Running has long been touted as one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise – it’s relatively inexpensive, doesn’t require a gym membership or a lot of equipment, and most of us already know how to do it. But does running burn fat? And if you can’t stand pounding the pavement, are there other exercises that are just as effective? Or should you suck it off, tie your shoelaces, and jump on the treadmill?
Running burns calories …
There’s a reason you’ll see sidewalks full of runners on a bright day – a 150-pound person can be expected to burn. 350 calories for every 30 minutes they run, if they do about a 10 minute mile. It’s more than a brisk walk (154 calories), elliptical (214 calories), or an intense yoga session (297 calories) done at the same time. In addition to burning calories, running has been shown to improve your mood, decrease anxiety and depression, and reduce stress.
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… But does running burn fat?
A 2015 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Fitness found that runners who walked more than 3.1 miles per week while making targeted dietary changes lost an average of 12.3 pounds of body fat over the course of a year. Those who run less than 3.1 miles per week while watching their diet lose an average of 7.83 pounds of fat.
As you may have guessed, running has been shown to burn significant amounts of fat. But that doesn’t necessarily tell us the whole story.
Fat loss is primarily dependent on a calorie deficit, which happens when your body burns more calories than you consume. So, for example, if your body needs about 2,200 calories per day, but you take in 1,800, you will be in a calorie deficit.
On the other hand, if your body needs 2,200 calories per day and you consume 2,600 calories, you will have a caloric surplus. When you are in excess, the body stores these extra calories in fatty tissue, also known as fat.
Despite certain metabolic conditions, the most important aspect of losing fat is consuming fewer calories per day than your body needs. At this point, the body will start to seek out other forms of energy, namely the energy stored in your fat cells.
If you hate running, here’s some good news
Yes, running can burn fat. But if the only thing that’ll scare you away is an angry bear chasing it, don’t worry. There are many other exercise options that will burn fat, and some exercise will burn even more calories than running. One of these options, High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT), is very effective in burning fat throughout the body because this study find.
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If the thought of cardio makes you cringe, there’s more good news. A recent study published in the journal Sports medicine found that strength training alone can lead to a 1.4% reduction in body fat – the same thing we would expect to lose from cardio or aerobics.
Increasing your lean muscle mass through strength training will increase your basal metabolic rate, or BMR. This is the number of calories your body uses while resting, without additional exercise or movement. Muscle needs more energy than fat to maintain itself, so more muscle means your body needs more calories just to function. (Lifting at home? Check out the best adjustable dumbbells to buy right now).
Remember that taking in fewer calories than your body requires results in a calorie deficit. With muscle mass added, the daily calorie intake that was putting you in excess could now potentially put you in deficit. You’ll want to make sure you’re eating enough to support the growth of your pecs and quads, so be sure to visit a dietitian, sports nutritionist, or certified personal trainer for advice.
As you build muscle, your body composition will change. You will see inches drop and fat lost, although you might not see the number on the scale move as much. But remember – you are gaining muscle mass, and that’s a good thing! If you keep track of your weight, one of the best smart scales can give you a more accurate picture of what exactly is going on in your body.
Strength training is also important for a host of other reasons besides fat loss and aesthetics, such as bone health, injury prevention, and pain reduction. Plus, the stronger you are, the easier it is to move around the world. That doesn’t mean you should ditch the super sweaty, thrilling type of exercise altogether – you’ll want to do enough to make sure your cardiovascular system stays in peak condition. 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week should be your goal.
If you love to run but can’t see a change, here’s what to do
If you’re running with a fat loss goal and you’re not losing weight, start tracking your calorie intake (what you eat) and production (how much you move). Calorie counting apps and activity trackers can give you rough estimates of these numbers. You may (unknowingly) be in excess calories, despite the miles you’ve traveled.
If you haven’t already established a strength training routine, now is the time to start one. Along with increasing your BMR, strength training is a necessary part of every runner, regardless of experience or skill set. Strong legs, hips and abdominal muscles are essential for ensuring running form, range of motion, and prevention of common injuries.
Should you start running to burn fat?
Running, combined with a well-balanced resistance training program and a controlled diet, can lead to fat loss. If you love to run and want to lose a few inches, put on a pair of sneakers and go for it! Even if losing fat is not one of your goals, running can benefit both your physical and mental health in a number of ways.
If you hate running, skip it – there are plenty of ways to burn fat without ever hitting the track. Maintain a calorie deficit, start a resistance training program, and find cardiovascular activity that you enjoy.
Looking for more training inspiration? Read what happened when we tried this dumbbell workout with over 1.3 million views, the 10 best exercises for blowing belly fat or this 10 minute abs workout with 65 million views.