(Editor’s note: We made this article into a video! Covers everything you’ll read below, but in video form. Link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWbYQmD6XRI)
If you know me personally, or if you’ve been a reader of the Burning Fitness Mailing List for a while, then you’ll know that I’m a runner.
It originally started as a way for me to lose weight, but quickly grew into something much more beneficial; a hobby.
After a few months of slaving away on the treadmill, trying desperately to lose weight, I found that I actually enjoyed to run.
I liked to push myself; to go faster and further with every single run.
And, I especially liked the “runners high” I got at the end of each run.
Fast-forward a few years and here I am, still running 3-4 times a week, and still loving it.
But you’re not here to hear about how much I love running, are you?
Judging by the post title, I think you want to know a little bit about running the relationship it has with weight loss.
Will running help you lose weight? Is running even a good exercise for losing weight? Or, is there something else you could be doing to achieve better results?
And what about this “HIIT training” thing you keep hearing about? What’s the deal with that?
I will attempt to answer all of these questions and more, naturally, over the next few thousand words.
So grab a glass of water and a snack, because you’re going to want to read this all in one sitting:
Is Running Good For Weight Loss?
This is a bit of a trick question, because…
Of course running is good for weight loss!
Anything that gets you moving and burning calories is going to be good for weight loss.
Instead of asking “is running good for weight loss?”, maybe I should have started with “how good is running for weight loss?”, instead.
In fact, let’s pretend that’s what I did:
How good is running for weight loss?
Honestly? Running is very good for weight loss.
Whether it’s steady-state or HIIT (there is a pretty big difference, and I’ll cover that in a moment), running is an awesome choice when it comes to cardiovascular exercises for weight loss.
Not only is running great for losing weight, it’s also really good for a lot of other reasons too.
In fact, here’s a little list of a few benefits that regular running can bring to the table in terms of overall health and fitness:
- Running makes you happier.
- Running makes your knees (and surrounding bones, joints) stronger.
- Running helps you maintain your brain-power as you age (!)
- Running helps to reduce your risk of cancer (and other chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension!)
- Running can add years to your life (!!!)
(All taken from RunnersWorld.com)
And, here’s a fun little info-graphic to go along with the bullet points:
(Borrowed from JuiceWorks.com)
Bet you’re pretty keen to start running now, right?
And you should be, but before you can go out into the world and put foot to pavement, we need to first discuss the different forms of running.
HIIT vs Steady State: which is best?
Believe it or not, there are many different ways you can run, and some are definitely better than others when it comes to losing weight.
When most people think of running, they think of steady-state.
This type of running is by far the simplest; you pick a speed and you stick to it.
You don’t go faster, and you don’t go slower.
(More like you try not to go slower!)
This method of running isn’t bad at all, and you can definitely lose weight with it.
Hell, it’s the exact style of running I did when I lost weight, and it worked pretty well for me.
But there’s another way you can run, that delivers even better results than steady-state, and it’s known as HIIT.
HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training, and as the name suggests, it can get pretty intense.
Basically, you run really fast for a short amount of time, and then you take a break for a short amount of time, and repeat for as long as desired.
Here’s a little breakdown of how planning a HIIT workout would go down:
- Decide on a running speed. (It should be somewhere between a brisk jog and a full on sprint; you shouldn’t be able to maintain this speed for more than a couple of minutes.)
- Decide on your intervals. (The most popular is the Tabata protocol, which has you running for 20 seconds, and resting for 10 seconds.)
- Decide how long you’ll run for. (For a complete beginner, I’d recommend to start out at 10 minutes and gradually increase your running time until you’re going for 20-25 minutes.)
As an example, whenever I do HIIT I run at around 20km/h, my intervals are 40 seconds running, and 20 seconds at rest, and I go for 20 minutes in total.
By the end of the run, I am totally exhausted!
At first glance, HIIT might seem like all it does is make you smelly, sweaty, and tired, but there’s much more to it than that.
