Thursday, September 13, 2012

Running to Lose Weight

Many people get into running for a simple reason: They want to lose weight, and what a great way to slim down. For most people, especially if you are a few pounds overweight, running is a great way to shed some pounds. But before you take on too much running, you need to remember some important constraints that you'll face as a new runner.

Tip 1: Give Yourself Time to Adapt

First, the ligaments, tendons and bones will adapt more slowly to running than your cardiovascular system. By running just three or four days a week for three weeks, you can get to the point where your 2-mile or 3-mile runs start to feel easier. You may want to run faster. Resist that urge.
It takes weeks for your "structural body" to catch up to your "metabolic body." Said another way, you can build your engine—your heart and lungs—faster than your can build your chassis­—your bones, tendons and ligaments.

Find all the information you need to help fuel your body for optimal performance before, during, and after training. Get nutrition tips, training tips – and more.
More: What Happens to Your Body on a 30-Minute Run

Tip 2: Become a Consistent Runner

Second, you should take a long-term approach to running. Commit to running regularly—say every other day—for the next three months, not just the next three weeks.
Running will give you a great deal back in many ways. You'll see improvements in elements as diverse as self-esteem and attitude to practical benefits like more energy during your workday. But this is only true for the person who fully becomes a runner, not someone who runs once a week.
More: 27 Ways to Run Better
Back to the main question: What if you want to start running to lose weight?

Tip 3: Follow a Run/Walk Program to Get Started

You should be able to shed some pounds easily if you follow a regimented program, ideally starting with a run/walk program (where you run for a given amount of time, then walk, then run again). I really like run/walk programs for people trying to lose weight because it keeps you moving for a longer period of time. You may work out for 30 to 40 minutes or even an hour with a run/walk program, whereas with a run-only program, you might not be able to go a full 20 minutes.
More: Run-Walk-Run Programs
If your goal with running is weight loss, then you are—at least in the beginning—better served with longer workouts at lower intensities.

Tip 4:

Add Strength and Intensity Gradually
The next thing to consider after you have some run/walk work under your belt (say eight weeks) is to move to some general strength and mobility work in addition to your run/walk program. This could be simple exercises like push-ups and body squats. Also, plank/pedestal exercises are great to improve your core strength. 
More: Strength Train to Improve Running Economy

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Strength training is important at this junction because you will soon want to move to running-only (no walking) workouts. But before you do, you need to make sure that all of the bones, tendons and ligaments can handle not only more minutes running, but also some minutes of faster running. 
This is a great time to work with a personal trainer. If you're strapped for cash, no worries, you'll only need this person for a few weeks, and you can continue to do their workouts once you enter the next phase of your training. 
As you've probably guessed, another great thing about this phase is that between the run/walk and general strength, you're spending more time working out each week than you did before.

Tip 5: How to Continue Losing Weight
If you want to continue losing weight on a running program, then you need to keep increasing the volume, or how far or long you run. The body is very cautious about fat loss. While those first few pounds may have come off easily, eventually, a 20-minute run isn't going to keep you losing weight at the rate it once did. 
But, now you're ready for more running. And it's a great time to sign up for a 5K or even a 10K, and follow a training program. You're fit from the run/walk program, and you're strong from the general strength and mobility program. 

Tip 6: Be Smart About Progression
The one problem with this phase in your training is the desire to run faster. No doubt you're thinking, "If I run harder or faster, won't I burn more calories?" 
The answer is yes, but the problem is that your risk of injury goes up when you attempt to run faster. This is why I think it's important to work with a coach (or a personal trainer, if they have a sound foundation in running training methodology). A coach can help you find that fine line between running a controlled, challenging pace in a workout, but not crossing the line into an area that will lead to injury.
The same thing is true about making big jumps in mileage. You might think, "If I'm losing a pound a week at 30 miles a week, then I should try to run 45 miles a week and maybe I'd drop two pounds a week." 
You need to be cautious when bumping up your mileage. Can you handle one week at a new level? Probably. But can you handle two weeks, plus faster workouts? Probably not. Again, a coach can walk you through the correct next steps in your training, and prevent you from taking the wrong next steps.
Bottom line is that running is a great way to lose weight. All you need to do is be patient, knowing this is a journey of weeks and months. If you're patient, you'll see good results from your running efforts.
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Coach Jay Johnson works with runners of all ages and abilities. A former collegiate coach at the University of Colorado, he's coached U.S. national champions, high school athletes and adult runners. Read his blog at, follow him on Twitter @coachjayjohnson, or message him on Facebook.

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