Running has always been a staple of fat loss, and for good reason: it works! You can burn from 8.5 to 11 calories per minute depending on your pace. That’s pretty good bang for your buck. So when we want to burn fat or drop a few pounds most of us turn to the treadmill or the great outdoors.

In fact, the traditional advice for fat loss is to do long, slow, steady-state cardio. Stay in the “fat-burning” zone! Sounds like good advice, but why is it then people can spend countless hours on the treadmill doing the slow cardio grind and never seem to get the results they want? The thing about running is that it’s tried-and-tested: you want to lose weight, you run and run and run and run… The more you run, the more weight you lose, right?

The only problem with this is that the body adapts really well, really quickly. In other words, initially you drop the pounds pretty easily, but as your body adapts you hit a plateau. The good news is that your endurance has increased, the bad news is that you need to keep doing longer and longer distances to burn the same amount of calories. Not only that, but doing hours of endurance exercise is not going to give you the toned body composition you want.

So wouldn’t it be great if you could bust past those plateaus, burn more fat while running and get toned too? Is that even possible? Turns out, it is. Here’s how to make your running much more effective and turn you into a fat-burning machine.

Running Tips to Increase Fat Loss

  1. Turn up the intensity

    When it comes to fat loss it’s more about intensity than distance. Rather than sticking to the long, slow, steady-state running, add some high-intensity intervals to the mix. Here’s how: jog at your normal pace for 60 seconds, then up the intensity for 30 seconds. The level of intensity you want to reach is where you’re out of breath, but still able to maintain the intensity for those 30 seconds. Repeat for 25 minutes or as your fitness levels allow. Studies have shown that high-intensity intervals will also burn more fat after your workout.

  2. Hit the hills

    If you’re used to running on flat ground, then hit the hills to burn more calories. For every degree of incline, you get about a 10 percent increase in total calories burnt, so a gentle hill will burn about 50 percent more calories. Run up the hill at a high intensity for 10 – 30 seconds, jog back down and take a 30 – 60 second rest. Repeat 4 – 12 times or as your fitness levels alow. If you’re in the gym, set the treadmill to a 5 percent incline for the run, then reset for the jog back. Not only is this going to burn a lot more fat, but you’ll also be hitting your glutes a lot harder, so you’ll get a perkier butt too!

  3. Blast off with shuttle runs

    There’s a reason why these guys are so popular in the sporting world – love them or hate them they work! You’ll torch fat and build explosive speed and agility; adding shuttle runs to your cardio sessions is a great way to incorporate high intensity training. Here’s how to do shuttle runs.

  4. Step it up.

    So you’ve hit the hills, but now you’re looking for a new challenge? Maybe it’s time to take it to the stairs. Stair running is one of the best fat burning and overall conditioning exercises you can do. Pretty simple: run up the stairs and then do a slow-jog / trot back down to recover. Obviously you need to be very careful when doing this exercise! See stair running in action. If you thought hill runs were bad, this exercise will kick your butt… it hits the glutes much harder, so expect to get an even perkier posterior doing these.

  5. Start with strength

    Strength and resistance training gives you more muscle and because muscle burns fat even while you’re resting, the more muscle you have the more fat you burn at rest. That’s right, you actually increase your metabolism. Not only that, if you spend about 20 minutes doing strength training, you will use up your glycogen stores (the energy from carbs) which means when you follow that with a run you’ll be burning the fat instead. Here’s a tip: stick to compound exercises with free weights and do super-slow reps – the compound exercises use more muscles than machines and the slow reps have been shown to increase strength by 50 percent. Try this beginners strength training program if you’re new to lifting.

  6. Spice it up

    Remember how quickly the body adapts to exercise? So the key for fat loss is to keep it guessing and the best way to do this is to add variety to your workouts. So if you’ve been doing high-intensity interval training, throw in a longer run at lower intensity once a week. If you’re following a strength training program, then vary the exercises, the reps and the intensity. You can even try different high-intensity protocols, like the Tabata method. The idea is to keep your body from adapting, so add in something new every few weeks and experiment to see what works for you.

  7. Make your environment your gym

    Not in the gym? No problem, use your environment. You can set up your own circuit, for e.g. use the first bench you see for tricep dips, the next for pushups, the next for step ups. Hit the stairs for some stair runs and finish off with some squats and glute bridges for the ultimate butt workout.

