Is long slow running good for losing fat?

Some guys like blondes, some like brunettes…. We all have our personal predilections and often for no other reason than “we like it”. I’m not here to judge you or your kink. And whether you’re into being shackled and spanked by a midget in a schoolgirl uniform or running marathons, if you’re ok then I’m ok.

Shackles and schoolgirl uniforms I might understand, but midgets and marathons, not so much. Let’s leave the midget for another time and address the marathon and long slow running in general.

Long slow running is not my thing first and foremost because it is LONG. I like my workouts short. Less than a half an hour for sure, ten to fifteen minutes is ideal.

Just thinking about running for an hour gives me shin splints.  Here are few more reasons why I don’t believe long slow running is good for fat loss…

  • Long slow running does not burn many calories after the run is over. Calories are expended during the run, but afterward the metabolism will not be stoked the way it will be after a session of short duration high intensity exercise.
  • Long slow running is not functional. Not since the utilization of the homing pigeon, has there been any practical reason to run long distances. Sprint as fast as you can to get away from a mugger? Sure. Race in front of a speeding car to save a child playing in the street? Absolutely. Deliver a message to the ruling emperor in the territory 20 miles away? Not so much.
  • Long slow running is the ideal Petri dish for overuse injuries. Lower back, hips, knees, ankles, shins, and even neck can all be affected by the repetitive impact involved in the long slow run. Find me a runner who is injury free and I’ll bet he either has pristine technique combined with the use of excellent work/rest recovery cycles or he is a freak of nature.

Again, if long slow running is your “thing” then have at it. Just don’t mistake it for the ideal way to accelerate fat loss or prepare for functional activity. Now about that midget. . .

-Terry Asher

P.S. – Let me know what you think about long runs in the comments below.  Do you like to run?  Has it worked for you when it comes to losing fat?  Or would you rather do some high intensity circuit training to torch the fat?

Gym Junkies

I’m Terry I’m here to help you achieve the body you want. I truly believe anyone can achieve the figure they want, with the proper guidance. Through my eBook I have been able to help thousands of people online lose weight, tone up and get in shape. My goals are to continue to help people all around the world and change people’s life for the better.

Latest posts by Gym Junkies (see all)

29 Comments

  • avatar

    In all fairness, IF one really knows how to get their diet down so they are in more oxidation mode, the slow-go cardio stuff can burn fat.

    BUT that being said…most people do Waaaayyyyy too much and just eat up muscle (or don’t have their diet down to really see good results).

    Personally I hate jogging…I run. My idea of a good run is finding a trail and just going for 20-30min…that’s long enough for me! That and my pace is fast, slow, varied…nothing steady state about it.

    In the end…activities can be fun, but people should keep them in moderation and really focus on eating if weight loss is the goal….as I see way too many people thinking they can “out smart” their bad eating with hours of cardio….yeah, not going to happen.

  • avatar

    I have to tell you, I’ve run more 10 km’s with the army than I care to shake a stick at. But have to tell you, I love it, almost as much as those school girl uniforms.

    However, I can see where you are coming from. I wrote a post a while ago for those who are interested in doing their cardio workouts more efficiently, spending less time on the treadmill. You can check it out here, http://www.digitaltrainer.ca/blog/2008/12/you-ran-for-20-minutes-today-did-you-run-hard/

    Cheers,

    Jeremiah

  • avatar

    Not sure if I can disagree with something that is only an opinion, but I’ll try anyway :)

    I have found that distance running is totally effective at losing weight WHEN paired with a good diet. Oxidation levels aside, if we eat less calories than we burn, then we will lose weight.

    Over 1 year’s time, I lost about 70 pounds by eating less and running a lot. Could I have lost the weight faster by doing sprints instead of jogs? Probably. But for the fatty I was, sprinting was too difficult. Slow jogging was something I could stick with and enjoyed – and that is what’s really important. Adding any exercise into your life that you enjoy, even if it burns less calories than other options, is still going to do amazing things for your body. Weight loss, heart health, increased endurance and muscle toning are other excellent benefits I’ve found in distance running.

  • avatar

    I hate running because my handcuffs tend to chafe after the first quarter mile.

