Running is great for your heart, lungs and circulation, it burns a lot of calories, and I find it clears my head better than any other form of exercise. I love it.
So why on earth am I talking about doing less of it?
The thing is, running long distances isn’t great for fat loss. I want to stress that I’m not saying long slow runs are bad for you or that it won’t help you to lose weight – it probably will. But I’m afraid it is not usually the most efficient way of exercising if your aims are to shed fat and tone up.
Even if you have very little experience of formal exercise you’ll probably be able to think of a time when something which you found physically tough became easier with time. When you put extra demands on your body, say by starting a new type of exercise or working harder than you’re used to, at first it’s tough. Your system has to work hard to cope and you burn a lot of energy in the process.
Better, Harder, Faster, Stronger
But eventually the body adapts to be able to perform the tasks more easily. Put simply, it does this by growing more muscle mass, which increases strength and/or endurance depending on the type of exercise, and because we store energy in our muscles we have more fuel available too. Other changes include stronger bones to support us, a stronger heart to pump oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, and better lung function.
This is brilliant. We get lovely shapely muscles (which means we burn more calories even when we’re not exercising), we burn fat in the process (so long as we’re eating right), we feel fitter, and what was once hard becomes easy. Fitness professionals call this progression. When it happens it’s nice. You feel like you’ve cracked it.
Ah, but, there’s a but… Now the exercise is easy you won’t burn so much energy by doing it. So you need to work harder. With running this can either mean going faster or going longer (or changing terrain, but that’s not always practical). Personally, like a lot of recreational runners, I’ve tended to opt for going longer. There are a couple of problems with this.
What’s Wrong with Going Long?
Firstly, if you have less than perfect running form, which most people do, including (in fact, especially!) me (although I have been working on this and am improving) your body is in for quite a pounding. This, of course, can result in injury and illness, both of which I’ve experienced quite a bit of over the last year or so.
The second issue is time. A couple of years ago I was at a level of fitness where anything less than a 10-15 mile run didn’t feel like a proper workout. If you’re going at an average pace of around 10 minutes per mile that’s going to take around 1:45 to 2:30 and that’s not including warming up and stretching.
Another thing I’ve experienced since I started regular running about four years ago is that my upper body strength has deteriorated. This is probably due to a combination of doing less upper body training and the fact that the body can actually start using muscle for fuel once your energy stores get depleted on long runs.
Changing the Game
So, to sum all that up, I’m cutting down on the long runs to give my body a break, to challenge it with something new and get it burning more fat, because I don’t have much time to spare, and to work more on my upper body and core strength.
I will still do the odd longer jog, to keep my lust for running in check, but most of my runs will take the form of short interval sessions and, for the duration of this programme it will not be my main type of exercise.
I’ll go into my new exercise plan including more details on how and why it is better for fat burning than running in future posts, so stay tuned for that. If you’d like to know more now take a look at the post a few days ago outlining fat busting fitness programme and my report on my first workout last Sunday.
It’d be great to hear about your experiences of exercising for fat loss, or if you have any questions, or just want to say hello, I’d love it if you left a comment (click below). When someone drops me a note like that it really makes me feel like the time I’m putting into sharing this journey on this blog is worthwhile.
Also, I’ll soon be sending out weekly emails with weight loss and fitness tips based on my experiences and progress. I’m talking to some big fitness brands about getting discounts and offers exclusive to my blog readers, so I’ll include details of those in there too. If you’d like to hear from me just pop your email address in the form to the right of the page.