If you're relying solely on running for weight loss, you may be disappointed. Here's how to work out smarter to get the results you want.

By Adam Bornstein
Updated: April 03, 2019
Photo: pitchwayz/Getty Images

"My body just can't lose weight." That's the first thing I heard when I picked up the phone. Sounding frustrated and hopeless on the other end of the line, my client Sarah continued. "If you knew how hard I've been working, you'd understand. You'd know I wasn't making excuses."

Sarah first contacted me after a friend of hers had successfully lost weight through my online coaching program just six months after having a baby. I asked her to keep an open mind and walk me through everything she'd been doing in terms of diet and exercise. The problem was immediately clear: Sarah was putting in effort, but the type of effort-specifically her over-reliance on running for weight loss-wasn't the best way to lose fat and get the results she wanted.

Once Sarah understood why her approach to cardio was holding her back, we adjusted her plan and the pounds starting coming off again (seven pounds in one month, to be exact.) So to make sure your cardio training isn't the reason you're not losing weight, here are five common mistakes, plus simple solutions to get back on track. (Here, more on running for weight loss, and other cardio myths that could be holding you back.)

Running for Weight Loss Mistake No. 1: Your Workout Is Always the Same

Your body is an amazing machine. It's designed for efficiency, meaning if you do the same thing over and over again, the process becomes easier. This applies to your running workouts too. Not only will they start to feel more effortless (even if you're still sweating and pumping your legs), but your metabolism learns and reacts so that fewer calories are burned with the same exercise output.

This is where traditional "steady state" running falls short on a long-term weight-loss plan. Research conducted at the University of Tampa found that doing steady state cardio-such as running on the treadmill for 45 minutes at a consistent pace that's not near maximal effort (think sprinting)-helps with weight loss…but only initially. Subjects lost a few pounds during the first week and then kaput! Nothing more. The reason? Within one week, their metabolism had adjusted and now didn't need to work as hard to burn off the fat.

One of the biggest problems with running at a steady, moderate-intensity pace, is that the calories you burn are limited to the time you spend sweating. So once your body adapts, the benefit is limited. That's why weight training is oftentimes viewed as better than "just" running for weight loss. Lifting weights impacts your metabolism by causing mini-micro tears that need to be repaired. That healing process requires energy, which means you're burning more calories-a process that can sometimes last for nearly two days after your training session.

To put it more simply: With cardio, you can slog away for 30 minutes at a lower intensity and burn 200 calories-or you can just eat 200 fewer calories per day. It's the same thing. With weight training (or as you'll soon find out-sprints), that's not the case. The calories you burn are not limited to what you do in the gym. So while a little variety might not seem like a big change to your routine, it will have a dramatic impact on transforming your body.

Running for Weight Loss Mistake No. 2: You Go Longer, But Not Faster

One of the most important variables with any type of exercise-cardio or other-is intensity. If you look at the average person who runs, they pick a pace that they can maintain for a long duration. Think about it: When you jump on a treadmill, elliptical, or bike, you're starting with the intent to be there for a while. Whether it's 30 minutes or an hour, your goal is to push at a pace you can sustain, work hard, feel tired, and then go home. While this is great for endurance, it's not so great for fat loss. (Because you know you're wondering: Which is better, the elliptical or treadmill?)

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association followed the exercise habits of more than 34,000 women and concluded that it took about an hour a day of moderate exercise (walking at 3mph) to maintain weight. Notice, that's not weight loss. And three miles per hour is not very fast.

Now imagine if instead of arbitrarily picking an amount of time to exercise, you focused on pushing yourself to certain level of difficulty. If the 3.0 on a treadmill would be a "four" on a difficulty scale of one to 10, what would happen if you pushed yourself at an eight or nine for a shorter period of time?

There's no need to guess, I'll tell you: More fat loss. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario compared short but intense exercise to long, less-intense cardio. One group performed four to six 30-second "sprints" while the other group did cardio for 30 to 60 minutes. The results were nothing short of amazing. Despite exercising for a fraction of the time, those in the sprint category burned more than twice as much body fat. (This is all why HIIT training is so good for you-and for weight loss.)

