In this in-depth exploration of running for weight loss, we delve into its significance in the weight loss journey, critically assessing its effectiveness while highlighting the indispensable role of strength training.
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Why Do People Run? The Bigger Picture
It’s a question that continues to fascinate scientists, from psychologists to exercise physiologists.
Surveys continually site the reasons “maintaining fitness”, “stress relief, “a new challenge” and “competition” as why people choose to run. Then you have psychologists studying ultra-marathon runners who believe that one of their main sources is attaining the state of mind known as “flow”.
However, the biggest reason that keeps coming up time and time again as to why people run is weight loss. They run for the sole purpose of losing weight. Over 40% each time.
That to me is both sad and frightening at the same time. Sad because they’re missing the bigger picture in terms of well-being, mental health, and enjoyment. Frightening because it shows a clear lack of understanding in the process of how to lose weight.
Before I continue as to why running to lose weight is a bad idea, you must understand I am a runner. I love running. To be precise, trail running. I love the feeling of being free in the mountains and getting into the flow-like mindset the psychologists talk about.
The Journey of a Runner
Growing up in the mountains of Wales, I’ve had the pleasure of running and doing lots of it without actually going on planned runs or jogs. It was a part of the sports that I loved to do. I simply took my ability to run for granted.
However, during my mid-twenties and early thirties, life, injuries and work commitments meant I spent less time playing sports, so I focused on strength training.
It wasn’t until I returned to running seven long years later that I realized my ability to run had simply disappeared. I was mortified. Embarrassed. It was a major wake-up call. I had become a beginner at running again.
Fast-forward five years, and I am no longer a running novice. I regularly run 2–3 times each week in addition to my strength training, playing cricket, and snowboarding.
Jogging and sprinting make up a large part of my weekly diet of fitness.
I loved running but took it for granted. I was someone who lost that ability and had to re-learn this skill again, with a beginner’s mindset, all while having a passion for lifting weights and playing team sports.
I think the experience has stood me in good stead. It has enabled me to relate to our clients better because I understand what they’re going through, which in turn allows me to be a better coach.
It also allows me to share this opinion from a neutral standpoint because all too often when it comes to running, you have the two extremes: the running junkies who run daily and the strength community who say running ruins your hard-earned “gainzzzz.”
Jogging is Statistically the Most Harmful Exercise
Up to 70% of recreational and competitive runners sustain overuse injuries during any 12 months.
That is a frightening statistic.
Jogging should be an enjoyable pastime, not something that has you living on the edge, fearful of being injured.
The knee is the body part that is most often injured. Other common lower extremity diagnoses include patellofemoral pain, shin splints, Achilles tendinopathy, IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures of the metatarsals and tibia.
It doesn’t just stop there, however. A significant number of men and women report ongoing hip and/or lower back pain.
Among marathon runners, men report significantly more hamstring and calf problems than women, whereas women report more hip complaints.
The problem is that people fail to recognize the root of the cause of these injuries. The real enemy is not jogging. It is how well-prepared their body is for running
In my humble opinion, the #1 reason that runners get hurt is that when they get into running, they’re simply not ready, and when they start, they jump in at an intensity that far exceeds their capabilities. In short, their bodies are not conditioned for such a strenuous task.
Every single step you take while running severely impacts the body.
The problem is not running itself but landing hard with each physical step. Every time your foot hits the ground when running, you create a force of 1.5–3.5 times your body weight. This increases up to a staggering 5.5 times your body weight when sprinting.
That is a whole lot of force your body has to absorb.
Now let’s compare the body to that of a car. I want you to imagine that you’re taking a road trip from New York to San Diego. East to West Coast.
The car you’re going to use is 20 years old. It has zero maintenance history. It has rust in every corner and billows out black smoke every time you change gear.
What are the chances of making it across the country doing that kind of mileage? What are the chances of the car breaking down at least once or twice along the way?
I would suggest pretty darn high.
Now, that is essentially what most people over thirty are doing to their bodies when they take up running in their later years of life.
They’re taking a clapped-out automobile of a body out on the road and hoping it holds together long enough to get the desired result. Is it any wonder that they become injured?
It’s a car crash waiting to happen.
