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Running For Weight Loss?

posted Apr 27, 2017, 11:57 AM by Peter Lohrmann
I recently joined a very active Facebook group for online coaches (primarily personal trainers), and a famous and controversial question was posted:

Would love to hear opinions on Running for Weight Loss.
Good or bad, and why?

There were 50+ responses, and the group was not so divided:

"Cardio is only good for Cardio"
"Running is a supplement"
"... detrimental"
"If running a miles burns 80-100 calories, I'd rather cut a slice a bread from my diet"
"... bad for your knees..."
"... our bodies were not designed for cario 

LUCKILY, there were some brighter bulbs in the bunch!

First off all, we have to clarify one aspect of the post, and we have to characterize the target audience that the question was asked to:
1) "Weight Loss" is not the same as "Fat Loss" - and MANY people need to clarify what they are actually asking for.
2) This was asked to a group of personal trainers whose primary job is to help people build muscle and burn fat.

"Weight Loss" simply means that you want to lower the number on the scale, which could mean losing both fat AND muscle.
"Fat Loss" specifically means losing fat, ideally maintaining (or gaining) muscle, and improving your body composition (body fat percentage).

Here are my thoughts on Running for Weight Loss

"This has been an interesting read - as I'm coming into the group as a running and triathlon coach. I agree with the majority of you that strength training is better for building muscle and losing weight. That being said, When I myself was weight lifting and a sprinter in college, I weighed upwards of 205 lbs, and a few years later going into my first marathon I weighed 165 - lots of muscle AND fat loss.

"I've also found for many people that running enables people to get into a habit of exercise that they don't necessarily get into when working out at a gym (personally I enjoy weight lifting even though I don't get enough of it), but not everyone does. Having a HABIT of running can easily help someone lose a bunch of weight if they're not motivated to get in the gym otherwise.

"Running being bad for your knees is nonsense. However, it's true that BAD running is bad for most of your body.

"I specifically added running-strength specific days to our studio schedule because, yes, many runners don't have the leg / hip / core strength to run properly. That workout should be part of every runners base training, and reduce in time as they progress towards a goal race. And training is different if they want to go for a 5k vs a marathon. There's a BIG difference in the demands on the body of those races.

"Strictly considering running for weight loss - yes it's good. Running for fat loss is a catch-22 - the more you run, the more efficient your body becomes and so you burn less calories at the same pace, but hopefully you can also run faster at the same heart rate, so actually still end up burning the same number of calories. It's a problem when people always run at the same pace - exact same problem as if they were always lifting the same weight in the gym - they plateau.

"Also, proper training for running is also a variety of intensities, not all long slow distance, and not all sprints. Some days hills (for leg strength), some days short sprints, sometimes longer intervals, and sometimes yes steady state slow cardio because as a runner we WANT to build up mitochondria so that we CAN be more efficient.

"Someone had mentioned that (paraphrasing) "our body isn't made for cardio like that" .... actually, the whole reason we evolved with glute muscles is so that we can run. All other mammals that run are on 4 legs, or they don't run at all (primates). Our ancient ancestors used to hunt animals by running them to exhaustion - related to the fact that their lungs are between their front and back legs, so they have limited breathing while they are running (when legs are together their rib cage collapses and they are forced to exhale) - humans lungs are not subject to the same limitation, thus we can run for a LOT longer than other animals. As a species evolved to run, if we don't sit in chairs all day putting our glutes to sleep, then we'd be more likely to be stronger and be able to run without knee pain and other wear and tear. There's no benefit to our long term health / survival to be muscular and "ripped", but to be able to travel farther on fewer calories, perhaps with limited access to food, and then still have the energy to hunt... if we lost our modern day conveniences... that would have a profound impact on our survival.

"So yeah... running correctly is good for you, running for weight loss is good, running to build muscle is bad, running for fat loss is not ideal.

"Take a look at Ryan Hall, retired professional marathon runner who started lifting weights - gained 40 lbs of muscle; clearly did not lose weight ;-) Support that running is good for weight loss, not fat loss:"

Ryan Hall gained 40lbs of muscle after he retired from running

What are your thoughts on the matter?
If you wanted to lose weight, would your first thought be to start lifting? or to start running?

Peter Lohrmann
Head Coach
Sound Training & Racing