  • avatar

    I must admit, i love running… i also have to say that it has me lose weight and keep cholesterol levels in check… i also have to admit that your ankles, shins, knees, hips and other body parts do hurt after running for “a while”… but those aside i still run, not on a treadmill – those are for Gerbills indeed :) – but outside, preferably on a hill… i lost a lot more weight incorporating sprints during my run and by keeping my heart rate up (around 140 minimum)… but i lost a lot more weight when i combined my running with strength training… all in all i feel better, i can run longer, my cholesterol is down and the midgets in schoolgirl uniforms are giving me a second look…lol thanks vic

  • avatar

    Hey Vic,

    The funny thing is, as you put it, slow long running IS in fact BETTER for fat loss and this is why

    Our bodies main fuel sources are: Glucose, Glycogen, Fatty acids and Triglycerides (and Protein only in extreme cases)

    Which fuel source we use is affected by the intensity of the exercise, duration, the fitness level of the exerciser and the nutrition before the exercise.

    I’m not going to delve to deeply into this (I’ll save the detailed explanation for my blog :D ) But lets look at those factors really quickly.

    When you run at low intensity for a long duration of time our bodies make a shift in fuel sources from glucose to fat.

    Why?

    As time goes on muscle glucose is depleted thus the body is no long able to use glycolysis which then means that the Kerbs cycle and the Electron Transport Chain will be ineffective. Thus the body will rely on fat is the primary fuel source.

    That’s a basic explanation at best :)

    There are obviously pro’s and con’s to long durations of cardiovascular exercise but the bottom line is exercise physiology doesn’t lie.

    Take care

    • avatar

      Your right that low slow distance running burns proportionality more fat than carbs and protein but it still does not burn as much fat or as many calories as a more intense exercise with a comparable time frame. This is where many people get confused about LSD fat burning myths. Unless your a bodybuilder trying to hold on to muscle mass, LSD will not burn more fat or more calories that comparably more intense exercise.
      Matt

      Strength and Conditioning Coach
      BA HKinetics

  • avatar

    How about a brunette midget? :)

    Hate running, jogging and walking! (unless it’s on a beach or there’s some lovely scenery or a purpose to it!) Hated it at school and hate it now.

    And to think a few years ago I was on a treadmill walking fast for over an hour at a time in the ‘fat loss zone’. Not only was it mind numbingly boring, some dummkopf told me I was losing fat! Arghhh!

    Anyway, HIIT rocks!

    And leave us poor little people alone Mr Magary! lol

    Tusc ;)

  • avatar

    I run for the experience of being outside and enjoying nature, not for losing fat.

    I agree that it is typical to see over-use injuries related to running, but doing the right warm ups, after work, having the right shoes, running the right places… Generally, the problems will be minimal.

    Good post nonetheless :-)

  • avatar

    @ Mike OD: Right on, man. You cannot “outsmart” bad eating with cardio. Or any other exercise for that matter. I agree 100% that diet is priority one for weight loss. And sure, slow-go cardio can burn fat; so can waxing my car. When it comes down to efficiency – maximum result in minimum time – I’m gonna hit it hard and fast and leave the slow-go to those who enjoy it or don’t know any better.

    @ Jeremiah: Like I said, If you dig the long runs have at it. I fondly remember running the Garden Of The Gods in Colorado Springs when I was stationed at Fort Carson. That was about a 45 minute jaunt, so I’ve done my time on the trails. But man, I’ll take a 12 minute brutal circuit workout over a 45 minute trail run any day right now!

    @ Brandon: Much respect for dropping 70 lbs. An AWESOME accomplishment! And right on about finding activities that you enjoy. You have to enjoy it to sick with it.

    @ Natalee: Girl, you have to try those padded wrist cuffs from the high end sex shops. I have a pair you can borrow sometime. No chaffing, I promise. ;)

    @ RolanMan: Hill runs are the shit! Man I miss the steep grades of Colorado (Army reminiscing again). And strength training is key to fat loss and overall health. Keep up the great work!

    @ brian: I agree, physiology does not lie. And I stand by the fact that I have personally coached many people to 20 lb. + weight losses in only 8 weeks with ZERO long slow cardio sessions. Diet first. Then strength. Then high intensity cardio-vascular stress. Then – and only as icing on the f’ing cake – long slow cardio. Bottom line, if it works for you keep it.

    @ Tusc: I love all the little people. Especially you, girl. ;)

    @ Alex Kay: No doubt, if you’re feeling nature and the overall experience of being outside I say run your ass off. And yes, overuse injuries can be minimized with running. But I say, why bother? Hit the damn weights! Grrrrrr. Lol.

  • avatar

    HIIT has been getting the spotlight those last 5-10 years and for a good reason.

    But I think the pendulum has swung too far here too.

    Peeps that are out of shape WILL benefit from any kind of running. Hell, I don’t run right now and I get winded after a 100 meters.