So how do we determine if your body is ready to run to lose weight? Well, there are many ways to establish this, but the simplest and fastest way we do this is by using the waist-height ratio test.
The Waist-Height Ratio Test: Are You Ready to Run?
The waist-height ratio test is a litmus test to see if it is safe to go running based on the force and impact going through the body.
For those unfamiliar with this measurement, your waist-to-height ratio is calculated by dividing waist size by height. If your waist measurement is less than half your height, you’re likely not at risk for obesity-related disease.
This test is a reliable source of information to determine if the body is ready and able to cope with the weight and forces going through it when running.
The simple fact of the matter is the heavier you are, the more force your body has to absorb, and the more force your body absorbs over a prolonged period of time, the greater the risk of long-term injury and wear and tear on the body.
If anyone has a waist/height ratio over 0.5 we see this as a significant risk factor to long-term health and performance. It does not mean we don’t want to see this individual running ever; it is merely a safety measure so that this individual can enjoy years of pain-free running ahead.
If the score is greater than 0.
5, our first goal for this individual would be to lose weight, and instead of running, we’d prescribe walking or alternative cardio as the main workout.
Fall in Love with the Running Experience
Have You Ever Seen a Runner Enjoying Themselves While Jogging? I’m going to challenge you. Next time you’re out and about, casually have a look around at the joggers you see running past you.
Most likely, you will see a scrunched-up, anguish-filled face, sweat dripping off it, as red as a lobster and limping heavily.
Does this sound familiar? Maybe you have even experienced this yourself.
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. Most joggers are not strong enough, fit enough, mobile enough, or slim enough to run. And when they do go out for their weekly jog, they do so at an intensity that far exceeds their physical capabilities.
Running should be an enjoyable and pleasurable experience. Yet for most, they see it as a badge of honor to go out, push as hard as they can even hobble through injuries, and come back and collapse in a heap on the floor.
Sadly, the human body does not cope well with this level of stress. It has the opposite desired effect to what you want to achieve. The brain has one primary function – keeping the body alive. If it hits a threshold of too much stress, it wants to shut down.
This is when an injury can occur. It can be seen as the body saying STOP!
The #1 reason runners get hurt is that when they get into running, they’re simply not ready, and when they start, they jump in at an intensity that far exceeds their capabilities with a body that is not conditioned for such a strenuous task.
Running should be a lifetime experience that can positively influence your health and well-being. A lifetime of adventures. That’s what being an everyday athlete is all about.
The most common running goal we get here at Strength Matters is for people who want to lose weight is:
“I’d like to run my first 5km race.”
My first response is always “Awesome!” I love working with people to help them complete this goal. It’s tangible, it’s meaningful, and I know the positive effect it will have on their health and well-being.
My follow-up questions are:
- When was the last time you walked 5km in one go?
- What’s your average daily step count?
- What type of footwear do you wear daily?
The answer to question #1 is usually “Never.” For the most part, many of these individuals have never actually walked 1km.
We need to condition and train our body to withstand the pressures and forces of running and we need to build up our aerobic capacity by walking more and for longer times, and at the same time strengthening our feet.
Cardio is hard, very hard for beginners.
So usually when people say they “hate” running they found that they were in terrible shape and it hurt (probably because they were overweight and weren’t ready to run).
So, they give up. Likely they’d give up on anything, but in terms of running, they will likely never return. They will always associate running with this bad experience, and who wants to do stuff they hate?
But what if there was a better way? What if we conditioned their body, built up an aerobic base, and then eased them into the running experience? Rather than just jump in with two feet.
I’d argue more people would stick to running and you’d have less of the “bro-science” telling people running will “Kill their gainz”. This is pretty much nonsense but it’s out there.
Why Running Alone is a Bad Idea for Weight Loss
The benefits of running are real. The stories about people who have lost a tremendous amount of weight by running are plentiful. But the bulk of the evidence tells a less than impressive story.
Highly controlled studies have shown, that when diets and lifestyle habits are kept constant, the effects of running alone on weight loss are modest at best. Exercise energy expenditure does not correlate with weight loss.
Just from your own experience, or what you’ve seen with others, how many times have you seen yourself increase your weekly exercise habits, to only see the scales move more in the opposite direction?
