By Jason Fitzgerald
Wouldn’t it be great if every runner were at his or her ideal weight? We’d all look and feel better, and race faster.
Being at your healthy, ideal weight would certainly make you a faster runner. In fact, a study completed in 2007 found that for every percentage increase in body mass, it cost study participants an extra 1.4 percent in metabolic energy to propel themselves forward. Of course, that’s not a direct comparison for runners since they weren’t running a race, time trial or other maximum effort.
But imagine how much better you’d feel training for a marathon if you could conserve 1.4 percent (or more) energy? You’d be able to use that energy in the final miles instead of hitting the infamous wall.
Finding and safely getting to your ideal weight should then be a top goal for every runner. Here are three of the best ways to structure your running program to burn fat and lose weight.
Fat Burner #1: Longer Workouts
It’s a no-brainer that longer workouts burn more calories. But interestingly enough, when you run for longer than about 90 minutes, you improve your body’s ability to use fat as fuel.
The lesson? Complete a long run every week. Since these workouts are more taxing on the body, it’s a good idea to only run one every week.
Several studies have shown that the longer a subject exercised, the longer it took for their metabolic rate to return to pre-exercise levels. Even at relatively moderate exercise durations, the benefit is significant. Another study found that this “exercise after-burn” is more than doubled when exercise is increased from 30 to 45 minutes. And after 60 minutes? Metabolic rate increased by a factor of five!
Fat Burner #2: Intensity
Intense workouts torch a lot of calories, even if they don’t last very long. Since most runners work out at an easy or moderate effort for all of their runs, this is often the missing link between staying at your current weight and losing those extra pounds.
The key with intense workouts—either strength sessions in the gym or running interval workouts—is to make the hard portions very hard, and take enough recovery so you can keep going at the same intensity level.
Races run at 100 percent of your maximum effort accomplish this goal quite well, as do sprints or maximum-weight lifts in the gym. Make sure you run at least one hard workout per week, and race regularly.
A favorite to burn a lot of calories is to run a Warrior Dash. The combination of running and obstacles keeps your heart rate high and boosts the amount of energy you continue to burn after you finish.
Fat Burner #3: Frequency
How often do you run every week? Most runners fall into the 2 to 4 runs per week category, and from an advanced weight-loss perspective, that’s simply not enough.
Running more often creates more spikes in heart rate and metabolic activity, increasing the number of calories you burn on a daily basis. Increased consistency will also help you prevent injuries, run faster, and ultimately become a better runner.
Admittedly this strategy is less important than the duration and intensity of your workouts, so start with those first and then add more runs to your training schedule once you’re comfortable with them.
And of course, understand that the goal here is to get to your ideal weight, not to be underweight. Being too thin won’t help your running and can predispose you to injuries.
When you’re able to maintain a healthy weight, you’ll realize the benefits: faster race times, fewer injuries and a feeling of accomplishment.