Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Is Running Making You Fat?

I was at a barbecue this weekend and found myself in conversation with a friend whom I haven't seen in a few months. He'd put on a bit of weight since the last time I saw him and was really wanting to get back into shape. "So I think I'm going to join this new gym and start running on the treadmill to get back into it", he said.

Funny, but to most people, there wouldn't really seem to be anything wrong with that statement.

But for me, I felt like I wanted to pull my hair out.

So I put down the rack of ribs I was eating, wiped my face and took a deep breath.

See, running, as common an exercise as it is, isn't the best answer to lose weight for someone who was sedentary and wants to now drop a few pounds. Now, I'm not knocking running or "cardio" for that matter (even though I'm not a huge fan), because if it's between doing cardio and not doing anything at all, I'll take the "cardio". But there are more efficient and safer ways to "get back into it".

Safer, because running on a treadmill (or even worse, on pavement), can lead to injury if you're "just getting back into it". If you're 10, 15 or 50lbs over weight, imagine all that extra weight pounding down on one limb at a time. When your foot hits the ground, it puts 3-4 times your bodyweight on 1-leg. Multiply that over hundreds of repetitions and my knees are starting to ache just writing about it.

Not only that, but running can cause a lot of muscle imbalances and can magnify existing ones. If you've got a muscle imbalance, then chances are something isn't working right and other muscles have to overcompensate for the lack of function. That overcompensation is what leads to things like muscle pulls & strains, thus resulting in the runner having to give up the activity and become sedentary again until he heals.

To (over) simplify...

Sedentary & Fat -> Running -> Muscle Imbalance -> Overuse Injury -> Sedentary & Fat (again)

So what do we do about the extra pounds then, if running isn't the answer?

I'm a big fan of bodyweight circuits. (When you think about it, running, is just a bodyweight exercise.) Combine a bunch of different bodyweight movements (upper body, lower body & core work) in a circuit and you'll probably get more "in shape" that if you were to run for an hour. Here's a bodyweight workout that I like to use a lot if I'm pressed for time...

1) Jumping Jacks x 40
2) Prisoner Squats x 20
3) Chin-Ups x 10
4) Split Squats x 10/side
5) Spiderman Push-ups x 10 (Click HERE for the Spiderman Push-up demo I did on TV)
6) Burpees x 10

Save your money and train at home with your own bodyweight (especially if you're "just getting back into it").



Peter R said...

I couldn't agree more about running. I worked a 20 minute treadmill program, 3 six minute segments low to high speed and the last two minutes all out. It worked well but after a knee scoping in January I can't do it anymore. I now use a kettle bell and punch the heavy bag for cardio. What are prisoner squats, split squats and burpees

jarc said...

prisoner squat: put hands behind head making sure elbows are pushed out to sides, no straight forward. Squat down and back up

split squats:
put one foot in front of other and squat down. make sure front knee doesn't go past front foot.
do reps with one foot forward and then switch to other foot forward and do reps.

burpees...stand up. bend down and put hands on ground. jump feet back into push up position. jump feet back to hands and stand up.
harder options are to actually do push up and then jump feet back to hands and then jump up reaching in air, getting most height you can, be careful with bad knees or joints.

have fun.

bkd963 said...

Last night I tore my right pectoral muscle while bench pressing. I think it partially tore away from the insertion in my right arm and it hurts like heck! Anyway, do you know anyone else who had this happen and what was their end-result?

Carey Yang said...

Hi Chris,

I'm also a busy and fit dad and a personal trainer. Your training principles and philosophies seem identical to mine.

I couldn't agree with you more on the common mistake of losing weight and getting shape. i.e., join a gym, start running treadmill and get hurt. They want to get in shape before lifting weight. Huh!

Your Dream Body WorkoutXpert



AC said...


I have to disagree with you a little bit here....but let me first say that I do not disagree that someone just getting back into fitness should start running like mad and I do agree that a cycle of getting yourself hurt is a major problem.

That said I am a big fan of running to keep weight off. I do strength training 4-5 days per week but nothing keeps weight off me like running. But ease into it...mix running and walking early on in a 50-50 split and slowly start to run more than walk to avoid injury. If I paid better attention to my diet I probably would not need to run, but for now it helps keep the pounds off.

FitAndBusyDad said...

Guys, I really should get email notification when you guys comment on my posts. Sorry I'm just responding now.

Peter R, great call on switching to KB swings. They're my "go-to" exercise when I'm time-pressed and have time to only do one thing.

Jarc, thanks for the exercise descriptions.

bkd963, surprisingly, doing this as long as I have, I don't know anyone that has torn a pec. however, i would suggest that you get a lot of soft tissue work done on the area (by a physical therapist or chiropractor) and avoid the bench press from now on...try suspended (blast strap) push-ups or DB presses instead.

Carey, I'm glad you agree. I think people just gravitate to whatever they perceive to be easiest without really thinking things through.

AC, you hit the nail on the head with the DIET comment. That's the one rule of my industry...YOU CAN'T OUT-TRAIN A CRAPPY DIET. BTW, 4-5 weight training sessions? Isn't that excessive (you're doing running too?). It sounds like your program could use some efficiency.

Cheers all,

Reba said...

For people with only those few extra pounds or the Christmas half-stone to lose I completely agree.

But personally, running is my total body conditioner and nothing else I've ever tried as got me the feminine, long, lean conditioned look that running achieves.

I combine it with sculpting resistance work and variety but ultimately, running is what makes the difference.

Also, another reason I disagree about the use of treadmills as a starting point is that I have several clients who are so heavy, have so little core strength and are so out of condition that they could no more do a chin up or mountain clmber or prisoner squat (right now that is) than fly in the air.

For people so overweight that they are cumbersome and lacking flexibilty, balance and strength of any description, I think a sensible starting point is to be ambitious with 7-8 RPE walking, using inclines and intervals while punching out with hand-weights to to start to shift enough weight so as to give them the possibility of doing more advanced and demanding compound exercises.

It's only my opinion - we're all different - I've just seen too many people put off right at the outset by being given programmes they just aren't capable of doing which leaves them feeling demoralised.


Jesse Ciccone said...

I'm generally in agreement with your training philosophy, Chris. But I continue to run, too, mostly for psychological reasons (great way to think/work through some work day stress; and there's just something great about the environment at races).

Anyway, I was really writing to tell you the link to your Spiderman pushup video didn't work for me.

Keith said...

I am 58 and I'm definitely not a big fan of running either. If you bother to check stats you will find that anyone over 50 should not run, period! That being said, I am a big fan of walking. I walk 5 miles everyday, 7 days per week. To me it has become as natural as breathing. You not only get the cardiovascular benefit, but I find it very relaxing as well. It gives you a break from the everyday stress that invades all our lives. It has also been a big component of my weight loss program enabling me to drop 60 lbs since January.

John said...

Great site and blog, but the link for spiderman push-ups doesn'tseem tobe working. so what's aspiderman push-up?

Roman said...

Don't misunderstand, I'm not a runner and I'm not overweighted. I'm a kettlebell guy.
But I'm wondering why running should be more dangerous for the knees than jumping (jumping jacks). Because of less reps?

Have you ever seen fat people running? In most cases they are slow and don't lift the feet too much (which should be good for the knees). Ok, I'm kidding.

Teach them to swing.