The Beginner’s Guide to Running for Weight Loss

Maximize your calorie burn by adding different types of workouts to your weight-loss running routine.
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Your feeds are full of the latest workout fads, gadgets and diets you need to try if you want to lose weight. But we have a little secret for you: You don't need to drop major dollars on a trendy weight-loss program.

In fact, all you need to start torching calories for weight loss is a good pair of running sneakers and the motivation to head out the door.

If you're new to pounding the pavement, it's a smart idea to start slow. You can also maximize your weight-loss results by cross-training and whipping your diet into shape.

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.

Running for Weight Loss

The goal of any weight-loss plan is to create a calorie deficit, which means you burn more calories than you take in. Only when you have created and sustained this deficit will your body stop using immediate energy supplies from excess calories and begin to tap into stored body fat. You can create this deficit by reducing your calorie intake or increasing your activity level — a combination of both is ideal.

Any activity you do will help you burn calories, but running to lose weight happens to be one of the best. That's because it's not easy. Propelling your body forward with speed over varying terrain requires effort from all your major muscle groups and consumes energy in the form of calories. How many calories you'll burn depends on several variables, the most important of which are:

  • How much you weigh
  • How fast you jog
  • How long you jog

Other factors that can influence calorie burn, according to the University of Texas, include:

  • Climate: You burn more calories when it's hot outside.
  • Terrain: Running over varied terrain and uphill is harder and burns more calories.
  • Genetics: Some people just burn more calories than others.
  • Body composition: People who have more muscle mass burn more calories.
  • Fitness level: Fitter people will burn fewer calories jogging than less conditioned people, mile for mile.

Although fat loss is a complex topic that can't be put into a neat little equation, the basic idea is that the greater the gap between calorie intake and expenditure, the bigger the calorie deficit and the more weight you'll lose. Therefore, you can plan a rough sketch of how fast, how far and how often you need to run to reach your specific goal.

One benchmark you can use as a guide is to cut or burn 500 calories per day to lose roughly a pound or two a week. If you weigh around 155 pounds, you would need to jog at a pace of 5 mph for a little less than an hour seven days a week. Or, you could run at a faster pace of about 8 mph for 30 minutes each day.

Unlike swimming, biking, rowing or even jumping rope, running requires very little equipment and no gym membership. And you can do it just about anywhere and at any time.

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Start With Jogging

Before you can run, you need to jog. Jumping straight into running for weight loss as a beginner can place a lot of stress on your body. It can leave you feeling sore and, if you're not careful, it could even lead to injury.

That's why it's important to build a foundation with jogging. It's not as high-impact as running, and it still burns a fair amount of calories, which is key when you want to want to make weight-loss progress pronto.

For the most accurate estimate of how many calories you'll burn jogging, you'll need to wear a heart rate monitor while you exercise. Otherwise, you can use these ballpark estimates from Harvard Health Publishing.

Calories Burned Jogging for 30 Minutes

Pace

125-Pound Person

155-Pound Person

185-Pound Person

4 mph

135

167

200

4.5 mph

150

186

222

5 mph

240

298

355

Source: Harvard Health Publishing. "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"

Tip

Keep in mind that a jogging pace is somewhat subjective. You can walk or jog at a pace of 4 miles per hour. A seasoned runner might feel that running at a pace of 6.5 mph is more of a jog than a run. Typically, a jog is somewhere between 4 and 6 mph.

Pick Up the Pace

Those calorie burn counts are impressive, but eventually, you'll be ready to kick things up a notch for even better weight-loss results. The same variables apply when determining your calorie burn from running as they did for jogging; however, there's a broader range of paces that qualify as running.

Depending on your fitness level, 5.2 miles an hour might feel like a pretty tough run, or you might not feel maxed out until you're running at a pace greater than 8 mph. Hey, anything's possible — if not right now, then in the future.

Calories Burned Running for 30 Minutes

Pace

125-Pound Person

155-Pound Person

185-Pound Person

6 mph

300

372

444

6.7 mph

330

409

488

7.5 mph

375

465

555

8.6 mph

435

539

644

Source: Harvard Health Publishing. "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"

Change Up Your Routine

Running for an hour (or even 30 minutes!) every day can be tough to sustain. And if you don't want an overuse injury (trust us, you don't), you're going to need to do more than just run to lose a significant amount of weight.

Adding variety to your running routine will challenge your body in new ways that can increase your calorie burn, improve cardiovascular fitness and make you stronger.

One of the ways you can do this is by seeking out new terrain. If you've been running to lose weight along the same flat path each day, find some hills and get your legs pumping. Running uphill can dramatically increase your calorie burn. Try doing hill repeats by running to the top of a hill, walking back down and running up the hill again. This will build strength in your legs and further challenge your cardio fitness.

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is another way to increase the intensity and variety of your running routine. Interval training involves alternating between periods of intense effort and periods of recovery.

There are many ways to do an interval workout, but one example you might try is jogging for two minutes, sprinting for 45 seconds and alternate between the two for 30 minutes. This might take some practice, but it will result in a higher total calorie burn.

There's scientific support for the efficacy of HIIT for weight loss. A February 2018 meta-analysis in Sports Medicine examined the results of 39 studies on HIIT involving 617 subjects. The findings showed that HIIT training was more time-efficient and effective at reducing total-body and abdominal fat. In addition, HIIT running proved to be even more effective than HIIT cycling.

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Cross-Train and Rest

Running every day can be hard on the body. Doing the same activity all the time, especially one as intense as running, can lead to repetitive stress injuries or burnout.

When your goal is to lose weight, it's important to keep your routine fun and interesting so that you are more likely to stick with it. Even if you love running, do a different activity two times a week: cycling, rowing and swimming are great complements to running because they work different muscle groups.

Strength training will help you not only become a stronger runner but also increase your weight-loss potential. Although running is a weight-bearing activity that builds muscle, it doesn't target all the major muscle groups. Going into the gym a couple times a week to do a total-body strength training routine — including exercises for your chest, shoulders, arms, abs, back and legs — will make you a stronger runner.

Lastly, it's crucial to allow your body to recover. Take at least one day off each week to rest or engage in active recovery. You can walk, do yoga or other light exercise, as long as you're not doing anything too intense. Failing to allow your body to recover can lead to injury and overtraining, both of which will sideline you and keep you from reaching your weight-loss goals.

Clean Up Your Diet

If you really want to lose weight fast, running alone isn't going to get you there. Even HIIT running won't work miracles if your diet isn't healthy and conducive to weight loss. You can significantly increase your weight loss if you combine running with a nutritious, calorie-reduced diet.

Think about it: If you can burn 385 calories with a daily jog or run and you can cut 385 calories from your daily diet, you've just doubled your calorie deficit and shortened the amount of time it will take you to get to your goal weight.

But it's not just about what you cut out. It's also about adding in healthy foods that will keep you feeling full and satisfied with fewer calories. Those foods include protein from chicken, fish and beans; fiber and complex carbohydrates from fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains; and healthy fats from nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.

If you add more of these foods to your diet, you'll naturally "crowd out" other unhealthy foods — and have more energy for your runs.

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