Whether I’m in the women’s locker room, the line at the grocery store, or just chatting with friends, I repeatedly hear “I need to lose weight. I’m going to try to go for a run later!”
Why people, why?!? The idea that running is the epitome of health, or the fastest way to lose weight is a myth that has been with our society for far too many years now. So why is it that so many people think running is the answer? And if running isn’t the best way to get fit and lose weight, what is the answer?
Yes, I know running is good for your heart. It builds aerobic capacity, releases endorphins, and so on and so forth. But is going for an afternoon jog the BEST option to lose body fat? As the science shows us, no.
So, why do so many people choose running for their main source of exercise?
Accessibility- It’s a lot easier to go home, put on a pair of sneakers and hit the pavement for a jog than it is to trek off to the gym. I’ll give you this one; it does require more time, effort, and money to partake in most other forms of exercise.
Lack of Knowledge- I’m not calling runners dumb here… I mean lack of knowledge in regards to exercise selection and form. It takes some help, education, and experience to know how to do resistance exercises properly, in what order, and how many of each. It’s part of why going to the gym is a daunting task for most people. Going for a jog doesn’t require such an extensive background. Again, the ease of throwing on some sneakers and setting off for a run is a huge draw for people.
Perceived Difficulty- Jogging sucks. It’s not fun, it hurts, it wears down your joints, and plays mind games with you as you struggle to complete your distance. For some scary reason people think this means they’re getting a good work out in! No pain no gain, right?!
They Love To Run- I have no words for this as I’ve never felt this way in my entire life. But, I know there must be some people truly like to run. Maybe they enjoy the torture, maybe they’re just suffering from some strange disease that this is a side effect of, but I guess some people do actually run for enjoyment.
It’s Good For The Heart- This is true. There is extensive background and research to show that aerobic exercise may not only prevent, but also help to treat cardiovascular disease. Even still, resistance training and interval training provide the same cardiovascular benefits that running does. In fact, resistance training may have even more cardiovascular benefits than aerobic training for women.
Ok, ok, so I could go on for ten thousand words on why I think running sucks. And as I mentioned, it’s not even close to the best exercise for burning fat and losing weight. So what is best? What the heck should I be doing instead?!
This is a tough question because everyone is different and our body’s respond to different things, but here are some suggestions that may get you off the steady-state cardio bandwagon once and for all.
First, above anything else get your nutrition in check. You’ve heard it once, and you will hear it a million more times because it’s true. You simply can’t out train a bad diet.
Second, consider a solid resistance (weight) training program with a few high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions mixed in. A good starting place for beginners is 1-3 resistance training sessions a week and 1-2 HIIT sessions. Those with some experience and looking to step up their fat loss game a little could aim for 3-4 resistance training sessions and 2-3 HIIT sessions weekly.
What does resistance training and interval training do that running can’t?
Resistance training increases your muscle mass: Steady state cardio activities like running, simply can’t overload the muscles enough to promote muscle growth. In fact, at a cellular level, aerobic exercise inhibits muscle growth through multiple mechanisms! What does this mean to you if you want to lose weight? Well, it’s simple- muscle burns more calories per pound than fat. Muscle tissue is metabolically active and simply by adding muscle mass to your body you will increase your daily metabolic rate and burn more calories without even trying. Without altering diet or other lifestyle factors, increasing the amount of fast twitch muscle fibers (the ones you use for lifting weights or sprinting short distances) can significantly decrease fat mass!
(The age old comparison of long distance runner vs. a sprinter; which physique is more like the one you envision for yourself?)
Burn more calories: It’s true that going for a long jog will burn more calories per hour than resistance training or a short interval session will do. What it doesn’t do though is keep burning calories AFTER you are finished. Your body does this wonderfully cool thing called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). In short, this is where your body burns energy (calories) in trying to restore the body to a pre-exercise resting state. We have known for decades that this mechanism is increased more so after resistance training than aerobic training. So while you may not burn more calories during exercise you are going to burn a whole lot more when youare finished exercising, thus making your total caloric burn much higher! Research is also showing that the higher intensity session, the higher the EPOC will be and the longer that it will last. So you can burn more calories just watching American Idol tonight after a weight lifting session than your friend will during her excruciatingly long run!
Less time commitment: For a lot of people, the one thing that they say hold them back from exercising is that they don’t have enough time. Lucky for you, research shows that as little as 6 HIIT sessions over a 2 week period with only 15 minutes of work is enough to enhance endurance exercise capacity and improve skeletal muscle oxidative capacity. This essentially means you will see the cardiovascular benefits of exercise and endurance improvements in a heck of a lot less time. No more “I have no time” excuses please!
At the end of the day, you need to do what works for you and what you enjoy. My purpose is solely to inform you that there are smarter and more efficient ways to build muscle, lose fat than running. Utilizing a solid resistance training program coupled with some high intensity intervals will help you build muscle and shed the fat faster and in less time than running ever will.
Readers: What is your favorite type of exercise? Are you one of the weirdos who actually enjoys running? If so, please help me understand what you can possibly like about it!