually as well.

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