With the weather warming up in Boston, I'm sure there are many of you out there (myself included) who will be kicking it into high gear with your fitness and fat loss efforts. As we all know, there's nothing more motivating than the thought of rocking that Speedo or two-piece on the sandy beaches down the Cape.
When it comes to fat loss the the first thing to understand is, coincidentally our first rule at AMP Fitness: you can't out train your diet. Nope. Not going to happen. Nutrition is the variable that MUST be nailed to lose fat.
With that in mind, the mode of exercise you choose isn't as important as you might think in regards to how much fat you will burn during your workout. They all do relatively the same thing from a caloric expenditure standpoint.
Think of fitness as being the 'constant' in the fat loss equation. As long as you're doing something, you're doing good. Weightlifting, bootcamps, Zumba, step aerobics, and running all yield about the same caloric expenditure. With that said it makes the most sense spend your workout time doing one of two things: (1) working on improving your fitness or (2) doing something that makes you happy AF.
Looking for a fitness program and gym that is fun and helps you nail your training goals? Come try AMP!
Running Isn't the Best Tool For Fat Loss
It's not that it doesn't 'work', it's just not my first or even second choice when recommending fat loss strategies to people.
Running is, in fact, a fundamental human movement pattern and comes in handy in case of a zombie apocalypse. And if you LOVE running and it's your thing I'm not going to yuck on your yum here as it does provide some good fitness, like, if you want to run better. But years of research show that it's a terrible option for long-term fat loss for most people.
Furthermore, if you don't truly enjoy running and you're just doing it for fat loss I will always recommend sticking to weight training and a sensible diet. With this strategy you'll get hot and healthy AF without wearing down your joints. This means you'll be able to continue doing this many years down the road when maintaining healthy joints becomes MORE important.
If you're still here and are interested in my reasoning, here's some science™ for ya.
(Most) People Aren't Built To Run...Especially Women
Sorry ladies. But biologically speaking, your anatomy doesn't have you set up for ideal running mechanics. And some of you are built like runners but that's a small percentage and they are the exception. Look at any long distance marathon runner, they all have the same body type. Narrow hips. Long Legs. They are designed to run.
Again, I'm not saying running is 'bad' but rather it's a poor choice for fat loss. Running short distances here and there won't be a problem but as the miles add up things change. Here's why.
The Q angle. It is the fancy schmancy way of relating the angle of the femur (thigh bone) in relation to the pelvis and women's are much wider than mens. Basically, a wider Q angle forces internal rotation of the femur (narrower knees) when you run. Coupled with sitting in a similar posture at a desk all day this creates a lot of wear and tear each time you hit the pavement. It
Your Mechanics Suck
The reality is that most people's, not just women's, bodies also just have a tough time dealing with the stress of running. It all boils down to anatomy, mechanics, and physics. None of which are on our side. Then add to that the stress and demand of sitting at a desk all day battling computer trolls in a fixed position and you have a recipe for physical therapy.
Add to that that the average person has about 1,500 foot strikes per mile. That's a metric fuck-ton of force that goes into the ground the longer the distances you run. Most of us (read: most of us) just aren't built to run long distances.
If your jogging looks more like a baby giraffe walking for the first time it's safe to say you're probably doing a fair amount of damage to your joints. The truth is that running is an art and 'good' running requires skill and technique which many of us don't have. So if you've never been properly trained, chances are you're doing it poorly.
Being Uncomfortable or 'Hard' ≠ More Fat Loss
Research shows that you burn approximately the same amount of calories whether you run for one hour or do circuit training for one hour. I don't know about you but if it's all the same, I'd rather do something more fun, better for my joints or give me some sweet biceps.
Running a mile burns approximately .72 calories per pound of bodyweight. Therefore a 140 pound human will on average burn 100 calories running a mile. For me, that's a lot of work for little return. If I can get the same effect doing 8-10 minutes of circuit training in my living room I'm doing that!
People who opt for longer distance cardio also tend to get hungrier and over consume calories. One reason being they overestimate how much they actually burned and feel like they 'earned' that tray of cupcakes. Research has shown that cardio equipment on average tell you that you burn up to 42% more calories than you actually do. Ellipticals are the worst offenders. Jerks.
Remember, one mile equals about 100 calories for most people. That ain't much.
So, How Many Hours MUST You Train For Fat Loss?
The short answer is zero. Diet is always the answer when it comes to the kind of fat loss most people are looking for. You don't have to go for a jog to get fit and to live long and throughout history cultures have never had to go on an elliptical.
Of course, you need exercise to maintain lean mass and to get stronger, fitter, and stay sexy as hell. It's also important to note that lean muscle mass contributes to a higher metabolic rate and helping to maintain your hard earned fat loss and look toned. So there's that.
Ultimately, when it comes to fat loss, nutrition is going to be your Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator. You know, the one with the earth shattering KA-BOOM! (I hope you get that reference or I'm getting old.)
So most people will get exceptional fat loss results with the combination of a sensible nutrition plan and training program around 3 hours a week.
P.S. You can't out train your diet. Just a reminder.
Cardio is good for cardio (note: you can do this through circuit training, too) and running is good for being able to run or if you are planning on doing a race or marathon. So if you need to run by all means get after it. If it doesn't feel good and/or you're injured then find a qualified specialist and get some coaching to make sure you're doing it in the safest and most efficient way possible.
But when it comes to fat loss, running is a very inefficient use of your time and can create a lot of wear and tear on your joints. There are plenty of other modalities that will keep you healthy and fit for the long term and have the same/better effect on fat loss. I want you to be sexy and uninjured and rocking that two-piece or Speedo when you're well into your golden years, too!
What You Can Do
Here is a simple bodyweight fat loss circuit (conditioning circuit, strength circuit...whatever you want to call it) you can do at home. Just set a timer for 20-30 min and do as many rounds as you can resting only as needed. And remember, only good reps.
A1) Bodyweight Squats x 8
A2) Inchworms x 8
A3) Side Plank x :30/side
A4) Jumping Jacks x 1:00
A5) Plank from Hands (or pushups) x :30
A6) In-Place Skipping x :30
Note: you can sub any exercise from your favorite bodyweight playlist!
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Steve is co-founder and head coach of AMP Fitness, downtown Boston's most inclusive personal training studio. His background is in posture, performance, injury prevention and strength development and packaging fitness in a way that is accessible to everyone. He's a brand new father, an avid reader and enjoys nerding out to science fiction.