HIIT For Weight Loss: What Makes It So Good?
If we only look at the amount of time spent running, and the average speed of said run, it may seem like steady-state running is actually better at burning calories than HIIT.
For example, say I went for a HIIT run and my average speed was 13.33km/h and I went for 20 minutes.
I could easily run steady-state at 14km/h for 30 minutes, which is both faster and longer than the HIIT run, so why the hell wouldn’t I just do that instead?
Wouldn’t I burn more calories sticking to steady-state?
On paper, yes, that’s absolutely correct.
In general, steady-state cardio burns more calories than HIIT.
So why am I even bothering to hype up HIIT?
Because it’s not so much about the calories you burn during the exercise.
With HIIT, it’s all about the calories you burn after the exercise.
EPOC: What it is and how it helps you lose weight.
EPOC stands for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (commonly referred to as “afterburn”), and occurs directly after exercise.
A few things happen during exercise, such as your hormones going crazy, muscle tissue breaking down, and, your body running out of fuel.
As soon as you finish exercising, EPOC kicks in, and your body starts balancing hormone levels, repairing damaged cells, and replenishing your fuel stores.
To do all of this, your body needs to burn energy (calories)!
Now, if you were only doing a low intensity exercise (such as steady-state running), EPOC wouldn’t really have much of an effect on you.
Your hormones wouldn’t be all over the place, you wouldn’t have sustained the same level of tissue breakdown, and you wouldn’t have burned through all of your fuel.
It’s only when we’re doing HIIT (or other vigorous exercises) that EPOC really stands out.
And the best part?
A recent study found that the effects of EPOC can last for up to 38 hours, which means you can potentially be burning calories (and losing FAT) for over a day after you finish your run.
- Running steady-state burns more calories than HIIT during the same exercise period.
- Because of EPOC, your body is able to continue burning calories for up to 38 hours after you finish a HIIT run.
- As a beginner, I would highly recommend starting with steady-state cardio rather than HIIT.
The reason I think you should start running steady-state rather than HIIT is because it is much easier, physically, than HIIT.
Once you’ve been jogging, and then running, for at least a month or so, you can then switch things up a bit and incorporate some HIIT runs into your weight loss exercise routine.
So that clears things up regarding what style of running you should be doing (the answer is both!), but what about how to do your run?
Road vs Treadmill
As with most things in life, there are pros and cons for both road running and treadmill running.
Road Running – Pros:
- You don’t need to spend any money on a treadmill or gym membership.
- You can go to this website and create your own fully-customized course. Run by the park, near the beach, or through the city, and know exactly how far you’ve run!
- There’s the fresh air of the outside world you just don’t get when you’re on a treadmill.
Road Running – Cons:
- Doing the same course day after day can get boring fast.
- You have to contend with traffic and other “nuisances”, as well as feral dogs, swooping birds, and even snakes!
- In the beginning, you may not feel comfortable going for a run in public, which is perfectly fine by the way (maybe you’re a treadmill person!)
Overall, road running is pretty fun and a great way to get out there and see a bit more of your neighborhood.
Treadmill Running – Pros:
- You don’t have to run at a specific time of day, you can go whenever you darn well please.
- You can put a TV in front of your treadmill and watch it while you run. (I still do this and it makes running SO MUCH EASIER.)
- Since you’re not actually going anywhere, on the off chance that you decide you can’t be bothered running anymore or you get tired, you won’t have to walk all the way home (like you would if you were running on the road.)
Treadmill Running – Cons:
- Cost. Whether you’re buying a treadmill or going to your local gym, expect to pay at least $500 for either a half decent treadmill or a year membership at a gym.
- You’ll be isolated in a room with no other people for 20-60 minutes, which isn’t exactly very sociable. At least with road running you can go with a friend.
- The repetitive nature of treadmill running means that you’ll be doing the exact same run every day, and that gets pretty boring pretty quickly. (Unless you’re watching TV… Like me.)
