Why do you run? To get in better shape? To maintain your fitness level? To get faster and stronger and achieve better better and better results? Or maybe to lose those extra pounds? There are so many people who have been running for several years to lose weight but haven’t succeeded to lose all extra pounds. Are you among them? Do you know why running alone isn’t enough? In this article we reveal why faster running and HIIT running sessions are better for your overall performance as well as for losing those last stubborn pounds.
If you have decided to start running to shift pounds, but you haven’t lost much weight during this time, don’t feel bad and remember that you’re not alone. Visit the starting line of any marathon or running event and you’ll see that runners come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, from those ultra-skinny to those packing extra pounds. We can’t all have pros’ body, after all. So what’s the reason to this?
Sadly, while running does burn lots of calories, it often falls short when it comes to losing fat. Our body is a fascinating machine and it adapts fast to the demands you place on it. And this is not all, run your favorite five-mile route often enough and your muscles will learn how to run the distance more efficiently and using less energy, meaning you’ll burn less calories a mile. Energy efficiency is, of course, great news if your goals are performance-orientated, but not excellent if your main goal is to lose fat fast.
Many women take up running to lose fat as fast as possible, and for a long time believe this would be the solution to their weight issues. They often experience their size to fluctuate considerably over a couple of years, however sooner or later understand that regular running alone doesn’t make them slim. Distance running helps them maintain a happier and healthier lifestyle where dropping pounds gets achievable, however the weight loss tends to come when you also start doing high intensity exercise like interval work, kettle bells and other weights, and bootcamp classes. This is proved by science: high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the most efficient way to lose excess body fat, but plenty of academics still ascertain that steady-state running in the fat-burning zone will help runners sculpt leaner body. Confused? We hear you! To settle this issue once and for all, we reviewed the science and talked to experts to decode the runner’s secret to losing fat.
Steady-state running in the fat-burning zone
Let’s begin with good news. The fat-burning workout zone – about 59-64% of VO2max, or a steady but not intense pace – isn’t a cardio sweet spot created by the people who don’t like exercising at high intensities. It does exist for real. Researchers from Birmingham University’s Human Performance Laboratory found out that fat is the major source of fuel during low-intensity exercise.
The scientists suggest that fat oxidation (or fat burning) rates steadily increased when cycling participants exercised above 40% of VO2max. However, fat oxidation rates also dropped when workout intensity levels rose above an average of 89% of VO2max, which roughly corresponds to 10k pace.
What do the results tell us? At lower intensities – during, for instance, a Sunday steady run – your body will get a larger percentage of its calories from fat but, at higher intensities – during a 5k time trial, for example – it will get fuel from stored carbohydrate. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that you will drop pounds because some of the fat-burning work is undone after you run.
After exercising at moderate intensity, few of the food calories you eat will be used to replenish your muscle glycogen (or muscle carbohydrate) stores, because you didn’t tap deeply into those stores during the workout. Instead, calories will be used to replenish the fat stores you used. On the other hand, after a workout at high intensity, many of the food calories you take in will be used to replenish your depleted muscle glycogen stores and relatively few calories will be used to replenish fat stores. You might even continue to burn fat after a high intensity workout, which we’ll discuss later.
The hormone conundrum
Long and slow distance runs hinder winning the weight loss wars due to hormone levels. It’s been discovered that long-duration cardiovascular exercise creates a large amount of the stress hormone, cortisol, which is released both during and after exercise.
The best way to burn fat is to increase your body’s production of anabolic hormone levels, such as testosterone and the human growth hormone. Unfortunately, long aerobic workout results in oxidative stress and negatively affects hormone levels by boosting the production of cortisol and decreasing the functionality of the immune system. This of course isn’t good news for marathon queens because cortisol triggers fat storage around the stomach and puts the body into a catabolic state, leading to the body losing lean muscle tissue and, as a result, its metabolic rate slows down.
However, there are some legitimate benefits of runs at a leisure-like pace. Aerobic exercise will decrease high blood pressure, reduce obesity, visceral fat and it’s a good first step for those who are new to exercising. There’s still hope for long runs. After all, the world isn’t packed with overweight marathon runners. What’s important is to follow the fool-proof formula for losing fat – i.e. eat less calories than you’re burning.
Interestingly, research shows that aerobic exercise at a moderate intensity can decrease appetite more than non-aerobic sessions like weight-lifting. A study in the American Physiological Society journal discovered that running hard on a treadmill for more than 60 minutes can lead to a feeling less hungry. During the experiment, researchers found out that the runners had experienced an appetite-suppressing hormonal change–the run had caused their ghrelin levels to decrease and peptide YY levels to increase, which means that food held little appeal for the rest of the day. This is great news for all who are partial to a post-workout biscuit or two.
Interval running is a type of high-intensity training (HIIT), which is the fitness buzzword of the year. It made it to the top of the list of 2014 fitness trends published by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is being adopted by all people around the world who like exercise. And if you have a natural need for speed, there are great chances that you’re already doing HIIT sessions – bursts of exercise performed at 80-95% maximal heart rate (MHR) followed by active rest periods at 40-50% MHR, or speed efforts teamed with active recovery. The benefits of this workout approach are huge, especially for runners with weight loss goals.
