running for weight loss
Weight Loss Workouts

Running for Weight Loss — The Ultimate Guide

Are your social media feeds full of expensive workout programs you absolutely must try if you want to lose weight? Well, I have a little secret for you: You don’t need any of that. With only a pair of sneakers, you can start jogging — and then running for weight loss success

You need a pair of running shoes and motivation to get outdoors or on the treadmill. Running is one of the best ways to burn calories to lose weight. Ready to get started? Here’s everything you need to know.

How to get started running for weight loss

How Running for Weight Loss Works

The purpose of any weight-loss program is to create a calorie deficit so that your body burns more calories each day then you consume. This will force your body to tap into fat stores for energy — a.k.a. fat burning. Reducing your calorie intake and burning more calories through physical activity are the only ways to achieve this deficit.

Any physical activity you engage in will burn calories. But running is one of the best ways to burn fat because it’s challenging. Moving your body forward at a fast pace over a variety of terrain works all the major muscle groups in your body, your heart and lungs, and requires a great deal of energy in the form of calories.

How many calories you can expect to burn depends on several factors:

  • Your weight: heavier bodies burn more calories
  • Your pace: the faster you run, the harder it is; thus, the more calories you burn
  • Your level of conditioning: less-conditioned people will burn more calories than fitter people because their bodies have to work harder

According to MD Anderson Cancer Center, there are other factors that determine calorie burn, including

  • Climate:​ You burn more calories exercising in hot weather
  • Terrain​: Running on uneven terrain or uphill is harder than running on flat road and burns more calories
  • Genetics:​ Some people naturally burn more calories
  • Body composition:​ Individuals with a greater amount of muscle mass burn more calories

Let’s face it: Fat loss is a terribly complex topic that you can’t fit into a tidy equation. But you can use general benchmarks to estimate how many calories you can burn running and how much fat loss that could lead to, assuming all other factors remain the same.

You can lose about 1 to 2 pounds of weight a week by creating a daily deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories, or a weekly deficit of 3,500 to 7,000 calories, says the CDC. According to Harvard Health Publications, in 30 minutes a 155-pound person burns approximately 288 calories running at a pace of 5 miles per hour, 360 calories at a pace of 6 miles per hour and 450 calories running at a pace of 7.5 miles per hour.

No matter your pace, it’s clear that running can account for a big chunk of that daily calorie deficit for weight loss. And, it requires no expensive equipment, no gym membership, and very little skill to get started.

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Getting Started With Running

Depending on your fitness level, you may not be able to lace up your running shoes and head out the door for a 5-mile (or even a 5-minute) run. Running is a skill just like any other; it takes time to learn how to do it and then get better at it.

Since this is a guide for beginners, I’m going to assume you don’t have much experience. Therefore, I’m going to give you this step-by-step guide. Don’t skip ahead! Although you might be eager to dive right into running for weight loss and see quick results, it’s crucial to slow down. Doing too much too soon can result in injury, which will sideline you—and your weight loss goals—for a while.

1. Get a good pair of running shoes. This is crucial. You will not enjoy running without them! Most people run on pavement which, according to USCF Health, is more than twice as hard as asphalt and many times harder than dirt trails or grass. You need to protect your feet and your joints from pounding the pavement so you can avoid injury.

Your best bet is to head to your local running store. These are where the pros are. Rather than blindly trying to choose your own shoe, the pros will gather all your info, asses your gait, and even have you try out a few pairs so you get the perfect fit!

If you don’t have a local running store, shop another retail store or online. When going it alone, USCF makes a few recommendations:

  • Ensure there is 1/2 inch of space between the top of your toes and the front end of the shoe.
  • Shop for shoes later in the day when your feet will be slightly swollen. This will better represent your foot size when you are running.
  • Squeeze the heel of the shoe to make sure it is stiff enough. This ensures stability in the heel and ankle.
  • Bend the toe box back to make sure it “breaks,” or creases, at the ball of the foot.

USCF also recommends buying two pairs of shoes and alternating them, and making sure to replace your shoes every 450 to 600 miles.

2. Don’t run—walk. Wait, what? You thought this was an article about running for weight loss, not walking for weight loss! But before you run, you must walk, and then jog, and then run at a slow pace, before running at a faster pace. Do not just jump into this running sprints. Training yourself to run is a marathon, not a sprint—pun intended.

Walk at a brisk pace for a week, as briskly as you can. After that week you can begin a jogging program, gradually increasing your periods of jogging, and decreasing your amount of time walking.

Here’s how you know if you’re at a jogging pace or a running pace:

  • Jogging: Pace up to 5 mph or a 12-minute mile. You should be able to carry on a light conversation at this pace and should not be gasping for air in between sentences.
  • Running: Over 5 mph. At this pace your ability to converse gets less and less the faster you go. Your heart rate climbs up and your heart and lungs are pumping.

You’re going to be staying in the conversational zone for a while, so get comfortable. In fact, the point is to get really comfortable jogging before you up your pace to a run.

