It’s a commonly-held belief that cardiovascular workouts, especially running, help people lose weight. The number of people running when you hit the gym or go for a walk in the park is proof that people have faith in running as an effective weight loss activity. It’s true that running is a great way to maintain cardiovascular health. The problem, though, is when people expect running to help them lose weight quickly.
Don’t get us wrong: Running can help someone lose weight. Running was an integral part in this writer’s battle with obesity. However, it isn’t as simple as just going for runs regularly. Here’s the science behind it to help you come out winning:
1. You may gain weight first!
When you run, you may think that you’re expending calories. That is an accurate assessment, but only a very small part of the whole picture. Instead of thinking in pure caloric expenditure, consider the following as well:
- You won’t lose fat immediately.
- Your body will gain some lean muscle, which is denser than fat.
- Your body will store more water in preparation for the next run.
Now, add all these factors together, and you’ve actually got “weight gain” instead of the expected weight loss! It’s in situations like these where you can’t trust your weighing scale, so don’t get too worried about the numbers on the scale. Instead, aim for consistency in your exercise regime.
2. Switch it up, shed fat fast
Long, low-paced runs are nice. They’re great stress-busters and give you an elevated heart rate over time. However, if you’re using cardio to lose weight, lower-paced runs aren’t going to be very effective. Instead, intensity matters more than workout length.
In a study by the School of Kinesiology at the University of Western Ontario, they compared the effect of short, high intensity training against longer, moderate intensity exercise. Even though the higher intensity workout group used less time to exercise, they still lost 12.4 per cent total body fat during the period of study. The moderate exercise group lost only half that amount.
What does this mean for you? Easy. Instead of just doing your runs at the same rate, mix in periods of sprint activity into your runs. Designate a stretch of your run where you can really cut loose and accelerate for a good 15 seconds, then go back to a normal pace. Do this as many times as possible during your runs. You’ll notice a upshot in your post-run metabolism.
4. “I run, so I can eat more”
No you can’t. That’s not how it works.
Running definitely helps you expend calories, and higher intensity workouts will make you lose calories even faster. But nothing will crash your weight loss plans faster than if you allow yourself to eat more just because you’ve done your runs. Worse, if you decide to knock back an extra beer. Eat normally, and if you find yourself getting hungry more often, it’s alright to snack if you do it healthily.
4. Don’t skip strength-training
If you’re into running, you may have a one-dimensional focus on fitness. Running is superb for caloric expenditure, but not as fantastic for building lean muscle. Well, guess what shreds fat fast? Yes, it’s lean muscle.
If you want to see results, then add in a little muscle training. Instead of running all the time, replace one or two runs with bodyweight workouts. You should aim to bring yourself through upper body, core and lower body muscle groups in every workout for maximum effectiveness. In addition to weight loss, you’ll notice that your runs will be more stable and you’ll be able to go longer and faster in your runs. It’s really a win-win situation!