    Also, sprints are mentally tough and some will

    But, if you are in a decent shape – go to the next level with sprints.

    And, lots of folks rely on slower pace runs and get great results. Bruce Lee and Ali did it. Practically all fitness competitors also do slow runs/cardio.

    I’m just saying – don’t get caught up in DOGMA.

  • avatar

    HIIT has been around for 5-10yrs?? Jeez, what planet was I on?? lol

    Vic, you just wanna use my pullup bar on your European tour, don’t ya! hehe!

    I’m going for a walk……..

    Tusc ;)

  • avatar

    brian wrote
    > As time goes on muscle glucose is depleted thus the body is no long able to use glycolysis which then means that the Kerbs cycle and the Electron Transport Chain will be ineffective. Thus the body will rely on fat is the primary fuel source.

    If depletion of glucose is what you want first, then what is the best way to deplete glucose the fastest? Long slow distance running doesn’t sound like the optimal way.

    ——–

    Does it matter whether the body uses more fat or more carbohydrates during the training? What happens with excess unused karbohydrates (hint: they get converted into fat).

    What’s your take on EPOC, and all the other stuff that happens AFTER the training?

  • avatar

    Good post Vic. I’ve not done much research into the benefits and disadvantages of the various types of cardio and although I have in the last few years forced myself to do more short, high intensity cardio sessions I still love good old fashioned distance running. Don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because it was one of the only sports I was reasonably good at in school? Perhaps it’s the feeling of relaxation, freedom and the time you get to yourself when you are out running? I don’t really know but I’m going to carry on doing it regardless of the amount of fat it burns.

  • avatar

    @ Yavor: Right on, man. You cannot get caught up in DOGMA. I encourage everyone to experience training methods first hand and decide your training protocols on RESULTS not by what I, or anyone else, writes about. If it’s not high risk for injury, I say try it! Having said that, my personal experience shows the best results for fat loss come from high intensity training like sprints and circuits and not from long slow steady state cardio.

    @Tusc: You get a video of your first full pull up and I’ll see if I can get it posted here at GymJunkies!

    @ Matthias & Brian: I love the discussion, guys. Thanks for keeping everything on a well thought out level. Opinions are going to differ – and we welcome discussions where everyone benefits. Keep up the comments!

    @Tom: You listed the perfect reasons to DO long slow running: feeling of relaxation, freedom, and time to yourself. Like I said, if the long runs are your “thing” have at it!

  • avatar

    @ Vic

    I totally agree. I think slow cardio serves a purpose for different people but its not the be all end all.

    Diet and Nutrition paired with efficient strength training usually can do the trick.

    High intensity training burns fat at a high rate BUT slowly intensity burns a higher percentage of the calories burned.

    Can we say win-win?

    • avatar

      @brian: I’m all about the win-win. As much as I detest it (and almost never do it), I admit that long slow cardio is just another tool in the box that has it’s place and time depending on training goals. Thanks for your comment!

  • avatar

    @Matthias

    Sorry for not replying right away I skimmed over your post.

    But I think it does matter to a certain extent:

    If someone is trying to loose weight then it wouldn’t matter because you want all types of calories burned off

    But lets say your happy with your current weight and are just working on cutting bf% down without too much muscle loss (or general weight loss). Assuming your have a great diet and such working at a lower intensity ( < 30% of VO2 reserve) might be an option you’d want to consider

  • avatar

    Gotta weigh in here…I have run several ultra marathons (50 miles 3 times, 31.1 once) and several marathons…everything said here is true. Even the things that are apparent contradictions. I no longer run those distance due to a knee injury (from BJJ) that gets exacerbated by long pounding. Current exercise physiology indicates fat is burned most efficiently at rest. You will burn ATP first (about 30/60 seconds), then glycogen (17-20 miles). So, glucose and glycogen are the primary energy sources, then fat. So when I am running long and slow I will burn fat for fuel. HERE IS THE PROBLEM: when I refuel I will replenish all the fat. I just trained my body to burn fat and thus (being the efficient machine it is) it will replace that fat so I have it for the next time. If I want to burn fat for energy I need to let my body do it naturally (at rest) while it replaces just the correct amount of glycogen that I burned up during my workout. When I run now I run for the “zen” of running or the social aspect. When I work out I use the PACE (Dr. Al Sears) theory…Hard and fast and rest, repeat!

    • avatar

      @ John: Many thanks for weighing in! As an experienced endurance athlete your comments are MOST appreciated.

