The Distance Dilemma: Why Long Runs Aren’t The Fast Track To Fat Loss
Summer is staring us in the face again, which means it's time to lace up the kicks, get off the couch and start training for charitable 5Ks! Prepare to join a committed crowd congregating around treadmills, nature paths and roadsides in preparation for the main event.
Aspiring runners set long-distance goals with friends or spouses, usually starting with a 5K, to accomplish underlying ambitions. The thought of raising money for charity motivates people to stick to their goal. Most focus on finishing, some on winning, and others are just happy to race. Why are you running?
I sit down regularly with clients to hear their goals. Most express an innate desire to lose several pounds and run a long-distance event simultaneously. When I ask which is more important, they often say losing the weight. Bingo!
A Flawed System
We've long been led to believe that jogging, cardio and aerobics are meant for fat loss, sending people off into the sunset with an unattainable end point. People fail to realize this method may be inherently flawed.
It's True: long distance runners, particularly professional athletes, don't have fat weighing down their performance. You also notice they possess little muscle mass as well. Why? The body uses both muscle and fat for long-distance fuel.
Over time, distance runners drop overall weight, both muscle and fat. The kicker: muscle depletion slows the metabolic rate, which ultimately slows down your fat loss!
Here's a simple illustration:
This simple model shows how important lean mass is to the fat-loss equation. Many view running in a short-term window to shift their weight.
When their running regimen ends, they revert back to poor eating habits and dormant activity levels, failing to realize it's impossible to maintain that level of activity and nutrition.
Consider what happens when someone sheds a fair amount of weight (including some muscle), stops going to the gym, loses motivation to run, and resumes unhealthy eating.
Typically, the weight comes back due to a slower metabolism from the decrease in muscle!
Jogging starts slow. The first attempt might be 10 minutes, then 15, 20, 25, 30, 40 … up to roughly one hour or longer. At that point, people plateau, become bored and quit. Those who continue encounter a problem: time restriction.
Most runners hoard an hour away for exercise - some a bit longer, some a bit less. People often don't have extra time, so they're forced to manipulate other variables.
For example, they might run on an incline to make the session more difficult and target different muscle groups, or sprint short distances instead of jogging for time.
Elevate The Metabolism
In the end, anaerobic (without oxygen) training through strength and resistance is better for fat loss than aerobic jogging. Anaerobic training speeds the metabolism and keeps - or enhances - lean mass!
Long-distance running can lead to fat loss, but it's not great on its own. Different methods need to be implemented for the 9-to-5 desk junkie living a sedentary lifestyle. Modern living unfortunately doesn't allow for hours and hours of running.
The Fix: Elevate the metabolic rate through anaerobic regimens carried out in short periods of time. Long-distance cardio has various health benefits, but it should be done with less frequency and paired with resistance training.
Switch your next distance run with one of these protocols:
- Tabata Training - provides the equivalent of a 40-minute low intensity workout in 4 minutes.
- Circuit Training - combines strength and cardio training that normally lasts 30 minutes.
- Resistance Training - builds strength, power, tone and endurance with very few exercises.
Change Is Good
Spending hours on cardio equipment facilitates overall weight loss, but eventually progress halts and you hit a plateau. If this happens to you, change your program.
Remember, easy is not good. You adapt, meaning your body is able to complete the exercise by expending less energy than it used to. The goal is to burn more energy (fat), so you MUST work differently!
Running supports a healthy heart and set of lungs, which is important, but those variables don't have before-and-after shots for indicators of progress. Millions of people run long distances and are still overweight.
If you really want to cut fat from your gut or butt, reconsider long-distance running.
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running my 1st ultra this weekend! also, kind of funny you have a picture of a guy doing smith machine squats which is highlights in the "1 exercise you should never do" article..
after losing about 20lbs, putting on some lean muscle, i decided i wanted to set another goal: run a marathon. so far in my training i've tried to lift a minimum 2x a week while running 30-40 miles a week. I have noticed some loss in muscle mass, even though i'm still eating 3000 calories a day. this article is true, long distance running will cause you to shrink (not a good way), but it's all about your goals and what you want to get out of your training....
I agree. It depends on what someones goals are. I know weights are important for fat loss and I won't neglect that, but I've always dreamed of being a runner. So that's what I'm going to do :)
You say that 2.2 lb of lean muscle mass burns 100 calories, that doesn't make sense at all... I have around 140 lbs of muscle.. and I'm not burning 6300 cals per day, The real number should be around 20 cals per 2.2 lb of muscle.
this looks interesting. Ive always weighed up the pros and cons of HIIT, LISS and Tabata, but there doesnt seem to be one be all and end all of a best method. Id much rather get up 30minutes later and do tabata than have to slug it out for 30mins every morning.
I'm proud to be a running addict. I've raced many distances and have found half marathon to be a perfect marriage of speed and endurance. I've been able to train for half marathon and half ironman and maintain a degree of muscularity. Could I have more muscle if I didn't do it? Probably. But we all have different definitions of success and different goals, and at the end of the day, you have to do what works for you and keeps you motivated.
I for one have a real hard time putting muscle on while keeping my cardio training sessions real long. I don't run , but I do cycle frequently for more than an hour at a time. I do like it though, because it keeps a balance of "wind" if you will and power from strength training. It's all in what you want to be able to do/participate in.
I think the 2.2 lbs thing may be accurate if it's in a gaining situation. I know that when I'm gaining and training like mad, my diet seems to never stop increasing. For me it at least rings true.
A lot of long distance runners tend to be extremely light and lean but they also carry that small layer of fat that you usually can't see the underlying musculature, in sharp contrast with short distance power sprinters who appear shredded with large amounts of muscle mass....go figure
A great review of basic exercise. Get some muscle mass, it burns calories 24/7 and sure looks better than the body of a competitive marathon runner. Give yourself some variety, keep it low impact and your joints will last a LOT longer. Remember, everyone ages and you have to live with one heart and one set of joints all of your life. Take care of those things.
You are not specific at what you call long distance. Are you calling a mile long distance? 2 miles? or is a 5k what you consider long distance? This article is flawed. But it does carry a good message if you're trying to lose weight you should not only run but you should also use weight training.
All I got from this article is simply that distance running burns too many calories at once. Because it depletes the body of carbs and fats.