Monday, 30 January 2012

Could running be making you fatter?

Sadly I think the answer to this question maybe YES. 

First off I am not totally against running, it is a natural endorphin busting, bone building, cardiovascular type of exercise.  This is great if you are built for running and are not carrying too much extra weight. At the moment I am seeing many 'New Year's Resolution must lose weight' runners pounding the pavements in an attempt to drop the pounds!  Running seems to be the most common activity associated with losing weight and toning up.  Unfortunately you are not doing yourself any favours and could actually be doing yourself more harm than good, let me explain further.

Running is impact exercise, in fact your putting 3 x your body weight force through your hips, knees and ankles.  That could be 300kg your putting through your body every time your foot strikes the ground if your a 100kg man!  If you are overweight your joints are not going to be able to deal with that amount of repetitive forceful stress.  The problem is you are more than likely not strong enough to run properly, its like trying to run before you can walk.  You will most definitely be setting yourself up to fail, eventually leading to hip, back, groin, knee and possible ankle injuries along the way.

Now the truth about running and burning calories, yes you will burn calories and yes you will lose weight.  But its the difference between getting a sprinters body and a marathon runners body. A sprinters body say Usain Bolt for example is lean, athletic, muscular with great definition.  A marathon runners body say Paula Radcliffe for example is smaller with less muscle definition.

Without getting too scientific I just want to explain quickly about 'twitch fibres'.  Muscle fibres are categorised as fast and slow (fast twitch fibres are also broken down into type 2a and 2b).  Some scientists believe we are predisposed to either more slow or fast twitch fibres, making us better at either endurance type events or shorter explosive type events.  Marathon or long distance runners predominantly use slow twitch fibres, as these fibres are enduring.  Sprinters on the other hand are said to use more fast twitch fibres, and could possess up to 80% of them.  Fast twitch fibres are the ones that are responsible for revving up your metabolic rate, which could keep you burning from fat for many hours after you've finished your workout!
  • Running for long distances are the least effective for fat burning.
  • Running for long distances will cause your body to conserve energy and store fat.
  • Running for long distances will cause your metabolic rate to slow and you will store more fat.
  • Running for long distances will increase your stress hormone 'cortisol' and cause you to store more fat.
  • Running for long distances may cause more inflammation in your body.
  • Running for long distances may suppress your immune system.
So unless you are training for a marathon or long distance event, what is a overweight unconditioned runner to do?

Well you do 'intervals', anyone whose read my previous blogs or knows me, know I do 'intervals'.  You want to intersperse short periods of intensity with active recovery (see my HIIT blog).  This way you’re only putting pressure on your joints for a short period of time followed by some recovery. You can repeat this process as many times as you want, or as many as your body lets you.  Try and keep to easy on your joints surfaces, such as grass, tracks, roads (often made from tarmac) opposed to pavements (often made from concrete). 

Another option would be to get on your bike!  This is low impact, non - weight bearing exercise, that will work you both aerobically and anaerobically (such as when your going up a steep hill).  The weather is starting to improve so get outside, find an easy route to start with, progressing distance when getting more familiar with your bike.  Alternatively try a 'spin' or indoor cycling class.  Just like riding a bike with gears except your inside with other like minded people.  And at least you haven't got inclement weather, cars getting too close or dogs at your heels! 


And of course goes without saying, but it is also vital to include a strengthening type programme to help build more lean muscle which increases the ability to burn more calories from fat, you will get leaner and fitter - but remember no long slow distances!

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