Q: Should I be doing long runs or walks to lose weight? Angela S.
A: Long cardiovascular workouts have long been glamorized in the media and fitness magazines as the optimum exercise for weight loss. Many people set a goal to run a marathon or triathlon to increase their motivation to exercise in the weight loss cycle. Performance goals, such as running a marathon, have always been a very effective way to create compliance with an exercise regimen. The challenge is that long cardio workouts, or steady state cardio (when your heart rate remains the same throughout the workout), may be the most ineffective way to lose body fat and increase metabolism. It’s not the answer for someone trying to decrease total body weight.
Weight loss is fairly simple – you just need to burn more calories than you’re taking in. Maintaining your weight isn’t too complicated, either – your calorie burn needs to equal your calorie intake. The key to losing or maintaining weight is pretty much the same: you want your metabolism to be as high as possible. What drives your metabolism? The amount of lean muscle on your body. So you’re going to need as much lean muscle mass as possible. (Women, don’t worry, I’m not talking about becoming a body builder with bulging muscles.)
Long cardio workouts are the most ineffective exercise regiment, outside of doing nothing, for losing weight and keeping it off. The first problem is that the only way to increase calorie burn is to go longer and harder. Why would you want to go longer and harder, if you could get the same result in half the time with strength training or cardio circuits? The second problem is that it doesn’t promote the maintenance or increase of lean muscle mass. Instead, your body is becoming more efficient at the exercise over time and decreasing the demand on the muscle. The third problem is the repetitiveness of the movement, and the potential for injury that comes with it. Running or jogging is very hard on your joints and can progressively deteriorate them if the movement is not performed correctly.
Don’t get it us wrong, long cardio has a place in a good workout program. Just not as the key to getting your weight down. We often use long cardio on recovery days for our clients. It gets the blood flowing and helps aid in the recovery of the muscle tissue after performing more strenuous exercise. Long cardio workouts like running are also a very measurable to set goals and track progress.
Our recommendation when trying to lose weight is to find a complete program that includes proper counseling in nutrition, strength training and cardio. Don’t set yourself up for failure with a weight loss program by only making changes in a single area.