Why Running is Not the Only (Or the Best) Way to Lose Weight

running

It blows my mind how many exercise newbies I meet that think that running is the only way to lose weight.

They’ll tell me about their most recent two, three, or five mile run at a 10:30 or slower pace, excited and obviously proud of their achievement. But when they ask me how much I run and I reply with “never,” their jaw nearly drops to the floor.

“How can you keep in shape without running?” they’ll ask me, clearly dumbfounded.

“Easy,” I’ll tell them. “I do everything but run. Because running is not the only—nor necessarily the best—way to get in shape.”

Also, I absolutely hate any sort of distance running. So there’s that.

Why I hate running

I have always hated to run. When my high school basketball coach suggested I join the school’s cross country team, I could not imagine a worse torture. And though I can walk for hours upon end, I have never experienced the “runner’s high” or come up with creative, brilliant ideas while running like so many creative, natural runners say they do.

And just to clarify—when I’m talking about running here, I’m talking about long, steady-state runs of a mile or more. I do enjoy and promote sprinting, which offers all the same benefits of HIIT.

Every time I try and go for a run, here’s what happens:

  • I start getting bored out of my mind and look at the clock after about 60 seconds of running
  • My left shoulder starts hurting from bouncing around on the pavement, and can’t stop thinking about it or trying to shove it back into place
  • I begin to obsess over every little thing—my headphone cord hitting my arm after every stride, my shirt laying a certain way, my hair being in my face, etc.
  • I look at my pace, wondering how anyone could ever possibly run a 4:30 mile (I average 7:00 or 7:30)
  • I look at the clock again, averaging a peek about every 30 seconds and wondering how time could possibly move so slowly

You get the drift.

So that’s why, whenever someone tells me they’re running to lose weight, or to get in better shape, I ask them if they actually like to run.

And some people do. But some people hate it, just like me, and only do it because they think it’s the best way to lose weight. So that’s why I wanted to bust the myth that running is the only way to get in shape once and for all.

Here are five reasons why running is not the only—or the best—way to lose weight:

1. If you hate it, you’re not going to do it

Four or five years ago, when running was my only form of exercise, I’d use almost any excuse possible not to do it. Raining? I’d skip it. Sore? No way I was going running. Under 40 degrees? Brr, I’ll stay inside!

So if you’re one of those people who also hates running but try and force yourself to do it anyway, here’s my advice: stop.

Because the truth is that the very best form of exercise is the one you’ll actually do. And if you hate to run, you’re probably not going to do it as often as you should.

If you like the idea of running, but absolutely hate to jog, try joining a sport where running is involved—find an adult soccer team, do some parkour, play tennis with a friend—anything where the main focus is on the game, not the act of running itself.

2. It takes a lot of time

One of the most common excuses people make for not working out is that they simply don’t have the time for it.

And the biggest problem with running is that unless you’re doing sprints, it just plain takes a lot of time. The worst thing about it is that since most people aim to progress in their running workouts by running longer, not faster, the only way to continue to get better is to add more time—time that most people aren’t willing to commit to.

So not only is it easy to plateau very quickly with running—if you only have a half hour three times a week to devote to running, your body is going to get used to the workload pretty quickly—it’s also easy to make excuses not to run.

Because the longer your workout takes, the less likely you are to actually work out. And that’s certainly not going to help you lose weight any time soon.

3. It’s not efficient

Another reason running isn’t the best way to lose weight is that if you’re just hitting the pavement or a treadmill for a steady 30 minutes or so, you’re not burning the maximum amount of fat and calories possible. In fact, unless you’re sprinting, running is an incredibly inefficient form of exercise.

The problem with running—and any steady-state form of cardio—is that the more you do it, the more efficient your body becomes at burning fat. But the more efficient your body becomes, the less energy it has to expend for a given amount of activity, meaning that if you want to continue to lose weight, you’ll have to work out longer and longer to continue to make progress.

On the other hand, research shows you can make more progress in just 15 minutes of HIIT than you can running for an entire hour. 

HIIT will improve your VO2 max, too: according to a 2011 study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting, just two weeks of HIIT improves your aerobic capacity as much as six to eight weeks of endurance training.

4. It limits maximum calorie burn

Running at a steady pace for an extended period of time does burn quite a few calories—a half an hour of running can burn anywhere in the realm of 300 to 500 calories, depending on your weight and how fast you run (hint: the faster you run, the more calories you burn). But when you’re done with your run, that’s it for the calorie burn—your metabolism goes back to what it was before you started your run.

Of course, this is true with any form of steady state cardio—whether you’re running, cycling, rowing or even walking. If you stay at the same pace for an extended period of time, you’re going to limit your calorie burning to only the time you’re spending working out.

Compare that to HIIT training, where you can achieve maximum calorie burn by not only burning a lot of calories during your workout, but also boosting your metabolism afterwards—meaning you will burn more calories for up to 24 to 48 hours after your workout is complete. It’s the intensity of your workout, not the overall time, that helps you burn the most amount of calories and speed up your weight loss efforts.

5. It makes you hungry

If you’ve ever known someone who has trained for a marathon (or have trained for one yourself), and wondered why he or she more likely than not ended up gaining weight rather than losing it during their intense training, there’s a very simple answer: exercising for long periods of time makes you hungry.

When you start moving more and for longer periods of time than your body is used to, it naturally wants to replace all those calories you lost during your training with more food.

The only problem? Most people think that they’re burning more calories than they actually are and become so hungry all the time that unless they’re diligent about tracking their calorie intake, they end up not losing any weight (or even gaining more weight) despite their extra training.

On the other hand, because interval training is so short, it doesn’t cause the same extreme hunger that endurance training usually results in.

