Running can be an effective weight-loss tool if you take the right approach to it. Our 8-Week Running for Weight-Loss Program combines three key elements that are proven to yield the best results: high-intensity aerobic exercise, strength training, and a healthy, portion-controlled diet.
High-Intensity Running Workouts for Weight Loss
Studies show that a running program based on high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sheds the most fat. For example, in 2014, researchers at the University of Salzburg reported that subjects who did 57 percent of their training at high intensity for nine weeks lost more than six pounds, on average.
Others who did 68 percent of their training at low intensity lost no weight despite increasing their aerobic fitness two and a half times more than the HIIT group.
Our program (schedule below) features an eight-day workout cycle that includes three different types of high-intensity runs and one low-intensity run/walk.
Strength Training for Runners
It’s important to keep in mind that your goal shouldn’t be just to lose weight. It should be to lose fat. Running burns body fat, particularly in the abdominal region, as evidenced by changes in fat mass taken by suprailiac skinfold in runners competing in a 100K (62-mile) race.
But you’ll burn more total fat if you combine running with strength training, which increases resting metabolism and prevents the loss of muscle mass that can occur with running alone. In a 2012 study, overweight subjects who combined aerobic exercise with strength training reduced their body-fat percentages by more than twice the amount compared to others who did aerobic exercise only.
There are two strength-training sessions scheduled during each eight-day cycle in our 8-Week Running for Weight-Loss Program. By focusing on compound (multi-joint) exercises that collectively target your entire body (read: not just your legs), a heavy strength-training workout can help you not only accelerate fat loss, but also increase running speed, running economy, power output, and time to exhaustion, according to a review in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. And by performing it regularly, you can cut your overall risk of injury by a third, and your risk of overuse injuries in half.
The Running to Lose Weight Diet Plan
Some people fail to lose any weight on a running program — some even gain weight. Some of these individuals may be victims of the compensation effect: an exercise-stimulated increase in appetite and in the desire for high-calorie foods; this affects some people more than others.
To avoid negating the benefits of running by overeating and choosing unhealthy foods, be sure to adopt a healthy, portion-controlled diet at the same time you start running.
Anatomy of a Run
Our program employs a simple, two-zone intensity system: Low intensity (Li) is a pace at which you can talk comfortably, but beyond which speaking in full sentences will become difficult. If you train by heart rate, Li translates to 70 to 75 percent of maximum heart rate. Note that, if your current fitness level is low, you may need to walk initially to stay at low intensity.
High intensity (Hi) is defined by the specific structure of each workout. Whether you’re doing short intervals, long intervals, or hill repetitions, aim to complete the full session at the highest speed you can sustain for every interval or repetition without slowing down.
This means you will run shorter intervals a little faster than longer intervals. It may take a little practice to master your pacing in each workout type; that’s OK. Just keep in mind it’s better to start out a little too conservatively and finish with something left in the tank than to start out too aggressively and hit the wall.
The schedule below includes both beginner and intermediate options:
- If you haven’t exercised much lately, select the shorter options for warm-ups and cooldowns (i.e., go with 5 minutes where you see “5:00–10:00”). Do the same for steady walks/runs, and do your low-intensity efforts at a walk if necessary.
- If you’re in pretty good shape but new to running, select the longer options for warm-ups, cooldowns, and steady walks/runs, and jog your low-intensity efforts if you can do so while catching your breath and recovering enough before your next interval (if you can’t, walk these).
The interval blocks are structurally the same for everyone. If you see this, “6x(0:30Hi/1:30Li),” it means you sprint for 30 seconds at high intensity, with a minute and a half of jogging or walking after each sprint, and complete this sequence six times total.
Naturally, the fitter you are, the faster your sprints will be, and that’s what makes the interval blocks one-size-fits-all. Try to run all your intervals on flat, smooth terrain. The optimal slope for hill repetitions is a moderate six to eight percent.
Finally, note that Week 4 and Week 8 are recovery weeks. Your training load is slightly reduced (rather than increased) from the previous week to give your body a chance to recover fully. That will not only help prevent overtraining and reduce your risk of injury, but also help optimize performance and goal progress. Enjoy!