  • avatar

    Most people detest what they cannot do well. That is common in life. Long slow running has its place. Do it in combination with core work, eating right, and work in the weight room and you will feel great and look great. Anyone should be able to run for one hour at least. If you can’t then you are in poor cardiovascular health. That’s the plain and simple truth. It is just like anything… ignoring your weaknesses they will only make you weaker.

  • avatar

    There are benefits far beyond the physical ones you talk about that are affiliated with long distance running. I prefer to enjoy the best of both worlds. When I am about running sprints and trying to set new time goals for myself I get personal satisfaction from the physical improvements I make. However, when I go out and run 8-10 miles there is no comparision with the personal achievement I feel. I am training for my second marathon, and for those of you have never done one, I highly reccomend it. I was always active in sports but never at long distance running. There has never been a better feeling than crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles. Anyone can do it, whether you agree with the physical benefits or not, the mental benefits will last a lifetime.

    • avatar

      I agree, there are mental or spiritual benefits to accomplishing a huge goal such as completing a marathon. My concern is when people believe it is a good exercise protocol for fat loss – as there are definitely more efficient training modes.

      If long slow distance running is your thing, have at it. I agree that the mental benefits from an extreme physical challenge will last a life time.

  • avatar

    I started running about 5-6 months ago. I started doing 1-3 miles, then worked my way up higher and higher. I’m doing 13+ miles no no problem. My runs are long and slow, never really passing 6MPH. I weighed about 270, and am down to about 210. Its not all about the runs though, a lot of times I would work HIIT sessions into the last 1-1.5 miles, or do some fast paced 1-3 mile stints. I maintain my calories to an extent, lesser so now than before and have been doing pushups/pullups and some stuff in the gym. The main thing is minding your calories and being very active. Eating the right stuff and always getting nutrition. I make sure I’m constantly fueled with good stuff, before I go to sleep, never go 4 hours without eating some good carbs and protein.

    The main reason I do long runs like that though, is because I enjoy them. I can run 2-3 hours and just be enjoying myself. Thinking about my life, exploring, listening to music. When I’m going at a comfortable pace its like I’m not running at all.

  • avatar

    Vic,

    Long jogging bores me to tears as well. I either like to sprint or walk. I will throw in the occasional 20-30 minute jog, just to test if I can still run if needed…but I don’t like the way it feels (during or after). I can sprint like crazy and work up a sweat and feel great the following day, but jogging hurts my joints and tendons, etc.

    By the way, not that many long distance runners have great looking physiques. So much work for such little return!

    -George D

  • avatar

    I’m surprised no one here has commented on the gender issue here. The slow-cardio-burns-fat myth is the biggest problem with women. So many young women are deathly afraid of “getting bulky” and so refuse to weight train. Or women like my mom, who are getting older and think that intense training will damage their aging bodies, so they opt for low-intensity cardio and high-rep, low-weight “toning.”

    This is all BS!

    I agree with Vic here that long, slow cardio is not the ideal way to burn fat. But how many of my college girlfriends slogged away for an hour three times a week on the elliptical, shunning weights and fearing muscle (and true fitness)? It’s a mess.

    Moreover, the myth is making Americans fatter, because overweight people almost always find slow, low-intensity cardio to be utterly miserable and can’t stick to their weight-loss routines. If overweight Americans–especially women–understood the fat-burning power of weight training, it would save a lot of people a lot of strife.

    All this aside, I really enjoy running for all the reasons people named above, and I agree that, done right, there are lots of benefits. Maximizing fat-burning is not one of them.

  • avatar

    Depends totally on your goals. Long and slow (and ball-strike rather than heel-strike running) is a completely valid, low-injury-risk approach to marathon/triathlon success. Is it going to make you big and muscular? No. Is it ideal for weight loss? Probably not (unless you follow through to marathon-level fitness). But it does have its place for some purposes.

  • avatar

    Hi Vic,

    I’ve recently started doing intervals on the treadmill instead of long runs and I love it! Most things that I’ve read about it say that you should do it 3 times a week, but is more than that ok? Is there ever a point that it becomes ineffective? I just got back into working out on a daily basis and am not quite ready to start lifting weights again but still want to work out 5 or 6 days a week. Thanks!

    ~Lauren

  • avatar

    Thank you for the article. I have seen the best fat loss results with my clients and myself using a combination of 2 session HIIT and aerobic interval training (can be done with circuts in weight training so long at the rest recovery ration is right) I agree that from my expierence and the science seems to support my observations that interval training using HIIT and/or lower intensitity intervals is more effective for losing body fat and maintaining lean body mass. Im not sure how much more effective but it seems to more much more efficient in dropping body fat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


1 × two =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>