So if your goal is weight loss, you’re better off keeping your workouts shorter and more intense rather than longer and steadier. Because not only is HIIT more efficient, less time consuming, and metabolism-boosting, it also can help keep your appetite at bay—which often is the difference between successful weight loss and a frustrating plateau.

Image credit: paulmaguire / 123RF Stock Photo

22 thoughts on “Why Running is Not the Only (Or the Best) Way to Lose Weight”

  1. Quite right! I gave up running years ago, and I’m leaner and fitter now than I ever was while I was attempting to match my brother’s 5-10 miles a day. I use a mixture of HIIT and “signaling” (variable compound exercises targeting a specific area over a day or so – the key being “variable”), which are two sides of the same coin. Nowadays, I never exceed 12 reps a set! What’s more, it’s fun looking for ways to make exercises harder so you can keep to max. 12 reps a set – if I make it to 15 (apart from warm-up sets, of course), I know I need to find something harder.

    Once a week, I blast the bod with heavier weights, keeping reps down to 4-6 per set. Know what? It’s enough! Too much heavy work makes Jack a dull boy (not to mention tired, achy, tetchy etc.). The variety of my workouts means I usually enjoy them. And for long-distance stuff? I walk the dog up and down hills. And I do mean “walk” (okay, I occasionally run down – but not up!). Final piece of advice: get yourself some Vibram “Five Fingers”. They’ll transform the way you walk, and the way you use your core while walking!

    Keep up the great work! I thoroughly enjoy your articles.

    Cheers,
    Bill (in Scotland)

  2. I hear you. I trained for and ran a 1/2 marathon a few years ago. I undertook it because I thought it might make me finally enjoy running – it did not work. (I did the 1/2 marathon, but I still don’t enjoy running.) During my 6 months of training, running 5+ days a week up to 10 miles a run, the most I lost was about 3 pounds overall – basically the same 3 lbs I always fluctuate! (Although I didn’t really do it to loose weight, it was the challenge.)

    I have found weight training and short cardio HIIT training works to work much better for me. When I do cardio, generally I do a HIIT program on the treadmill for under 30 minutes, a jump rope / jumping jacks routine for about 30 minutes, or crossfit type routine. (I do still spin for 45 – 60 minutes because I enjoy the class.) Much less time involved with many more benefits.

    • Wow, what an interesting experience, Laura. I’m so glad to hear you’ve found something you like better! And I also think spin is pretty fun, despite how long it is. Must be the music and pumped up atmosphere 🙂

  3. I’ve been a distance runner for 7+ years (I run half marathons and marathons, and I love it, but I know it’s not a weight loss tool). I’ve found that you can have the best of both – HIIT has been a great supplement to my running. The short bursts of intensity from HIIT help with my ability to run faster for shorter distances. I also play roller derby, and as a jammer you have to be able to burst quickly through the pack and make quick movements laterally. HIIT helps a lot with that, too! While I don’t think running is the be-all, end-all by any means as far as fitness goes, nor should it be used as the primary means of cardio for weight loss, I think running and HIIT can be friends. 😉

    Love your posts!

    • I totally agree that running CAN be a great supplement to HIIT and other forms of training – as long as you enjoy it! I just see way too many people torturing themselves with running when they could be doing a million other things (including roller derby!) to keep fit. If you enjoy running though, by all means continue doing it!

  4. Couldn’t agree more Krista. Especially about the BORING part. I have also hear running is brutal on your joints and hard on your ticker. I once met a chiropractor who said his clients who run made up the bulk of his revenue.

  5. Kara,

    I use your app and find it awesome – I’m on the lean / petite side but my body can be overly responsive to weight-lifting, in that I build muscle quickly. I find a combination of yoga, cardio and HIIT based strength training using body resistance (like your app provides) the best way for me to stay in shape.

    I have a question in relation to the above: I too find running sucks for me (sore joints, non efficient, etc). I do a 30min cardio session 4/5 times a week after strength training or yoga, always on the treadmill (occasionally elliptical but find that it’s too easy / feels like I’m cheating) – and will do intervals of fast paced walking at varying inclines with the occasional sprint thrown in.

    My concern is that walking on an incline is going to bulk up my legs, they are already athletic enough. I’ve read a lot about the debate over marathon body vs sprinters body – and while a sprinters body is awesome, I feel as though I already have the muscle and just want to slim down. What are your thoughts on the most efficient form of cardio for a 30 minute period, that will burn fat / lean me out / will not bulk muscle?

    I really enjoy your site – am super interested in your thoughts on this one.

    Thanks!

  6. I am a converted runner. Although I used to absolutely love running, especially in the rain, I never went beyond 6 miles. I remember reading that if you run after 40 you’re stupid, but if you run after 50 you’re insane. For me at least, this was true . I gave it up when I developed chronic shin splints and lower back pain, no matter what health expert I saw, or what shoes I wore. I went on to Matt Furey’s Combat Conditioning, which is all body weight exercises, and felt fantastic. My resting pulse dropped dramatically, and I looked and felt awesome. My wife used to quip that she had a 57 year old husband with a 30 year old body. Now, approaching 61 I have switched to HIIT, as taught by Krista. I get a phenomenal workout in less time, and am looking to be in the best shape ever by the first day of summer!

  7. My brother suggested I may like this website. He was totally right.
    This post actually made my day. You cann’t imagine simply how much time I had spent for this information!
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  8. Your list of why you hate running is the same exact list I’d have come up with before I even read yours. Frickin’ NAILED everything right down to the headphone cord. Thank you.

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  10. Hey I am so happy.. I came across this post.. I was so confused until now because I absolutely hate to run but really love hiit workout in gym.. Esp weight training.. Alk ladies around me are running 21km marathons.. But i am simply not motivated enough to run.. Your post gives me the boost to just chuck off running n concentrate on hiit instead

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