That's because the process of sprinting causes similar internal changes to your body as those that occur during weight training. Your body needs to replenish it's ATP (energy), convert lactic acid that's produced during exercise into glucose, and restore your blood hormone levels after an intense workout. All of those processes mean your body works harder and burns more fat-both of which don't happen during steady-state aerobics. (That being said, you shouldn't sprint every time you do a running workout for weight loss. Read this guide to interval running workouts for a full how-to.)

Running for Weight Loss Mistake No. 3: You Focus Too Much On Calories Burned

One of the most common weight-loss mistakes is believing that the majority of the calories you burn results from exercise. This is a dangerous misunderstanding. Simply being alive-sleeping, standing, eating, thinking-requires a tremendous amount of energy. The number of calories you burn at the gym actually pales in comparison to normal functioning and your daily activities that are not exercise based. (More on that here: Do I Have to Run to Lose Weight?)

Does that mean there's no need to hit the gym? Of course not. Exercise has many health benefits, but the type of exercise you perform in the gym will influence how many calories you burn outside of it. Running will burn calories, but sprinting or lifting weights will result in more muscle. And the more muscle you have on your body, the more calories your body burns just functioning.

Running for Weight Loss Mistake No. 4: You Don't Try Other Forms of Cardio

Now that you know muscle is important to your overall weight-loss goals, it only makes sense that you would want to do the type of training that helps this happen in the least amount of time. So if you're a lover of slower, longer duration cardio (or LISS), I have some bad news: "Endurance" running and walking (longer duration, lower intensity) impairs strength and muscle growth, according to research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. What's more, even if you increase the intensity and run on an incline, cycling is still better for gaining muscle and burning fat, researchers found.

Again, the point here is not that "running doesn't work for weight loss" or that there aren't any benefits. (In fact, running has tons of benefits for your overall health.) However, if you're looking for the most efficient weight loss strategy and are short on time, you might be better served by cycling (preferably at a high intensity), rather than going for a long walk or relying on running for weight loss. (Related: You Don't Need Cardio to Lose Weight-But There's a Catch)

Running for Weight Loss Mistake No. 5: You Run Too Much (Yes, Too Much!)

This might sound crazy, but just hang with me: The number on the scale might not be changing because you're running too much. While this isn't a problem for the majority of people struggling to drop a few pounds, I've worked with more than a few people-and seen hundreds of other case studies-where fat loss has been stunted by doing too much.

Exercise is an indisputable component of a healthy life, but it still puts stress on your body. And the demands of that stress impact your hormones, which also control your ability to lose fat. More specifically, the hormone cortisol is released when you exercise. All cortisol is not bad (despite what late-night TV and supplement ads might have you believe), but chronic stress and chronic cortisol can lead to insulin resistance which forces you to store belly fat against your best-laid plans. Research published in the journal Hormone Research found that long-distance running-like that done in endurance runners-causes a sustained increase in cortisol. And this increase in cortisol for long period of times can lead to more inflammation, slower recovery, breaking down your muscle tissue, building up fat, and even harm your immune functioning. (Related: 9 Signs You Should Skip the Gym)

Just as bad, if you're suffering from too much stress-whether it's the result of exercises for too many hours or not recovering with the right nutrition-you can harm your thyroid and lower your metabolic rate, making weight loss more difficult.

If you're doing an hour of cardio per day, that's more than enough for fat loss. If you start running multiple hours per day and aren't losing weight (or maybe evening gaining), you might be best suited to reduce your running frequency, add some resistance training, and see what happens. Odds are, you'll be pleasantly surprised at just what running for weight loss can do-as long as you're doing it right.

