If you’re relying solely on running to help you lose weight, you may be disappointed by the number on the scale. Here’s how to do cardio smarter to get the weight loss results you want.
Running for Weight Loss Mistake No. 1: Your Workout Is Always the Same
Your body is an amazing machine. It’s designed for efficiency, meaning if you do the same thing over and over again, the process becomes easier. This applies to your running workouts too. Not only will they start to feel more effortless (even if you’re still sweating and pumping your legs), but your metabolism literally learns and reacts so that fewer calories are burned with the same exercise output.
One of the biggest problems with running at a steady, moderate-intensity pace, is that the calories you burn are limited to the time you spend sweating. So once your body adapts, the benefit is limited. That’s why weight training is oftentimes viewed as better than “just” running for fat loss. Lifting weights impact your metabolism by causing mini-micro tears that need to be repaired. That healing process requires energy, which means you’re burning more calories—a process that can sometimes last for nearly two days after your training session.
Running for Weight Loss Mistake No. 2: You Go Longer, But Not Faster
One of the most important variables with any type of exercise—cardio or other—is intensity. If you look at the average person who runs, they pick a pace that they can maintain for a long duration. Think about it: When you jump on a treadmill, elliptical, or bike, you’re starting with the intent to be on there for a while. Whether it’s 30 minutes or an hour, your goal is to push at a pace you can sustain, work hard, feel tired, and then go home. While this is great for endurance, it’s not so great for fat loss.
Running for Weight Loss Mistake No. 3: You Focus too Much on Calories Burned
One of the most common weight-loss mistakes is believing that the majority of the calories you burn results from exercise. This is a dangerous misunderstanding. Simply being alive—sleeping, standing, eating, thinking—requires a tremendous amount of energy. The number of calories you burn at the gym actually pales in comparison to normal functioning and your daily activities that are not exercise based.
Does that mean there’s no need to hit the gym? Of course not. Exercise has many health benefits, but the type of exercise you perform in the gym will influence how many calories you burn outside of it. Running will burn calories, but sprinting or lifting weights will result in more muscle. And the more muscle you have on your body (no—not the “bulky” muscle of bodybuilders), the more calories your body burns just functioning.
Running for Weight Loss Mistake No. 4: You Don’t Try Other Forms of Cardio
Now that you know muscle is important to your overall weight-loss goals, it only makes sense that you would want to do the type of training that helps this happen in the least amount of time. So if you’re a lover of slower, longer duration cardio, I have some bad news: “Endurance” running and walking (longer duration, lower intensity) impairs strength and muscle growth, according to research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. What’s more, even if you increase the intensity and run on an incline, cycling is still better for gaining muscle and burning fat, researchers found.
Again, the point here is not that “running doesn’t work” or that there aren’t any benefits. However, if you’re looking for the most efficient weight loss strategy and are short on time, you might be better served by cycling (preferably at a high intensity), rather than going for a long walk or relying on jogging to lose weight.
Running for Weight Loss Mistake No. 5: You Run Too Much (Yes, Too Much!)
This might sound crazy, but just hang with me: The number on the scale might not be changing because you’re running too much. While this isn’t a problem for the majority of people struggling to drop a few pounds, I’ve worked with more than a few people—and seen hundreds of other case studies—where fat loss has been stunted by doing too much.
Exercise is an indisputable component of a healthy life, but it’s still stress on your body. And the demands of that stress impact your hormones, which also control your ability to lose fat. More specifically, the hormone cortisol is released when you exercise.