How Running LESS Helped Me Lose Weight

Running is great for your heart, lungs and circulation, it burns a lot of calories, and I find it clears my head better than any other form of exercise. I love it.

So why on earth am I talking about doing less of it?

The thing is, running long distances isn’t great for fat loss. I want to stress that I’m not saying long slow runs are bad for you or that it won’t help you to lose weight – it probably will. But I’m afraid it is not usually the most efficient way of exercising if your aims are to shed fat and gain muscle definition.

Even if you have very little experience of formal exercise you’ll probably be able to think of a time when something which you found physically tough became easier with time. When you put extra demands on your body, say by starting a new type of exercise or working harder than you’re used to, at first it’s tough. Your system has to work hard to cope and you burn a lot of energy in the process.

The truth is, running long distances isn’t great for fat loss. #running #FatLoss Click To Tweet

Better, Harder, Faster, Stronger

But eventually the body adapts to be able to perform the tasks more easily. Put simply, it does this by growing more muscle mass, which increases strength and/or endurance depending on the type of exercise, and because we store energy in our muscles we have more fuel available too. Other changes include stronger bones to support us, a stronger heart to pump oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, and better lung function.

This is brilliant. We get lovely shapely muscles (which means we burn more calories even when we’re not exercising), we burn fat in the process (so long as we’re eating right), we feel fitter, and what was once hard becomes easy. Fitness professionals call this progression. When it happens it’s nice. You feel like you’ve cracked it.

Ah, but, there’s a but… Now the exercise is easy you won’t burn so much energy by doing it. So you need to work harder. With running this can either mean going faster or going longer (or changing terrain, but that’s not always practical). Personally, like a lot of recreational runners, when I was doing a lot of running I tended to opt for going longer.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems with this.


What’s Wrong with Going Long?

Firstly, if you have less than perfect running form, which most people do, including (in fact, especially!) me (although I have been working on this and am improving) your body is in for quite a pounding. This, of course, can result in injury and illness, both of which I’ve experienced quite a bit of over the last year or so.

The second issue is time. About five years ago, when I was doing lots of very long distance running, anything less than a 10-15 mile run didn’t feel like a proper workout. If you’re going at an average pace of around 10 minutes per mile that’s going to take around 1:45 to 2:30 and that’s not including warming up and stretching.

Another thing I experienced was that my upper body strength deteriorated. This was probably due to a combination of doing less upper body training and the fact that the body can actually start using muscle for fuel once your energy stores get depleted on long runs.

Changing the Game

So, eventually I ended up cutting down on the long runs to give my body a break, to challenge it with something new and get it burning more fat, because I didn’t have much time to spare, and to work more on my upper body and core strength.

I still do the odd longer jog and I still love running, but most of my runs take the form of short interval sessions and are no longer my main type of exercise.

For ultimate #FatLoss, cut down on long runs and challenge your body in a different way. Click To Tweet

Update: This post is an updated version of post I originally published in 2012. I’m happy to report that changing my training in this way has worked wonders for my fitness, strength, health and overall well being. At age 40 I am in the best shape of my life!

Another exciting thing that has happened is that I’ve come to enjoy other types of exercise as much as I love running. Runners say to me all the time that they can’t do any other type of exercise because running is the only thing they enjoy and at one time I felt exactly the same – so I know that can change. On top of this, because my body is now stronger, more powerful and moves better, I run FASTER and running feels MORE COMFORTABLE.

I’m not saying every runner should switch away from running to my way of training… But if your main type of exercise is running and you’re not feeling the way you want to feel or your body isn’t in the condition you want you should at least consider that what you’re doing might not be the right strategy to achieve the result you’re ultimately trying to work towards.


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