Many people start running hoping to lose weight. And while there might be some weight loss in the beginning, it usually tapers off unless you have a plan. There’s no one formula for dropping weight, but there are some prescriptions for running long or running hard that work well for weight loss, depending on your skill level and experience as a runner.
BEGINNER RUNNERS: GO LONG
“If a client is interested in losing weight by running, I prescribe building up distance,” says Andy Jones-Wilkins, CTS coach. “I don’t suggest doing a lot of intensity. The longer time on your feet at an aerobic pace, where you can carry on a conversation … That’s what’s going to help you burn fat.”
Start slowly adding more distance and time to your run. That might mean increasing from 30 minutes to 35 minutes or from 65 to 70. Whatever you do, don’t increase your mileage by too much, too soon. That’s a recipe for burnout, injury, fatigue and soreness that will leave you cracked and on the couch — and not dropping weight. If adding more mileage to a run seems impossible, just add an extra 5 minutes of walking to the beginning and/or the end of your current runs, and focus on adding more and more time each week at your own comfortable pace.
INTERMEDIATE RUNNER: GO FAST(ED)
“If you’re an experienced runner who’s maybe put on a few pounds as you’ve aged, I’ve had success with fasted-state runs,” says Jones-Wilkins. “That’s when runners are running on an empty stomach. I’ve found that sparks fat burning in the body sooner than it might otherwise.”
Start small, making sure this is possible for you and won’t leave you feeling lightheaded. For a week, just add 15–30 minute brisk walks or light jogs right when you wake up, before eating anything. If that goes OK, make it tougher. “If you have a small dinner the night before, wake up, don’t eat anything and head out on a run for around an hour,” says Jones-Wilkins. “You’re going to spark your fat-burning engine faster than if you had a 100- or 200-calorie breakfast that would give you more energy for the run. It’s challenging, though, because you don’t have easy energy stores to draw on when running fasted. You have to train your body and mind to deal with what it feels like, but it works great for most people.” Don’t worry if you’re walking more than you’re running at first: It can be a tough adjustment.
ADVANCED RUNNER: GO HARD
“For a more advanced runner, doing hard, fast intervals of 3 minutes or less — say 2–3 minutes at 90% effort with a few minutes of rest in between — will really light a fire for fat burning,” says Jones-Wilkins.
Any interval set will start torching fat, but a common one is 3-minute repeats — and it’s easier than remembering a complicated set. In an hour run, start with a 10-minute warmup, then hit 10 sets of 3-minute hard efforts (around 85–90% max heart rate) with a minute of rest between. Use hills if you have trouble keeping the pace hard, and don’t forget to cool down for at least 10 minutes. You can also combine this with the tip for intermediate runners by increasing your cool down. “One trick I found in that regard is to do 6 sets of 3 minutes hard, then do a long 2–4 mile cool down of relaxed running after,” adds Jones-Wilkins. “That has the same effect of running on an empty stomach, that long cool down.”