Why Running Doesn’t Work for Weight Loss

Running is a go-to exercise option for more and more Americans and it’s easy to see why:

  • Running can be time-efficient
  • It’s relatively inexpensive (unlike that stair stepper gathering dust in your basement)
  • You can run more or less anywhere
  • You can get runner’s high — a feel-good rush of endorphins that flood your brain after 30 or so minutes on the track or treadmill

Yet, while running is many things to many people, it may not be the quick road to weight loss you’re expecting it to be. Here are a few reasons why all the running you’re doing isn’t working in your weight loss plan.

Why Running Doesn't Work for Weight Loss

Running in Place: Reasons You’re Moving, But Your Weight Isn’t

It’s easy to get caught up in a favorite exercise or routine. Once you’ve gotten the hang of something, it feels comfortable and safe. After all, exercise is exercise, right? Not always. Does the below sound familiar?

You maintain the same moderate pace.

If you run at the same moderate speed most of the time, your workout will remain at low intensity, steady-state cardio (LISS). While your efforts will net you some long-term cardio benefits, it is no magic bullet for weight loss. You may seem some initial loss up front, but it will probably plateau or level off. What’s worse, you put yourself at an elevated risk of wear and tear down the line.)

All you do is run.

This relates back to the previous point. If you don’t want to do anything but run, reconsider. At least factor in some core strengthening exercises. If you’re a cardio junkie, it also can’t hurt to change it up with biking, elliptical training or even brisk walking. Otherwise, once again, you’ll and yourself in a weight-loss rut. Plus, you can practically place bets on having repetitive strain injuries, or worse, down the line.

You’re going overboard on post-run snacking.

Sure, running burns a lot of calories. But while all exercise gurus give the greenlight on a post-run snack, they recommend healthy choices. While it may seem terribly unfair, calories are not created equal. Remember these simple rules: Protein beats carbs for keeping hunger at bay. Restrict — or, even better, eliminate — the processed food in your diet. Drink water, not energy drinks. Get enough shut-eye and become aware of what a healthy portion is.

Go for Safe and Sustainable (Not Rapid and Rash)

If you opt for extreme and rapid weight loss — let’s say, anything more than one to two pounds a week — you can expect to fall off the wagon. If you need expert guidance, there’s plenty of it. Try your doctor, a trainer or a dietitian, and read a number of diet and exercise books (certainly more than just one), seeking the consistently sane advice among them.

Here’s the Good News: You Can Break the Plateau

If you’re all-cardio fanatic who has run into a weight-loss wall, there are ways to run around it.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

If you’re stuck at a weight plateau and running doesn’t help, switch to intervals. Running at your top speed, shifting into lower gear, and then gearing back up, burns a greater number of calories in a shorter time. This, in turn, helps your body turn fat into muscle. If your body packs more muscle, your metabolism will burn more calories in its resting state. Soon, too, you will look leaner, and more importantly, feel better.

Trade Quantity for Quality

When it comes to exercise, it’s hard to make generalizations. Everybody is different and our bodies are different, too. Still, most fitness experts agree that hours of exercise will yield little if your overall form is sloppy. As with much in life, quality is more important than quantity. There’s simply no contest.

Lift Weights

If you mix in some weight lifting with your HIIT cardio on a recumbent bike or treadmill, you will see a lighter, leaner you a whole lot faster. Weight training leads to muscle, and as we now know, your muscles are your friends.

Push Up to (But Not Over) Your Anaerobic Threshold

Since your metabolism continuously adapts to your fitness level, you may feel the need to continue to challenge yourself. If so, buy a heart monitor, get an ‘all clear’ from a doctor, and try to push your body, in stages, up to, but not over, its anaerobic threshold — a rate at which exercise can feel physically uncomfortable.

Remember to use common sense or rely on a doctor for theirs. When it comes to exercise, common sense is not always common. Get a check up and find out what your doctor thinks about your plans.  

Don’t Be a Slave to the Scale

A word to the wise: If you’re eating healthy food in proper proportions and doing weight training, guess what? The needle on the scale still may not move as quickly as you’d like it to. It may also even inch up a bit at the start. (Calm down: it may be that you’re gaining fat-burning muscle tone and that’s a good thing.)

Weighing in regularly is a way to say on track — it’s not your cue to panic and start eating celery morning, noon and night. Don’t let weight and bathroom scale fluctuations drive you around the bend. Your body mass index (BMI) is your very own ratio of muscle to fat, and it also tells a much truer version of the story. One, two, three, chill out.

Exercise without moderation in our diet is pretty much pointless. Remember, that the end of an intense exercise session is not the starting gun for the pizza parlor. Sure, your body can withstand some cheating, but again, the key word here is occasional.

Healthy Eating Is a Numbers Game: Keep Track

Quick! Get a magnet! Here’s a list of reminders for your fridge.

  • Keep a food journal. Fight off your best, or rather your worst, efforts to self-sabotage.
  • Refer to a calorie counter. Especially when you chose to cheat. A little splurge shouldn’t end with waving the white flag of surrender.
  • Portion control. Begins and ends with you, not the waiter or the restaurant.
  • Weekly weigh in. A weigh in can help make a winner (or rather, ‘a loser’) out of you, but a daily check is even better
  • Remember to get your B.M.I. Use a BMI calculator to get an idea. Your own ideal B.M.I should probably fall somewhere between 16 and 25.
  • Aim for sustainable weight loss. This means about 1 or 2 pounds a week.
  • Don’t skip meals. Skipping breakfast, lunch or dinner will put you on the fast track to nowhere.
  • Vary up your exercises. Remember, this post is about how running, by itself, isn’t going to cut it.

There is simply no viable shortcut to weight loss. If there were, you wouldn’t be reading this.

Whatever You Do, Do Something

There is one particular saying about exercise that sums it up best — the best exercise is the exercise you do. Sayings are sayings because they’re usually true. If, on the other hand, you eat and sit still, you’ll have nothing to lose and much weight to gain. This last option isn’t on the table, is it?

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