Should I Be Running to Effectively Lose Fat?
Tom Forrest Senior Trainer
New Year is fast approaching, and if the usual trend is anything to go by, January will bring with it a host people getting into fitness for the first time (or returning to it after some time away). This is great, and I would encourage it 100%. However, there is another trend I always notice, each and every year, no matter what gym I train at. The first thing a lot of these new comers do? And, to be honest, it’s the same thing a lot of longer term members do as well. They head straight for the treadmill!
I understand why this is. Running is simple. It burns calories, and is an easy place to start for most people due to the fact they’ve done it before (even if just as a child). This can give a greater sense of confidence and comfort when getting started. However, is this really the best way to start going about fat loss? Is it a truly effective method of getting into great shape? Let’s have a closer look….
Simply put, in my humble opinion, the answer is a big fat (pun intended) NO. That may sound controversial to some people, in particular the cardio lovers out there, but I should be clear about one thing. I’m not saying don’t run. Far from it, running can be a great method in assisting fat loss. But is it the most effective? Or is running alone enough? Absolutely not. And it’s certainly not the place I’d recommend a gym newbie starting.
A lot of people will turn up to the gym and do cardio. Followed by cardio. And after that? More cardio. They’ll sit on the bike for 20 mins, then the cross trainer, then the treadmill. 20-30 mins on each, a nice steady pace, workout done and home. Ask them what their goal is, and the majority will say “I want to lose weight” (probably the most common goal you hear in the industry). By weight, I should clarify, they usually mean body fat as opposed to pure body weight (there’s a big difference). The logic of course makes sense. If you run, you are burning calories. In turn, you should burn body fat. Yes, this works. But you have to consider this – a lot of people simply don’t find going to the gym fun. It’s a chore. You want to spend as little time there as possible. And the way to do that? You need to be result focused, and need to base your training around most effectively hitting those results. A nice, streamlined programme that you can go in, get done, and get out. Is running for 30 minutes going to burn calories? Yes. Is it the most efficient way of burning fat in a programme focused purely on that? Not at all.
So what is? And where should you start? Well before you even consider running, there are some preparations you should take and some things to consider, especially if overweight and starting a fitness journey. Every step you take when running, you are placing stress through your joints. If you are overweight already, these joints and structures are already under great stress every day. You don’t want to add to this by jumping straight on the treadmill. You need to prepare your body for the extra stress, and lifting weights is a fantastic and safe way to do this. Yes, it’s technically harder and will take some getting used to in itself. But that’s why we have fitness professionals. We can show you safe and effective technique. Use weights to build strength around these structures that come under strain when running, and improve aspects like joint strength and bone density. After this you can start to think about the addition of running.
There are a lot of benefits to lifting weights (I won’t list them all here). In regards to fat loss directly, people forget you are still burning calories when lifting. Additionally, don’t forget the that adding a bit of muscle will speed up your metabolism (simply put, your body will begin to burn more calories when in a state of rest). It’s a simple way of burning some fat, and isn’t going to take you hours in the gym. Lifting weights is also going to mean it’s more likely actual fat you are losing, rather than burning muscle. And the routine can be as easy as this; go in, warm up, lift some weights, chuck some cardio in at the end (preferably HIIT), and leave. It’s a simple programme, but most importantly it’s efficient AND IT WORKS!
One final point worth raising is the body shape you are actually after. With all due respect to marathon runners, I have never had a client bring me a picture of one and say they want a body like that. You need to consider the look you want when starting to run. If you don’t want to look like a runner, don’t train like them! I have, however, had people coming to me wanting to “lose fat and get a perky bum”, presenting a picture of some celeb or fitness model. Guess how I will get them to train? That’s right, exactly like the person they wish to look like. And usually, believe it or not, this involves way more weights than it does running.
Ultimately, the purpose of this article is to inform those unsure that you shouldn’t feel you need to run because you’ve been told it’s the way to start losing body fat. If you enjoy running, run. If the end goal of your training is a marathon, or to be a faster runner, then yes. Run. But, if you are just looking to burn fat, and in particular if you hate running, then simply don’t do it. Get someone to show how to lift weights properly, and watch the body fat drop that way. Then maybe consider adding running as a supplement to the programme. The key thing to always remember before you start running though – you don’t need to run to lose fat, you need to lose fat to run!!
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