When people decide they want to lose weight, starting a running habit is often their first instinct. They run and run ... and run. Maybe they initially lose a few pounds and feel great, but then suddenly, nothing. They stop dropping pounds, and some even gain weight back. So what's the deal?
The problem with running for weight loss:
Let's talk about the most common way people run when they're trying to lose weight, i.e. long distance. In our heads, it makes sense. The longer you run, the more calories you burn and the more weight you lose.
But long distance running tends to not be the most effective path to weight loss. Why? Once your body reaches a certain threshold, it adapts and begins to store fat, becoming very efficient when it comes to running and using energy. In other words, after that initial weight drop, your body recalibrates and rather than using your fat stores for energy to continue your run, it's happy to hang onto that fat. When it comes to weight loss, this is what's called "hitting a brick wall."
So what can you do about it?
If you like running, keep at it! Running is a great, healthy habit that can add years to your life. But if you're doing it to lose weight, I'd suggest reducing the distance you're running and instead increasing your tempo and intervals. How, you ask?
Tempo running: A basic tempo run works something like this. Your warm up and cool down will go at an easy, slower pace. In between, push yourself hard; you want to be running at a pace where you're feeling just a little bit uncomfortable. You don't want to feel comfortable while you're doing this (that means it's not challenging your body) and you also don't want to be running so fast you're gasping for air.
Instead, find a pace in the middle and when you do, try to maintain that pace for the entirety of your target distance.
The benefit of tempo running is that you're actually pushing yourself to run just past your anaerobic threshold, allowing your body to start utilizing more carbohydrates, which will quicken fat loss. It'll force your heart to adapt and become stronger, while also promoting angiogenesis, the process through which new blood vessels form from pre-existing vessels.
Interval running (HIIT): You can also try interval runs or HIIT by running for shorter, more intense bursts (sprinting), combined with longer rest periods within the same run. For example, you'd run at 85% of your max speed for a spring for 30 seconds, then walk for one minute before repeating.
When you're starting out, take longer rest periods (a 2:1 ratio of rest to work if you're already active, a 3:1 or 4:1 if you're a beginner). As you get more advanced, move closer to a 1:1 ratio and if you're feeling extra ambitious, amp it up with a reversed 1:2 rest to work ratio.
HIIT is great because it'll take far less time than a distance run with the same cardiovascular benefits and work both anaerobic and aerobic systems. Basically, it's great at simultaneously developing your ability to sprint and run long distances.
If your goal is weight loss, you'll want to mix up the types of running you're doing. Try to mix tempo and HIIT runs in with your distance runs if you'd like. You'll find that by doing tempo and intervals, your distance times will actually improve and you'll see the reduction in bodyweight you've been looking for!