Do Heavier Runners Get More Injuries?

As many of my followers will know, although I’m a running coach, I used to be a rugby player. Like the majority of people who run to stay fit and healthy, I’m not in possession of the archetypal runner’s physique. Mo Farah, I am not!

Therefore weighing-in at at 0ver 250lbs, and with running being a weight bearing, high impact sport, the logical conclusion that heavier runners like me must be more susceptible to overuse injuries is an interesting one.

Logic would dictate that I should suffer more injures than my lighter, leaner weight running friends. But in practice, there’s more to this proposition than initially meets the eye.

What Does the Research Say?

Rather than simply commenting on my own experience, let’s look at what science has to say on this topic.

In 2002 Taunton published their research investigating the incidence of running-related injuries among over two thousand runners.

The authors state in their conclusion that various risk factors were shown to be positively associated with a risk for, or protection from, specific injuries. Of these risk factors, the only relationship between Body Mass Index (BMI) and injury was in females with BMI less than 21, who were found to be at a significantly higher risk for tibial stress fractures and spinal injuries.

The same group of researchers published another paper in 2003 investigating the number of injuries that occurred in thirteen week period during a running programme designed to minimise the injury rate for a group of 844 athletes training for a 10 km race. In this study, an injury rate of 29.5% was recorded across all runners surveyed. The knee was the most commonly injured area.

Factors such as age, BMI, running frequency (days per week), and running shoe age were associated with injury. Although perhaps again counter-intuitively, a BMI greater than 26 was reported as protective for men.

With both of the above studies, the authors are the first to point out the limitations of their data and the need for further research.

Clearly, there’s much more to the initial question of how body weight affects injury rate than initially meets the eye. After all running injury risk factors are such a multifactorial issue.

I wanted to simply illustrate that it’s not just a case of more weight being worse (or indeed better). We’re all different, and being excessively lean can be as problematic as being overweight, just in different ways.

I haven’t come across any research into what happens to injury risk when a given runner gains (or loses) specific bodyweight over an extended period of time. That would be interesting to see, and highly relevant from a practical stand point.

Whether running for general health and fitness, to compete, or whatever else your running motivation happens to be, the message needs to be for us runners to focus on the big picture of working with appropriate training loads, cross-training exercises, running form and recovery strategies.

From a technique point of view, we can all learn to run in a manner which puts less stress on the body. Essentially learning to ‘run gently’. This is one of the most important skills you’ll ever learn as a runner.

Learn to look after your body, what ever shape it is!