Advertisement


Comments (53)

Anonymous
April 20, 2019
Few years before losing weight is a dream for me, after I started using Brian’s weight loss product reducing weight is not a difficult for me, I understand one thing if we follow the right procedure and diet, reducing weight is not a difficult for anyone. I had followed all the step by step instruction only couple of weeks and I reduce more than 16 kg in few weeks without any hard exercise or medicine. There are thousands of people struggling to lose weight but they don’t know the right procedure to do it, you can try the same method which I used to keep the body healthy , stylish and fit, Watch the video here => weightlossin3weeks.com
Anonymous
April 10, 2019
Great article, that reminds me I recently read up Tabata training, similar to your ideas they talked about how short intense cardio can help you to lose fat.https://brosandbroettes.com/why-should-you-use-tabata-training/ I would appreciate it if you can give me a guideline on how to go about it.
Anonymous
April 9, 2019
27,293 people have lost 20 pounds or more eating all the foods they love. Find Out how In This Free Video: https://bit.ly/2OYgw2B
Anonymous
April 7, 2019
Over the years I've tried many methods recommended by both my friends and family but none of them seemed to work out for me until I chanced upon this holy grail where I've lost almost 33 pounds in just 1 month trying it out! I can now fit in dresses two sizes down and receive many compliments from not only my lovely husband, but colleagues and girlfriends about how great I look right now! I'm here to share with you guys because I am really thankful and hope someone who also needs this can experience similar results as me! Here is the link to my holy grail method! https://bit.ly/2OUI7BW
Anonymous
February 28, 2019
It's been a year since my husband practically threw me away like GARBAGE for being too fat and disgusting, as he called me.And that’s when I decided I’d had enough… No matter what it took I was going to look great! The first thing I wanted to do was to get rid of cellulite. After much trial and error, I finally found a program that taught me the correct body movements to stimulate all 90 muscles of my lower body and the right way to optimize my hormones through nutrient balance. The end result is astonishing. Cellulite is gone.The firmness and tightness of my body is something I've never felt before.I feel proud of myself. And so can you... Visit ==> http://bit.ly/cellulitefreenow
Anonymous
February 23, 2019
A breakthrough Yoga Program that melts away flab and reshapes your body in as little as one hour a week. https://bit.ly/2S3Fk9s
Anonymous
February 7, 2019
My life is totally transformed after I followed this diet. https://bit.ly/2safCoC Have Lost 27 pounds in last 1 month and feeling great about myself.
Anonymous
January 30, 2019
This controversial method can make you lean fast: https://bit.ly/2DmMBxk
Anonymous
January 24, 2019
Did you know there’s a “deep detox” you can do first thing in the morning to burn more fat? And the good news is It only takes 13-seconds! Here it is: https://bit.ly/2x45lQy
Anonymous
December 18, 2018
Lost 41 pounds and 4 dress sizes. I am in the best shape of my life. Wish I had seen this amazing video earlier: https://bit.ly/2xZoIIy
Anonymous
December 17, 2018
The simple 30 second ritual that stops fat storage: https://bit.ly/2LjBabD
Anonymous
December 14, 2018
Losing weight is not so difficult with the right guidance and methods. What worked for me was this amazing guide: https://bit.ly/2QvsWDd Explains the science of losing weight, right foods to eat, foods to avoid, tips and tricks to lose weight quickly and stay healthy.
Anonymous
December 7, 2018
I am sharing my experience, Myself and my husband used Brain Diet weight loss guide it helped us to reduce more than 16 kg within few weeks, It’s working for both men & women. It’s really awesome one!!! No words to say about it. Watch the video here => weightlossin3weeks.com
Anonymous
December 7, 2018
Eat this “superfruit” before bed to burn more fat: https://bit.ly/2G7zzXt
Anonymous
November 26, 2018
Wanna increase muscle size, strength and performance ? i found this powerful product that is a safe, legal and side effect free i tried it myself and it realy shows good results for more info check in here -> bulkm.net
Anonymous
November 16, 2018
This controversial method can make you lean fast: https://bit.ly/2DmMBxk
Anonymous
November 9, 2018
Lost 41 pounds and 4 dress sizes. I am in the best shape of my life. Wish I had seen this amazing video earlier: https://bit.ly/2xZoIIy
