It’s a well known fact that I have a love-hate relationship with running, leaning much more towards the hate-hate side. I acknowledge the fact that it’s a great form of exercise which is low cost, efficient, easy to schedule, and can be done pretty much anytime, anywhere, regardless of what mother nature is throwing at you. I also acknowledge that it can provide effective cross training to cycling, especially when trying to loose those last few stubborn pounds to get down to an optimal power to weight ratio, but frankly, that slow, relentlessly monotonous pounding is just plain boring.
It also seems that I have to continually increase my running distance to get the desired results, e.g. weight loss, which of course means more monotony, as well as an increased chance of injury, not to mention that doing too much running will actually hinder my cycling….
Running mechanics are based on eccentric contractions, where the muscle lengthens as you attempt to shorten it (this is why your quads hurt so much going down the stairs, but not up). Everytime you take a stride you are in effect hitting the brakes, and the muscle contracts. Basically, the muscle is being pulled apart. Cycling on the other hand relies on concentric contractions, meaning that the muscle shortens as it contracts. In cycling, your energy will wane and your mind will give out long before your joints, muscles, ligaments, etc will concede.
Running is a very effective exercise to lose weight, burning approximately 100 calories for every mile you run. The problem is, the more miles you log, the more efficient your body becomes at running and the fewer calories it burns. In other words, you’ll initially drop some weight, but your progress will flatline as soon as your body adjusts to your exercise regimen, forcing you to constantly increase your running distances. Not a good thing when you’re not a fan. Ultimately, all that pain and boredom can cause you to burn out and give up.
This is the heart of my problem with running. I’ve started and stopped running far too many times, falling back to the cozy confines of cycling. Unfortunately cycling alone will not get me down to my target weight…hey I have some big mountains to climb on my bucket list.
A simple solution to my dilemma would be to gradually increase the effort of the my runs over time, but as before, my body would continue to adapt to the increase in physical effort, again requiring greater running distances to continue to burn fat. Yes, I’d get faster, but I wouldn’t be burning fat efficiently…and the goal here is to burn fat, not become a marathoner.
Thankfully there is a better way using interval based training. Interval based running is where you vary your speeds and intensity throughout a shorter run, making it more efficient at burning fat in less time than traditional cardio-based runs. It’s a well known conclusion that short intense exercise is much more efficient at burning fat than long, less intense cardio. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario compared short but intense exercise to long, less-intense cardio. One group performed four to six 30-second sprints while the other group did cardio for 30 to 60 minutes. The results were nothing short of amazing. Despite exercising for a fraction of the time, those in the sprint category burned more than twice as much body fat.
Here’s how intervals work: When you run at a comfortable pace, your body easily gets energy from the oxygen you inhale, in essence, your body is on cruise control. But once you switch into high gear, your muscles start working harder to process that oxygen, so they expend extra energy recruiting other chemicals in the body (ATP and phosphocreatine) to get the job done. In essence, your body becomes less efficient and has to burn significantly more calories to do the activity. Interval based runs not only allow you to log less sweat time, but also continue to incinerate calories at an increased rate even during the walking or jogging recovery periods.
The benefits don’t end there. Your metabolism logs serious overtime after your run too. In a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, subjects who ran hard for two minutes followed by three minutes at a low intensity torched more calories in the 24 hours following their sweat sessions than those who did slow, steady mileage. They also lost 4 percent of their body fat in the weeks that followed, while the continuous-pace group didn’t lose any!
Interval training is nothing really new to me, as I regularly include them in my cycling regimen, but I’ve never included them in my running. I’ve always mistakenly operated under the assumption that the more running I did, the more weight I’d lose, but found myself having to endure longer and longer runs, making me dislike it more and more.
To facilitate my latest running reboot, I found a pretty slick app for my iPhone by Grinasys Corp called Running for Weight Loss. Using an eight week interval training program combining running, sprinting at two intensities (80% and 100%) and walking, it’s specifically designed for weight loss as well as improving overall running performance. It’s easy to use, and prompts you via voice, or your Apple Watch, when to run, sprint or walk, tracking all parameters via GPS along the way. It even cheers you on when you’re going well.
I’ve been testing it out the last few weeks and have been pretty happy with it so far. The app works very well, and more importantly the actual interval training program has actually been surprisingly enjoyable….a word I rarely associate with running. The runs are three times a week and are based on time, not distance, lasting approximately 40-45 minutes. I chose the intermediate plan which is for a person not “new to running, can run 1-2 miles and will be able to run a 10K at the programs end.”
The official kick off for this latest running reboot of mine is tomorrow, so lets see if this die hard cyclist can finally learn to enjoy running….if not enjoy, at least tolerate it enough to burn off a few more pounds!