I personally started running on a treadmill because of how easy it was to just jump on and run, and then after a few years started running outside, too.
For complete beginners, I’d recommend either getting a treadmill or gym membership if you can afford it, otherwise, just run outside.
Either way, it’s entirely up to you, and as long as you actually get up and start running for weight loss you’ll be on the right track!
Earlier on I mentioned that I’d answer the question regarding other forms of cardio and whether running really was the best way to lose weight, and I’ll do that now (very quickly, this post is already hella long!)
Is Running The Best Cardio For Weight Loss?
In my personal, totally biased opinion, yes, running is the best cardio for weight loss.
It’s easy to get started with (you literally just move your legs faster than you do when you walk), and it burns a decent amount of calories.
It’s also pretty damn fun in my opinion.
But, yes, there are other forms of cardio, such as cycling, swimming, rowing, etc, that might actually be better than running for weight loss.
How do we compare these different cardiovascular exercises?
Well, we could compare them on a calories-burned-per-hour scale, assuming the participant was the same for each exercise.
If we head over to this calories burned calculator, we can compare different exercises at different intensities, and see which exercise burns more calories.
I tried to choose similar level intensities for each exercise, but since intensity is sort of relative to the individual, these results will not be 100% accurate.
Calories burned in an hour:
- Running – 690
- Cycling – 613
- Rowing – 536
- Swimming – 536
- Walking – 291
As you can see, all of the above (minus walking) burned a pretty similar amount of calories over an hour period.
Again, as with the road vs treadmill debate, it really comes down to what you’re willing/able to do.
Personally, I’m gonna keep running, but if you’d rather cycle/swim/row instead, then by all means, go right ahead!
All of the other points made in this article (steady-state vs HIIT, etc) apply to those forms of cardio as well.
And, if you’re still interested in running for weight loss, (which I hope you are), you’re now armed with enough knowledge to not only choose between treadmill and road, but to also integrate both steady-state and HIIT into your weight loss exercise routine.
So, now that you’ve got the basics down, what’s next?
How about creating your very own, fully personalized weight loss running plan?
Weight Loss Running Plan
It’s no secret that in order to succeed, you need to be following a plan.
Some kind of rough idea, at the very least, of what you should be doing in order to achieve your goals.
Weight loss is no different, and if you want to see good results, you need to be creating and following your own exercise plan.
Since you’ve made it all the way to the end of this long, long article, I’ll share with you the exact exercise plan I followed when I lost weight.
You can use it however you like; copy it, change it, share it with your friends/family and come up with improvements, whatever you want.
My running for weight loss program:
- Monday: It’s the first day of the week, and since I’m full of energy, I do the longest run today. Treadmill or road, it makes no difference, all you need to do is run far, and run for around 30 minutes. When I first started running (as a totally unfit 17 year old), I used to do 4.5km in 30 minutes (averaging 9km an hour). If you’re fitter, go faster, and if you can’t quite go that fast, go a little bit slower. The important thing is that you go at a constant speed for 30 minutes.
- Wednesday: (Only start doing the Wednesday run after a month or so, once you’ve built up an initial level of fitness.) This will be the HIIT session of the week, and I used to go for 15 minutes and alternate between 0km/h and 15km/h. If you don’t recall the protocol, it’s either 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off, or 40 seconds on and 20 seconds off. In this case, you’d go at 15km/h for 40 seconds, and then stop running entirely for 20 seconds. Repeat for 15 minutes.
- Friday: This is just a repeat of Monday, except it’s a tad bit slower. Aim for 30 minutes again, but reduce your speed by around 1km/h. So if you were running at 9km/h on Monday, you’d go at 8km/h on Friday.
And that’s the exact running for weight loss program I created and followed back in the day.
If you’re currently doing no exercise at all, I can almost guarantee that if you follow something like the plan listed above and exercise at least 3 times a week, you will lose weight.
Not “maybe”, not “probably”, but “will” lose weight.