Anonymous
October 28, 2018
hey i found a rapid weight loss program that can help you lose up to 23 pounds of pure body fat in just 3 weeks!!! watch this video here -> 3weeksdiets.net
Anonymous
October 22, 2018
Did you know there’s a “deep detox” you can do first thing in the morning to burn more fat? you can burn 1.2lbs daily and It only takes 13-seconds! watch this video : flatbelydetox.net
Anonymous
October 13, 2018
The Secret to Losing Unwanted Weight Fast and Keeping It Off: https://bit.ly/2pRzPPy
Anonymous
October 12, 2018
I have always been what most would consider a “big girl”. In January 2018, I weighed 180 lbs, which is quite overweight for a woman my height. I wasn’t always this weight though. In my teenage years, I weighed only 140 pounds and I felt much healthier and happier. I strived desperately over the years to get back to this weight. But with a stressful and busy work life, I struggled... continue here https://bit.ly/2QNXQm6
Anonymous
December 5, 2018
Thank you very much for this info!
Anonymous
October 9, 2018
Discover The #1 Detox Tea That Melts Away Fat EFFORTLESSLY: https://bit.ly/2Laaysp
Anonymous
October 5, 2018
Lost 41 pounds and 4 dress sizes. I am in the best shape of my life. Wish I had seen this amazing video earlier: https://bit.ly/2xZoIIy
Anonymous
September 27, 2018
Since I turned 40 it has been increasing harder to lose weight. I have tried every diet, watch what I ate etc., nothing worked. One day my husband came home and told me about this system, I thought why not. Three months later I lost 34 pounds and 3 sizes. Now that I’m on the maintenance part of the system I lost a total of 38 pounds and now down 4 sizes…. This system works. It really had me change my eating habits. I have learned valuable nutritional information to ensure I keep the weight off and look great. Three months later I lost 34 pounds and 3 sizes, just following this system: https://leanbellybreakthrough1.club
Anonymous
September 13, 2018
Hi! You're doing everything to lose weight: loading up on healthy foods, making smarter choices while dining out, and exercising. A diet that fits all of us, whether we want to lose a few pounds or a lot or trying to get used to eating healthy and balanced. This is a diet that can be followed easily by cooking for the whole family, even permanently, to reduce and / or maintain our weight, but also to have the indicators of our health always good. If we can combine this program with gentle regular exercise, eg swimming, walking, jogging, bike the results will be spectacular. What if we're on a weight loss effort? We will spoil our diet and we will take back the pounds you so painstakingly lost? If you want to lose weight with natural way, check out this website: www.mydietplantoday.com
Anonymous
September 6, 2018
Unusual weight loss method that actually works: https://bit.ly/2NeMdD5
Anonymous
October 9, 2018
Why not if it works.
Anonymous
August 10, 2018
My life is totally transformed after I followed this diet.https://bit.ly/2safCoC Have Lost 27 pounds in last 1 month and feeling great about myself.
Anonymous
November 9, 2018
Amazing.
Anonymous
October 5, 2018
Congrats.
Anonymous
September 25, 2018
That's amazing. Enjoy your success and thanks for sharing about it.
Anonymous
August 10, 2018
36-year old mother of 3 Reveals The French Weight Loss Solution That Helps You Naturally Slim Down Without Exercise: https://bit.ly/2KOb2Ee
Anonymous
August 10, 2018
Did you know there’s a “deep detox” you can do first thing in the morning to burn more fat? And the good news is It only takes 13-seconds! Here it is: https://bit.ly/2x45lQy
Anonymous
November 9, 2018
Nice.
Anonymous
October 9, 2018
Thanks You.
Anonymous
September 25, 2018
Very useful indeed.
Anonymous
August 3, 2018
I am sharing my experience, Myself and my husband used Brain Diet weight loss guide it helped us to reduce more than 16 kg within few weeks, It’s working for both men & women. It’s really awesome one!!! No words to say about it. Watch the video here: weightlossin3weeks.com
Anonymous
August 1, 2018
Hi! Once you understand how your body works then it becomes a lot easier to lose weight. The problem is many people go around trying a million different things that all conflict with each other and when they don’t see the results that they want they think that it is impossible to lose weight. This famous program has been studied over the years by third parties and proven to be the real deal. The program is all about losing weight by correctly practicing intermittent fasting, a proven method of weight loss. I have tried it myself and the results were just what I needed. Click here to find out more: www.forfastweightloss.com
