Working out regularly provides tremendous benefits to your body and your weight-loss efforts, especially since experts suggest exercising for 60 minutes, five days a week, if you’re trying to lose weight. While running is an excellent form of exercise, you want to be careful not to overuse the same muscles and joints, which can lead to an injury and derail all your hard work.
Your body is an amazing machine. It’s designed for efficiency, meaning if you do the same thing over and over again, the process becomes easier. This applies to your running workouts too. Not only will they start to feel more effortless (even if you’re still sweating and pumping your legs), but your metabolism literally learns and reacts so that fewer calories are burned with the same exercise output.
This is where traditional “steady state” running falls short on a long-term weight-loss plan. Doing steady state cardio, such as running on the treadmill for 45 minutes at a consistent pace that’s not near maximal effort (think sprinting), helps out with weight loss.. but only initially. You can los a few pounds during the first week and then kaput! Nothing more. The reason? Within one week, your metabolism has adjusted and doesn’t need to work as hard to burn off the fat.
When All You Do Is Run
Once your body adapts, the benefit is limited. That’s why weight training is oftentimes viewed as better than “just” running for fat loss. Lifting weights impacts your metabolism by causing mini-micro tears that need to be repaired. That healing process requires energy, which means you’re burning more calories, a process that can sometimes last for nearly two days after your training session.
To put it more simply: With cardio, you can slog away for 30 minutes at a lower intensity and burn 200 calories, or you can just eat 200 fewer calories per day. It’s the same thing. With weight training (or as you’ll soon find out – sprints), that’s not the case. The calories you burn are not limited to what you do in the gym. So while a little variety might not seem like a big change to your routine, it will have a dramatic impact on transforming your body.
One of the most common weight-loss mistakes is believing that the majority of the calories you burn results from exercise. This is a dangerous misunderstanding. Simply being alive, sleeping, standing, eating, thinking, requires a tremendous amount of energy. The number of calories you burn during your workout actually pales in comparison to normal functioning and your daily activities that are not exercise based.
Exercise has many health benefits, but the type of exercise you perform will influence how many calories you burn outside of it. Running will burn calories, but sprinting or lifting weights will result in more muscle. And the more muscle you have on your body (no, not the “bulky” muscle of bodybuilders), the more calories your body burns just functioning.
Mix Things Up
Now that you know muscle is important to your overall weight-loss goals, it only makes sense that you would want to do the type of training that helps this happen in the least amount of time. So if you’re a lover of slower, longer duration cardio, I have some bad news: “Endurance” running and walking (longer duration, lower intensity) impairs strength and muscle growth. What’s more, even if you increase the intensity and run on an incline, cycling is still better for gaining muscle and burning fat.
Again, the point here is not that “running doesn’t work” or that there aren’t any benefits. This is about finding the most efficient weight-loss strategy. And if you’re short on time, you might be better served by cycling (preferably at a high intensity) as opposed to going for a longer walk or jog.
Exercise is an indisputable component of a healthy life, but it’s still stress on your body. And the demands of that stress impact your hormones, which also control your ability to lose fat. More specifically, the hormone cortisol is released when you exercise. All cortisol is not bad (despite what late-night TV and supplement ads might have you believe), but chronic stress and chronic cortisol can lead to insulin resistance which forces you to store belly fat against your best-laid plans. Research published in the journal Hormone Research found that long distance running, like that done in endurance runners, causes a sustained increase in cortisol. And this increase in cortisol for long period of times can lead to more inflammation, slower recovery, breaking down your muscle tissue, building up fat, and even harm your immune functioning.
Just as bad, if you’re suffering from too much stress, whether it’s the result of exercises for too many hours or not recovering with the right nutrition, you can harm your thyroid and lower your metabolic rate, making weight loss more difficult.
If you start running two to four hours per day and aren’t losing weight (or maybe even gaining), you might be best suited to reduce your running frequency, add some resistance training, and see what happens. Odds are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Instead of hitting the pavement seven days a week, mix up your cardio workouts as well as the duration, and you’ll begin to see results without taxing the same muscle groups. Join a bootcamp, join a martial arts class, take cardio classes like Zumba or indoor cycling, go for a bike ride, jump rope, do a fitness DVD, or swim. You’ll end up burning calories each day to help you lose weight, but you’ll also strengthen other parts of your body, which will prevent injury and make your muscles more defined. To push past your plateau, consider adding some strength training to your regimen, and when you do run, don’t forget to vary your routine with intervals and hills.
Keep in mind that it’s also important to listen to your body. Scheduling rest days every few days will help your muscles recover and grow stronger. Don’t forget to ensure your kitchen game is strong, proper gains requires some serious nutrition kung fu.
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