The following article is for those that want to lose weight (specifically fat). If you are running for competition, training for a 5K / 10K / 10 miler, etc., I would have completely different recommendations for you as I used to be a competitive runner myself. However I would still recommend training as I describe below until you have reduced your fat content to near athlete levels before beginning a serious running program (one that required you to run significant miles each week) as less carried weight will put much less stress on your joints, and we can do many other things to improve your cardio capacity in between. So if you are a man, you shouldn’t start running long distances if your gut measures 37 inches or a woman with a gut over 32 inches around. Build significant strength around your joints first. Build in extra muscle mass to aid in the absorption of the pounding stress first.
But Shouldn’t I Run On My Cardio Days …
I get asked questions about running all the time. 6 days a week you should be doing some type of workout. The body needs daily exercise. However it is good to give the body one day per week of near complete rest so that you can push yourself harder during the next week and there is also the added benefit of breaking the pattern so that it is more difficult for the body to adapt and reach a plateau. So with the idea that doing something is good, doing more is better, and the more difficult it is, better still but limited to your current level of conditioning and strength / endurance. This is important so that you don’t over train and cause the body to reduce it’s calorie burn and enter a healing only mode where you just don’t have any energy. Go hard, but as part of a program! You can’t go hard all the time. Take breaks, change it up.
Perhaps the most frequent question about I get about running is when I tell people they should be walking at a brisk pace 3 days a week (three resistance training days, three cardio days). “Shouldn’t I be running on those days?”
Well let’s look at your goals and time commitment to answer that question. Then let’s take a look at the underlying assumptions that prompt questions about running. The number one goal of my clients is to lose weight and tone up as quickly as possible. And most of my clients really don’t have more than 30 min to an hour each day to devote to working out. If you have 3 or 4 hours of time each day you can devote to working out, I would have different advice for you.
Now let’s take a look at the underlying assumptions regarding why running seems like such a good thing to do, especially when doing more is better, and harder still is better still. When you see a long distance runner (athletes competing at distances greater than a mile such as a 10K or a marathon) on TV winning the race, whether it is a man or a woman, they are always thin. When you meet a thin person, they frequently speak about their daily runs. When you walk into a traditional gym you see a lot of people running on the treadmills. For the last several decades, running has been highly publicized as a great way to lose weight. So why don’t I recommend it on your cardio days?
Let’s take a deeper look at distance runners and compare them to sprinters. You may only pay attention to runners during major world events such as the olympics, but think back to the impressions you are left with after watching these world class athletes. While both types of runners are certainly thin, one group has less body fat and looks much healthier. Which group has less body fat? Is it the long distance runner, the one that runs 5, 10 or 20 plus miles every day and rarely if ever lifts weights? Or is it the sprinter that probably never runs more than half a mile at at time for warm up, while running many sprints or intervals and lifting large, very heavy weights. Without thinking about it, most of my clients subconsciously believes that long distance runners have lower body fat. But they quickly see that world class sprinters actually have the lower body weight. Distance runners are thin to looking sickly as they have lost all their upper body muscle so that their bodies can efficiently fun long distances while burning as few calories as possible. Their bodies are lopsided in their development, toned legs, stick arms and bony chests. At first sight, they appear to have very low body fat percentages, but as you look closer, you realize that you can’t tell how low it is, but you assume it is lower than yours. However would you believe they have 2 to 3 times the body fat of their sprinter cousins? They need more fat to be able to sustain their bodies over long distances.
Sprinters on the other hand have nicely muscled and balanced bodies. Their upper bodies are built in proportion to their lower bodies. And you don’t have to guess that their body fat percentage is low, it is obvious. Their skin is taught against powerful muscles. Their stomachs do not protrude in front of their chest. It’s not uncommon to find these athletes to have only 3, 4 or 5 percent body fat. And since they have so much more muscle as a percentage of their body weight, they find it far easier to avoid getting fatter. Remember more muscle raises your resting metabolic rate (muscle burns more calories than fat all day long).
And now the point that really drove this home for me (for I too used to believe that running was the answer to all my weight loss needs, but I never go for a run anymore, haven’t in years). Every year I see the coverage of famous marathons like the Boston Marathon. The winners are all rail thin (none of my clients seem to think this is an attractive look – men with bird chests and women without boobs!). But if you look at the folks that finish in the last third, they are all FAT. How is this possible, I used to ask myself. It really befuddled me as I know what it takes to train the body to the level where it can run 26.2 miles straight. You see I used to run 5 to 16 miles every day (well at least 6 days a week). And even at that level of training, I was not capable of competitively running a marathon. However when I stopped running I put on a ton of weight. But I digress. How does a person remain fat that can run 26.2 miles straight? How in the world is this possible. Well, initially the person training for such a long distance will lose weight. But quickly they hit a plateau, and more and more running is offset by the body becoming more and more efficient with it’s energy consumption until the runner reaches a plateau. Week by week goes by and the body achieves more and greater endurance. And so the body becomes so efficient with it’s consumption of energy that it can run 26.2 miles while staying fat. Of course many people cut their calories while doing this, thus thoroughly confusing themselves.
In fact I have clients that have done mainly cardio workouts for 2 years and gotten fatter the entire time. When I switched them to strength building resistance workouts, the results were immediate. Body fat went down.
So if you are interested in quick weight loss that won’t be permanent go for long runs and burn a bunch of calories. However if you want to lose this weight forever, you need to build muscle while allowing the body to rest between intense workouts with brisk walks or tennis or similar activities that are not at a steady state running level of exertion.
I know some of you will ignor my advice because you have simply had too many years of brain washing about the huge benefits of running long distances, including getting fat to burn away (I’m sure you have heard that you have to have your heart rate beating in the target range for 20 minutes to burn any fat – perhaps, but intervals and building muscle works better because this raises your resting metabolic rate, not just during the workout such as with a long run – you only burn calories for a short time after a long run, but after an intense resistance workout, your calorie burn may be increased for up to 48 hours). So if you must run, then do intervals where you sprint for 30 sec to a min and walk for 30 sec to a min. But some of you will ignor that and just run. If you are going to do this, then only go for runs once a week. Then pay close attention to how hungry you will be, and how often you will want to eat simple carbs.
When’s the best time to run? Do interval runs right after you finish your resistance training workout, not before. This will intensify the workout. Then walk the next day.
Now for other benefits of not running long distance. Just think of all the shin splints, knee aches, ankle aches and hip aches you will avoid.
In conclusion, to reach your goal of losing weight, complete 3 resistance training sessions each week and walk at a brisk pace 3 other days each week. If you must run, run intervals. And it’s best to do them on the days you do your resistance training.
To you health!