I recommend new runners start with a jog/walk routine. You can either download an interval training app on your phone and set the timer for intervals of walking and intervals of jogging. Here’s an example 30-minute workout:

Mins 0 – 5: Warm up at a walking pace

Mins 5-7: Jog at a pace you can sustain for 2 mins

Mins 7-10: Walk at a brisk pace

Mins 10-12: Jog

Mins 12-14: Brisk walk

Mins 14-16: Jog

Mins 16-18: Brisk walk

Mins 18-20: Jog

Mins 20-22: Brisk walk

Mins 22-24: Jog

Mins 24-26: Brisk walk

Mins 26-28: Jog

Mins 28-30: Cool-down walk

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How to get started running for weight loss

Time To Turn Up the Volume— and the Calorie-Burning!

If you find that the jogging intervals are too long, shorten them to a minute and increase the walking intervals to three minutes. If you find this is too easy, increase the jogging intervals and decrease the walking intervals.

Eventually everyone’s goal, no matter where they start from, is going to be to gradually decrease the time spent walking and increase the time spent jogging. But don’t rush through this phase! Take your time. Stay at a pace that is challenging but still comfortable. Never get to the point where you’re gasping for breath. You will not enjoy that and it will ruin your running experience, which will probably lead to you quitting. If you want to take up running for weight loss, it needs to be enjoyable!

And don’t worry, you are still burning a lot of calories in this stage. Any time you take on a new activity and challenge all the different systems of your body, your metabolism works overtime to provide energy to those systems. You actually start to burn fewer calories doing the same activity as you become less conditioned and your body doesn’t work as hard. That’s why it’s always important to keep challenging yourself.

Speaking of which, after you are at a point where you are mostly jogging for 30 minutes, it’s time to up the ante. Now, instead of a jog/walk, you are going to switch to a jog/run, and you’re going to use the same method as you did in the earlier phase.

Begin to work in intervals of running, and gradually increase those as you become more conditioned. Again, take your time, listen to your body. Don’t be an overachiever!

This process could take weeks or months. It could even take a year! But rest assured that it is a worthwhile time investment; you are learning a new skill, conditioning your heart and lungs, building muscle, getting stronger in both body and mind—and losing weight!

Running is an excellent stress-reliever, and reducing your stress levels is key to weight loss. Not only can stress cause you to overeat unhealthy foods, but it can also increase levels of cortisol—the “fight or flight” hormone. High levels of cortisol have been linked to weight gain, especially in the midsection.

How to get started running for weight loss

More Running for Weight Loss Tips

Running isn’t all there is to this new habit and increased fat loss results. You have to support your increased activity level with proper nutrition, hydration, and rest. There are a few possible pitfalls when it comes to your diet that you have to watch out for.

The major one is calorie balance. As your activity level increases, so must your calorie intake to support energy production and recovery. Do not make the mistake of eating too few calories! You won’t have the energy to get out there and run, your runs won’t be fun, and you risk poor recovery and injury. You must nourish your body correctly as a runner.

What does that look like? It’s the same as I recommend for every person: The no-diet diet. Eat healthy, fresh foods according to your calorie needs. If you’re not sure what those are, you might need to consult a coach to figure it out. However, I do not recommend calorie counting. Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and lean protein; pair that with whole grains, dairy, and healthy fats in moderation. Enjoy a treat every once in a while, but try to make it a healthy one! Check out some of these healthy desserts recipes from Fit Foodie Finds.

You also need to avoid eating too much. With increased activity, your appetite will also increase. You may find yourself craving carbs and reaching for a snack more often that you should—or is necessary. If your running workouts are staying around 30 minutes each day, and you’re working in some strength-training on off days (which you should), your calorie needs will not increase that much, so keep it in control. Slightly larger portions at mealtimes should do the trick, and you shouldn’t need to be snacking throughout the day.

Staying hydrated is key for weight loss. You will need more water than before, especially if you’re running in a warmer climate. Hydrate well before and after your runs, and keep sipping from your water bottle throughout the day.

Finally, rest. A lot of people go all in when they start a new exercise program, or they get really into it later on and start overdoing it. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I recommend doing running workouts two days a week to start, and no more than four days a week thereafter. On the other days, do a mix of strength training and active recovery, including stretching.

Be sure to get plenty of sleep. The more active you are, the more sleep you need. This is even more true when you’re first starting out. Your body is going to be screaming for more rest, so listen to it! Adjust your schedule so you can go to bed earlier. Remember that lack of sleep and fatigue (along with dehydration and stress) are triggers for overeating unhealthy foods.

Most importantly—have fun! Listen to your favorite music while you’re running, join a running group to meet new people, train for a 5 or 10k to keep you motivated. There are so many ways to keep your running for weight loss routine fresh and interesting!

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Jody Braverman, NASM-CPT, NASM-FNS, PN1

Jody Braverman is a certified nutrition, fitness, and weight loss expert who has been working in the health & fitness industry for over two decades.

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