Running: it seems like the perfect activity to drop some unwanted pounds – right? I mean, it’s so simple– you throw on your shoes, hop out the door, and you’re off to shred fat and get ripped; –all without even having to go to the gym! Sounds almost perfect, doesn’t it? Well, sadly, although a lot of people cling to the notion that running is the best way to lose body fat, I’m here to tell you why it might be the worst way.
Now, running certainly isn’t bad, and that’s not the message here. Running is great for improving aerobic capacity and heart health (which are both VERY important- and arguably, exercise’s most important role). However, when running is utilized as the primary exercise modality for fat loss, things never really turn out as planned for these three reasons:
1) Overuse Injury
If you are running to lose weight, you probably weigh too much (going out on a limb here). If you are overweight, you are running with additional load, which will increase compressive stress on your load bearing joints and bones in the lower body. More load equals greater likelihood of overuse injuries like Achilles Tendonitis, Shin Splints, Plantar Fasciitis, and many other debilitating lower body injuries. The last thing you need when starting an exercise program is to get injured. When you’re hurt, you’re doing nothing at all– not burning any calories, and certainly not losing any body fat. Risk of injury is compounded because most overweight runners have a reduced stride length, which means greater number of ground contacts during a run. More ground contacts equal more opportunities to load the lower leg, and as a result greater risk of overuse injury.
2) Hormonal Factors
Steady-state, longer duration cardio (like running) results in hormonal shifts that do more to favor the breakdown of muscle tissue, rather than fat. Increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone that preserves fat and breaks down muscle tissue) and reduced levels of growth hormone, testosterone, and epinephrine (fat burning, muscle preserving hormones) result in less than desirable changes to body composition. Remember, the role of exercise in fat loss is to burn fat and preserve muscle. Running, at least as practiced by most beginners, results in the opposite.
3) Lower Resting Metabolism
As a result of the hormonal factors mentioned above, muscle tissue will be lost. Muscle tissue aids in keeping resting metabolism high (and we burn fat mostly AT REST). Compounding the hormonally-influenced loss of muscle, is the fact that exercise programs that are cardio-only (with no strength training) also burn muscle tissue. Finally, since the running program will likely result in some amount of calorie deficit, protein turnover rates (basically building up what’s been broken down) will further favor loss of muscle. Add all three of these together and you’ve successfully slowed your metabolism.
Should You Hang Up Your Shoes?
Again, this is not an indictment of running as a mode of exercise for health and fitness. However, if you’re looking to use running to drop weight (specifically body fat), you will find pretty quickly how ineffective it really is. Don’t fall victim to the misconception that running is great for fat loss.
Don’t just train hard – train smart!