Is running actually good for weight loss?

Everyone has their opinion about what is the best form of exercise for weight loss.

Running seems like a good option as it is low cost and very accessible –  but is it actually good for weight loss? 

Are all runners lean?

A few years back I took part in a fun run called the Hangover 5. It was an off road, 5 mile run across the downs on New Year’s Day.  I considered myself to be fairly fit but didn’t do a huge amount of running. However, to my amazement about half way through the race, I was over taken by a guy who appeared to be very overweight.  My pride got the better of me and I tried to overtake him but I couldn’t. After the race it baffled me how someone, who obviously ran as much as he did to maintain such a high pace throughout the race, could have so much body fat.  In fact, when I looked around at all the competitors it was mainly just the very elite runners that were relatively lean. I looked into this further and found that although elite runners appear to be very skinny they also have extremely low muscle mass, which isn’t necessarily favourable for maintaining a lean body composition.

Calories in vs Calories Out

When it comes to weight loss it’s basic physics. You need to burn off more energy than you are taking in. Or put another way ‘move more, and eat less’. Running will definitely take care of the move more part. However, your resting metabolism also plays an important part in the calories out part of the weight loss equation. One of the most effective ways to boost your resting metabolism is to increase your muscle mass and running is a pretty rubbish choice when it comes to increasing muscle mass. In fact long duration running i.e training for marathons can actually metabolise muscle which intern lowers your metabolism.  Now I am not saying don’t run if you want to lose weight but if you like running and your goal is to lose weight then I would strongly recommend you also programme in some resistance training sessions into your weekly schedule to help prevent any loss of muscle mass too. As let’s be honest it is fat loss that we are really concerned with.

Resistance training

Resistance training exercises are exercises that when carried out overcome a certain resistance. That resistance could be body weight, dumbbells, barbells or even stretchy bands.  What makes resistance exercises so good is that they not only build and maintain muscle mass but they also condition the heart and lungs like aerobic exercise does when performed within a circuit based programme. Other benefits of resistance training include the following:

  • Stronger ligaments
  • Stronger tendons
  • Increased core strength
  • Increased muscular endurance
  • Increased bone density (strengthening bones)  
  • Improved posture

When you engage in aerobic exercise such as steady state running your metabolism will obviously increase and can stay elevated for up to 2 hours after the training session has finished.  However, a challenging resistance training session can leave the metabolism elevated for up to 48 hours after the session has ended. Which suggests that resistance training could be a more effective method for weight loss (fat loss).

Throw in some intervals

Interval training also has a great influence on metabolism. The after-burn effect from intervals is far greater than steady state training so again of you really like running and weight loss is your goal try throwing in some running intervals too. Sprinters, who do very little if any steady state running, have very low body fat percentages and also have a very large muscle mass.  A sprinters exercise programme consists of multiple sets of sprints with rests (interval training) and strength based resistance training sessions. Although we don’t all necessary want the muscle mass of a sprinter, we would probably all like their body fat levels. The muscle mass obviously comes from the strength training and the lean body mass is achieved from the interval training.

So is running actually good for weight loss?

So to answer the original question Is running actually good for weight loss? Yes it is, providing you choose interval training over steady state training and incorporate a minimum of two to three resistance training sessions into your weekly regime also.

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