  8. Run on empty

    Studies have shown that running before you eat can actually help you burn more fat. A University of Texas study found that eating prior to exercise substantially reduced fat metabolism for the duration of the workout. Another study by the University of Glasgow found that exercising before breakfast (i.e. in a fasted state) resulted in greater fat loss and higher reductions of fat levels in the blood. In other words, if you exercise before breakfast (or in a fasted state) you’re going to burn more fat. However, if you’re doing a long, strenuous workout, you may need to replenish your glycogen stores mid-way to prevent having a poor workout – interestingly, when done during the workout it doesn’t interfere with the enhanced fat loss. Tip: a cup of black coffee may lead to greater fat loss as it stimulates your metabolism.

  9. Break to burn

    An interesting Japanese study found that participants who took a break in-between exercise had greater fat loss than those who did not. Instead of a solid 60 minutes of exercise, they broke it up into two 30 minute periods of exercise and a 20 minute break in-between. What this means for your workout is that you’ll have better fat-burning results if you can split it into two parts with a rest between them. So, for example, you could start off your workout using our earlier tip of strength training first, followed by a 20 minute break, and then hit the road for 30 minutes of high-intensity intervals.

Why not sprinkle some of these tips into your workouts and see what a difference they make. Remember, exercise is only part of the picture, as the saying goes: you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. So make sure you stick to healthy eating, get adequate sleep and take time to relax. If you want some more fat-burning tips take a look at our weight loss tips to help you reach your ideal healthy weight!

Your turn: What do you love about running? Have you tried any of these tips? What did you think? Have we missed any? Let us know!

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  • Nick Goodall

    With point 8, in general I’d agree, but you don’t want to work too hard on an empty stomach, or you’ll start burning muscle, too. Not good!!

    • Great to see you here Nick! Totally agree, if you’re doing a long, strenuous workout, you’ll need to replenish your glycogen stores mid-way. Gel packs are pretty good for endurance, and for strength training, there are a ton of intra-workout supplements which can help too. Definitely don’t want to lose that muscle! 🙂

  • But how do I tell if I’m burning fat, or burning muscle? Obviously sweat is one indicator…

    • Great question Bianca. The only way to reliably tell if you’re burning fat versus
      muscle is to have your body composition measured regularly by a professional.
      That said, my personal opinion is that unless you’re doing intense cardio for
      long periods of time (45 – 60 minutes or longer) every single day, most people
      don’t need to worry about catabolizing muscle – provided they also do strength training a few times a week and eat right every day – i.e. get an adequate supply of
      macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats) and micronutrients.

      High-intensity interval training, is an intense form of cardio, but it’s only done for a short duration, still you could take an intra-workout (during your workout) glycogen
      replacement (like energy gels) if you’re worried about burning muscle. In addition, when bodybuilders want to cut fat (with little risk of burning muscle) they often do low-intensity cardio (such as walking) for long periods of time (60 minutes or more).

      Hope that helps!

  • susanna

    What would a be a good distance to start at for first time runners?

    • Alesandra

      I started out at 10 minutes and gradually increased.

  • Vanessa

    A question on number 5, does it matter if I do the strength training (kettlebells) before or after the running? I ususally do it after the running, I feel I am better warmed up as if I do it before. Does it make a difference or bring other results? Thanks for some mor information on that point.

    • @Vanessa great question! The answer will depend on what your main fitness goals are and the intensity at which you currently train. Whichever activity you do first will deplete some of your energy which means you won’t have as much for the following one.

      For example, if you are mainly interested in building endurance and fat loss then cardio first is probably the way to go. If you want to focus more on sculpting muscle and fat loss then strength training (preceded by a warm-up) will probably give you more bang for your buck.

      So it’s hard to give a blanket answer, but hopefully this helped. For a great breakdown on this topic, read this: http://www.runnersworld.com/workouts/how-best-to-combine-strength-training-and-running (bear in mind this is written for runners).

  • seejay

    good health is a gift of runing

  • Chrissy Hauer

    I’ve been overweight all my life and tried so many things. Different things work for different people and I was lucky enough to find one that worked for me. I lost 23 pounds in one month without much exercise and it’s been a life changer. I’m a little embarrased to post my before and after photos here but if anyone actually cares to hear what I’ve been doing then I’d be happy to help in any way. Just shoot me an email at oceanflowers82@gmail.com and I’ll show you my before and after photos, and tell you about how things are going for me with the stuff I’ve tried. I wish someone would have helped me out when I was struggling to find a solution so if I can help you then it would make my day

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