Even though study results are largely based on cycling test, the science is also relevant to runners. In a pioneering study, researchers from McMaster University in Canada found out that cycling at top-speed for 20-30 second intervals, for a total of 2-3 minutes, could be as effective as 90-120 minutes of continuously steady pedaling. After testing two groups – one that had completed five hours of workout per week (endurance runners) and another that had done only six to nine minutes (the HIIT exercisers) – the scientists discovered the HIIT exercisers had the same fitness boost (higher numbers of mitochondria) as the endurance runners.
Another study by researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia found out that women lost an average of 10.5% of their fat mass in 15 weeks by doing 20-minute rides consisting of 8-second cycle sprints three times a week.
Continue burning calories after completing workout
It’s no surprise then that HIIT training is great news for weight loss fans who don’t have time or don’t enjoy running for hours and hours. According to the ACSM, by increasing the intensity of running to between 70-95% of MHR, you don’t need to do as much of it. To say it differently, fast running burns more total calories than slow running and speed sessions also stimulate a post-exercise afterburn of calories.
The result of HIIT is an increase in excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which leads to a heightened caloric expenditure, and this means that you’ll burn more calories after running and lose more weight in total. The reason lies here: your body uses energy replenishing oxygen stores, eliminating lactate from the muscles and restoring body temperature after a hard training session. What is more, the latest studies suggest that EPOC accounts for somewhere between 6-15% of the total caloric cost of a training session. A quick sum shows that a runner who burns 1,000 calories during a speed session will burn about another 100 calories in the resting hours after completing workout. In fact, research from the University of New Mexico reveals that this type of workout will raise your rest metabolic rate and continue to burn calories for at least two hours after your training session. So, high-intensity interval running is a winner in anyone’s weight loss book.
Combining steady runs and interval sessions
So you want to continue plodding? Well, that’s okay – to be sincere, nothing gets the heart pumping as much as a good run and all forms of running are a good way to shedding pounds.
A study by the medical College of Wisconsin and VA Medical Centre discovered that treadmill running burns about 705-865 calories an hour, while the stepper, bike, cross-trainer, and rower all burn at least 100 calories less.
But if you really want to shed stubborn pounds, a mixture of slow runs and HIIT sessions is probably best – not just for your body but also for your performance. Long distance running at a slow pace forms the foundation of any training plan and is crucial for boosting oxygen and energy efficiency. High intensity speed sessions, on the other hand, are great fat burners that also develop the fast twitch muscle fibers that will increase your race pace – which benefits even marathon runners.
There’s no doubt that speed sessions burn more fat per unit of time and is more efficient, but that doesn’t mean that slow cardio has no place in the mix. To allow the body to continue performing, HIIT shouldn’t be done every day and slow distance runs are in fact a perfect form of cardio for low-intensity days or beginners who aren’t yet conditioned for sprint training. The bottom line – combine slow and fast sessions and you’ll do just fine.
HIIT sessions for losing fat fast
A study from the University of Copenhagen shows that the key to efficient running on a time-limited schedule is to follow the 10-20-30 protocol. As an added bonus, this speed session also boasts the fat-blasting effects of high intensity interval training.
Try it: Perform a 1K warm-up and then do 3-4 blocks of running separated by two minutes’ rest. Each block consists of five consecutive one-minute intervals divided into 30, 20 and 10 seconds of running at a (in sequence) low, moderate and all-out pace.
Tabata is a HIIT system introduced by scientist, Professor Izumi Tabata. The formula for a Tabata session, including 20 seconds of intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest repeated eight times, couldn’t be more time-efficient as the fat-burning workout takes a time-friendly total of four minutes to complete!
Try: Run to a long and flat road that is about 1K away. Sprint along the road for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat eight times, take a one-minute recovery and then run home slowly.
LIMIT REST PERIODS
Research suggests that decreasing the rest periods between fast efforts will rev up the intensity of a workout, as your heart rate is still high when the next interval starts. This is great for fat loss and also teaches you to run hard when feeling fatigued.
Try it: Start with a 400m sprint and then rest for four minutes. Then perform a 300m sprint and rest for three minutes. Continue with a 200m sprint and two minutes rest, and finish with a 100m sprint. Rest for one minute and repeat three times.
How much pounds do you want to lose?
- I want to lose 3+ stone
You want to lose several stone? Begin by doing a walk/jog routine on a treadmill to reduce the impact on your knees. If you haven’t run in years, set a realistic and measurable goal such as running three miles non-stop in six weeks. Keep in mind that running is only part of a weight loss plan – combine it with a healthy diet and don’t carbo load just because you’re working out.
- I want to lose 1–2 stone
If you’ve only a few of stone to lose, be patient – regular training is going to be far more beneficial than hammering it for two weeks and burning out. Little and often is the secret to long-term weight loss. Add some variety to your training – tempo runs, intervals, and steady sessions. Find friends to train with to motivate you for the long runs.
- I want to lose a few pounds
If you’re already in fairly good shape but can’t lose stubborn pounds, join a club or get a coach to structure your exercise. It’s always the last stone that’s the most tricky to lose. As you get fitter, combine slow runs with some HIIT work and add strength or cross-training into the blend. Be aware of how your diet affects your training.