Anonymous
July 30, 2018
The simple secret to lose weight quickly, safely and permanently without starving yourself or stepping foot in the gym. https://bit.ly/2vfKoOH
Anonymous
July 27, 2018
Every woman who wants to lose weight should watch THIS now: https://bit.ly/2mLKSZ1
Anonymous
June 20, 2018
The Secret to Losing Unwanted Weight Fast and Keeping It Off. https://bit.ly/2MDx4LE
Anonymous
June 2, 2018
Discover The #1 Detox Tea That Melts Away Fat EFFORTLESSLY: https://bit.ly/2Laaysp
Anonymous
May 25, 2018
Did you know there’s a “deep detox” you can do first thing in the morning to burn more fat? And the good news is It only takes 13-seconds! Here it is: https://bit.ly/2x45lQy
Anonymous
May 25, 2018
My life is totally transformed after I followed this diet.https://bit.ly/2safCoC Have Lost 27 pounds in last 1 month and feeling great about myself.
Anonymous
May 14, 2018
I've lost exactly 30 Lbs in 2 months! The best part is knowing that I did this myself. look at the method I use to lose weight here: https://bit.ly/2rHqH0d
Anonymous
May 9, 2018
Hi Folks, I wanted to share some information on an short and down to earth diet which many are having success with. For more info please use the link at the end of this message and find the help you've been looking for. https://bit.ly/2Ip7HOk
Anonymous
April 23, 2018
Losing weight is not so difficult with proper guidance and discipline. What helped me in my desire to lose weight and get fit was this amazing weight loss program. watch the video here: http://the2weekdietnow.com/the-2week-diet
Anonymous
March 16, 2018
I am sharing my experience, Myself and my husband used Brain Diet weight loss guide it helped us to reduce more than 16 kg within few weeks, It’s working for both men & women. It’s really awesome one!!! No words to say about it. Most of the people using this product for natural fast weight loss refer the product here: >> weightlossin3weeks.com/weight-loss
Anonymous
March 2, 2018
Lovely information, very true and effective. I myself had gained over 20 pounds after the birth of my daughter. I could see my husband slowly losing interest in me as i got padded up with fat. Plus with age, fat was not going away no matter how hard i tried with so many things. Finally Thanks to this method, I was able to lose 18 pounds just following this system: >> leanbellybreakthrough1 .club << Google it
Anonymous
August 13, 2017
The challenges most people run into is that they eat poorly, and then expect a bit of exercise to make everything better! The reality is, eating poorly could mean you’d need to spend HOURS burning calories just to not gain any weight. https://www.obalondoctors.com/
Anonymous
August 12, 2017
I need help and really fast.... I quit smoking about 5 months ago. My whole life I was build well. Never more than 55kg. I didnt gain very much, but my boobs, but and legs got very very big. I dont fit into any pants and my shirts are very tight. Please help me......
Anonymous
March 1, 2018
Hello everyone. I started to search in the internet about losing weight,and, as you all may know, there is too much info about this issue. So, I decided to dig into Health blogs, because I think comments from people and their results are truly their experiences. To make this short I just wanted to share my experience with you about a complete system that quickly detoxes the body to cleanse away fat, and it works fast. The old rules of dieting have been telling you to eat less, so you end up feeling deprived and starving with tiny portions. That didn´t work for me. The truth is Losing weight is not about deprivation; it's about detoxing your body and eating superfoods that burn up quickly, reviving up your metabolism so you sizzle off calories all day and all-night long. Your body naturally protects itself by holding onto both fat and water to mix the toxins with your excess body fat and water weight. This is how your body reduces the harm that toxins do. Unfortunately, it also means you're gaining a lot of weight you don't want. That's why you should seriously consider detoxing your body. So, I found a program that helped me detoxing my body and start loosing weight. It is called the Red Tea Detox Program. I highly recommend it. Check this link and get more info about how this program can help you as it did to me. http://www.reviewonline.us/rtdblog