Think about all the people who train for marathons each year and do not lose a single pound of weight.
Running can be part of a weight-loss plan, however, it is just the tip of the iceberg.
Researchers have shown time and time again that people who have had success losing weight have a few things in common:
- They weigh themselves at least once a week.
- They restrict their calorie intake
- They also exercise regularly.
- They don’t exercise to lose weight alone, they use physical activity in addition to calorie control and other behavioral changes.
As a rule of thumb, running alone is the worst idea for losing weight. Great for your overall health and well-being. Terrible for weight loss.
Running is best used as a stand-alone tool for weight maintenance and overall well-being.
However, if you want to lose weight faster, combining diet with strength training and cardio is a more optimal solution (which could include running if your body is ready for it).
Running can help with weight loss, however, as with the weight-loss issue itself, there are lots of moving parts and you have to consider everything.
I know for a fact people will disagree with me on this and talk about the thousands of stories for the success of the Couch to 5k program.
I want to be clear, I love running, I love being in the flow-like state and the freedom of being in the mountains and running downhill. I want to help people experience this feeling and do it for as long as possible.
All I’m asking of you is to think differently about running for weight loss. Let’s think about the bigger picture here, let’s think long-term and how you can lose weight once and for all, remain injury-free, and feel on top of the world.
Think less of running for weight loss and more about running for your mental well-being. Prepare your body to run, focus on slowly building up your aerobic capacity and you will start to enjoy running that much more. That’s the key, enjoyment.
There are better ways to lose weight, and it doesn’t start with running.
Can You Lose Weight by Running 30 Minutes a Day?
Running for 30 minutes a day can contribute to calorie burn, but the key to weight loss is creating a caloric deficit. While running helps, a balanced diet ensuring you consume fewer calories than you burn is crucial.
Can You Lose Belly Fat by Running?
Running can assist in burning calories and potentially reducing belly fat. However, spot reduction isn’t viable. The most crucial factor for fat loss is maintaining a caloric deficit through diet and exercise combined.
How Much Should I Run a Day to Lose Weight?
The amount to run varies for individuals, but it’s essential to remember that weight loss primarily depends on a caloric deficit. While running 30-45 minutes most days can aid in calorie burn, monitoring your diet to ensure you’re not consuming those calories back is vital.
Can I Get Slim by Running?
Running can help in achieving a slimmer physique by burning calories, but the primary factor in slimming down is maintaining a consistent caloric deficit. A well-regulated diet combined with consistent running will yield the best results.
Is Running Good for Weight Loss?
Running can effectively burn calories, but successful weight loss hinges on maintaining a caloric deficit. Without consuming fewer calories than burned, running alone won’t result in weight loss.
How Often Should I Run for Weight Loss?
Running 3-5 times a week can support weight loss. However, it’s vital to pair it with a caloric deficit through diet to see desired results.
What Type of Running Is Best for Weight Loss?
While interval running or HIIT can result in rapid calorie burn, complementing it with strength training ensures comprehensive muscle engagement. Not only does strength training offset the muscle loss that can come with pure cardio routines, but it also accelerates metabolic rates. The duo, when combined with a proper diet, has been shown to deliver optimal weight loss results.
How Good Is Running for Weight Loss?
Running alone is a potent tool in the weight loss arsenal, but its effectiveness is amplified when combined with strength training. Studies have shown that a balanced regimen that includes both cardio (like running) and resistance training results in a more defined physique and more efficient fat burn.
How Much Running Is Good for Weight Loss?
150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of high-intensity running weekly can support weight loss, but only if complemented by a dietary caloric deficit.
Why Is Running Not Good for Weight Loss?
Running alone, especially without a balanced diet, can lead to a loss of lean muscle mass. This is not ideal for those aiming for a toned physique. However, when paired with strength training, it ensures muscle preservation and optimal fat loss. Strength training combined with running provides a holistic approach, ensuring you not only shed pounds but also maintain a lean, strong frame.
Why Is Running Good for Weight Loss?
Running is a powerful calorie-burner, but its potential is magnified when combined with strength training. While running boosts cardiovascular health and endurance, strength training increases muscle mass which burns more calories at rest. Studies indicate that pairing the two can lead to faster and more sustainable weight loss outcomes.