Running has always been a staple of fat loss, and for good reason: it works! You can burn from 8.5 to 11 calories per minute depending on your pace. That’s pretty good bang for your buck. So when we want to burn fat or drop a few pounds most of us turn to the treadmill or the great outdoors.
In fact, the traditional advice for fat loss is to do long, slow, steady-state cardio. Stay in the “fat-burning” zone! Sounds like good advice, but why is it then people can spend countless hours on the treadmill doing the slow cardio grind and never seem to get the results they want? The thing about running is that it’s tried-and-tested: you want to lose weight, you run and run and run and run… The more you run, the more weight you lose, right?
The only problem with this is that the body adapts really well, really quickly. In other words, initially you drop the pounds pretty easily, but as your body adapts you hit a plateau. The good news is that your endurance has increased, the bad news is that you need to keep doing longer and longer distances to burn the same amount of calories. Not only that, but doing hours of endurance exercise is not going to give you the toned body composition you want.
So wouldn’t it be great if you could bust past those plateaus, burn more fat while running and get toned too? Is that even possible? Turns out, it is. Here’s how to make your running much more effective and turn you into a fat-burning machine.
When it comes to fat loss it’s more about intensity than distance. Rather than sticking to the long, slow, steady-state running, add some high-intensity intervals to the mix. Here’s how: jog at your normal pace for 60 seconds, then up the intensity for 30 seconds. The level of intensity you want to reach is where you’re out of breath, but still able to maintain the intensity for those 30 seconds. Repeat for 25 minutes or as your fitness levels allow. Studies have shown that high-intensity intervals will also burn more fat after your workout.
If you’re used to running on flat ground, then hit the hills to burn more calories. For every degree of incline, you get about a 10 percent increase in total calories burnt, so a gentle hill will burn about 50 percent more calories. Run up the hill at a high intensity for 10 – 30 seconds, jog back down and take a 30 – 60 second rest. Repeat 4 – 12 times or as your fitness levels alow. If you’re in the gym, set the treadmill to a 5 percent incline for the run, then reset for the jog back. Not only is this going to burn a lot more fat, but you’ll also be hitting your glutes a lot harder.
There’s a reason why these guys are so popular in the sporting world – love them or hate them they work! You’ll torch fat and build explosive speed and agility; adding shuttle runs to your cardio sessions is a great way to incorporate high intensity training.
So you’ve hit the hills, but now you’re looking for a new challenge? Maybe it’s time to take it to the stairs. Stair running is one of the best fat burning and overall conditioning exercises you can do. Pretty simple: run up the stairs and then do a slow-jog / trot back down to recover. Obviously you need to be very careful when doing this exercise! If you thought hill runs were bad, this exercise will kick your butt… it hits the glutes much harder, so expect to get an even perkier posterior doing these.
Strength and resistance training gives you more muscle and because muscle burns fat even while you’re resting, the more muscle you have the more fat you burn at rest. That’s right, you actually increase your metabolism. Not only that, if you spend about 20 minutes doing strength training, you will use up your glycogen stores (the energy from carbs) which means when you follow that with a run you’ll be burning the fat instead. Here’s a tip: stick to compound exercises with free weights and do super-slow reps – the compound exercises use more muscles than machines and the slow reps have been shown to increase strength by 50 percent.
Remember how quickly the body adapts to exercise? So the key for fat loss is to keep it guessing and the best way to do this is to add variety to your workouts. So if you’ve been doing high-intensity interval training, throw in a longer run at lower intensity once a week. If you’re following a strength training program, then vary the exercises, the reps and the intensity. You can even try different high-intensity protocols. The idea is to keep your body from adapting, so add in something new every few weeks and experiment to see what works for you.
Not in the gym? No problem, use your environment. You can set up your own circuit, for e.g. use the first bench you see for tricep dips, the next for pushups, the next for step ups.
Studies have shown that running before you eat can actually help you burn more fat. A University of Texas study found that eating prior to exercise substantially reduced fat metabolism for the duration of the workout. Another study by the University of Glasgow found that exercising before breakfast (i.e. in a fasted state) resulted in greater fat loss and higher reductions of fat levels in the blood. In other words, if you exercise before breakfast (or in a fasted state) you’re going to burn more fat. However, if you’re doing a long, strenuous workout, you may need to replenish your glycogen stores mid-way to prevent having a poor workout – interestingly, when done during the workout it doesn’t interfere with the enhanced fat loss. Tip: a cup of black coffee may lead to greater fat loss as it stimulates your metabolism.
An interesting Japanese study found that participants who took a break in-between exercise had greater fat loss than those who did not. Instead of a solid 60 minutes of exercise, they broke it up into two 30 minute periods of exercise and a 20 minute break in-between. What this means for your workout is that you’ll have better fat-burning results if you can split it into two parts with a rest between them. So, for example, you could start off your workout using our earlier tip of strength training first, followed by a 20 minute break, and then hit the road for 30 minutes of high-intensity intervals.
Why not sprinkle some of these tips into your workouts and see what a difference they make. Remember, exercise is only part of the picture, as the saying goes: you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. So make sure you stick to healthy eating, get adequate sleep and take time to relax.