Since many gyms remain closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, more and more people are seeking simple at-home workouts to help them lose weight. Enter running, an equipment-free exercise that's accessible to anyone with a pair of sneakers.
While pounding the pavement can help you shed pesky pounds initially, you might find your progress petering out after a few weeks or months. If you're running regularly and your weight is barely budging — or worse, you're unintentionally gaining — you've likely stumbled into some common running traps.
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We spoke with Paul Kriegler, a registered dietitian and personal trainer with Life Time, to find out why the number on your scale might be at a standstill and ways to avoid the following four running mistakes.
1. You Run Every Day
Running might be your passion, but if you hit the open road every day, it can lead to some serious consequences for your body and ultimately your weight-loss goals.
"The risks of injury or illness go up significantly if someone runs every day without adequate rest and recovery between sessions," Kriegler says.
In other words, when you push too hard and run 7 days a week, your body doesn't have ample time to repair. And once this happens, you're more likely to hurt yourself and get sidelined, which can sabotage your efforts to shed pounds. Think about it: It's hard to exercise — and lose weight — if you're stuck on the couch for days or weeks nursing an injury.
To keep your body in tip-top shape, you need quality sleep, a nutrient-dense diet with ample protein and produce and a balance of heavy and light physical activity.
Try the following mix of physical activity, per Kriegler:
- 1-3 hard runs a week
- 1-2 moderate or easy running sessions
- Resistance training and other regenerative/restorative activities such as yoga, stretching, foam rolling and massage
2. You Stick to the Same Routine
We're all creatures of habit. But sticking to the same running routine — speed, distance and route — won't do you any favors when it comes to weight loss.
"Once the body adapts to a set of variables (frequency, intensity, time and/or type of activity), then it will just maintain" and your weight loss will likely grind to a halt, Kriegler says.
What's worse, your body could even "break down from the repetitive nature of the same pace, speed and movement patterns, which use the same muscle fibers over and over while others become more or less dormant," he adds. Once again, this is a recipe for injury.
To avoid this and keep your goals on track, train smart and switch things up. No two runs should be the same. "There should be a very noticeable degree of difference between runs if you want to become a fitter, faster, stronger runner," Kriegler says.
For example, one day you might focus on distance and endurance while another you shoot for speed by incorporating sprint intervals. In fact, running intervals boosts your calorie burn and builds lean muscle, which are both good news for weight loss.
3. You Overestimate Calories Burned
Ravenous after a long run? "Physical activity that depletes carbohydrate stores (such as distance running) is often followed by cravings," Kriegler says.
And while it's tempting to binge a big carb-heavy meal post-run, you might be misjudging how many calories you've burned during your workout, leading to unintentional overeating.
"Many runners tend to over-consume carbs either because they physiologically sense they need fuel or replenishment, or because they psychologically feel they've 'earned' some sort of indulgence," Kriegler says.
This "overcompensation is perhaps what makes running such an unpredictable and unreliable weight-loss tool," he says.
Some runners even adopt an unhealthy mindset, using their running to justify overeating or lying around more, Kriegler adds. If this sounds familiar, you might want to take a pause and examine your relationship with food and exercise.
This combination of mostly sedentary behavior and overindulging is not the ideal equation for dropping pounds. For healthy weight loss — and a healthier lifestyle in general — you should supplement your running routine with a diet of moderately low carbs and lots of protein and plenty of unstructured, low-intensity daily activity, Kriegler says.
Exercise is even more effective when paired with a healthy diet. Download the MyPlate app to track your calories consumed and burned for a complete picture of your overall health.
4. You Don’t Lift Weights
Many runners erroneously think that lifting weights might bulk them up and slow them down. "I've seen many runners focus too much on being 'light' and not enough on being strong," Kriegler says.
To become a stronger, more durable athlete, you should concentrate on maintaining lean muscle while losing fat, Kriegler says. And the way to achieve that is through resistance training.
Building lean muscle not only increases your strength and power — and enables you to run faster — but it's also particularly important for weight loss. Remember, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest.
Plus, cross training can help reduce your risk of overuse injuries and improve your overall fitness, according to the American Council on Fitness.
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