Running can help you lose weight, but slow jogs aren't the best way to do it. Running fast is more effective for a few reasons, but there's also a right (and wrong) way to incorporate speed for optimal results, said exercise physiologist and Bowflex fitness adviser Tom Holland, MS, CSCS.
Do I Need to Run Fast to Lose Weight?
Yes, running fast is better for weight loss than maintaining a slow, steady pace. It comes down to a few different factors, Tom explained.
- Running fast burns more calories. It depends on your exact pace and fitness level, but Tom said that running at a faster pace can potentially burn a few extra calories per mile (he estimated around 10). "While this might seem insignificant, these calories do add up," he told POPSUGAR.
- You get a longer "afterburn effect." A higher speed increases the EPOC (excess postexercise oxygen consumption) effect, which is the "afterburn effect" that occurs when a hard workout increases the amount of oxygen and energy your body needs to recover. When you need more energy, you burn more fuel, so the EPOC effect keeps you burning calories after the workout is over. (Not a ton, but every little bit counts!)
- Fast, intense runs can decrease your appetite. All exercise has the potential to reduce your appetite, but research has shown that more intense exercise leads to a larger decrease in ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates your appetite), which results in you being less hungry than you would be after a moderate-intensity workout. That doesn't mean you'll be skipping meals after fast runs (and you shouldn't — post-run snacks help with recovery and muscle maintenance), but you might find yourself consuming fewer calories overall, Tom said.
While pace is important for weight loss, Tom said that there's another factor that's more crucial. "You want to focus on consistency first," he told POPSUGAR. It's more effective to complete three easy runs a week than one faster run, he explained. "The more miles you run, the more weight you will lose," so you don't want to completely scrap long, slow runs that allow for higher mileage. A balance of longer runs and speed work is a good idea for both weight loss and general fitness.
How Fast Should I Run to Lose Weight?
"Fast" is a relative term; as Tom pointed out, "an eight minute-mile may be challenging for one person and a recovery pace for another." Instead of relying on timing alone, pay attention to your perceived exertion. Think of it as a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the hardest. According to Tom, easy runs should be at a level of four or five; a pace that's challenging but sustainable over longer distances is a six or seven; and your short, fast speed intervals will be around an eight to 10.
20-Minute Speed Workout For Weight Loss
Interval workouts "are a great way to torch calories and burn fat," Tom said. He recommended doing the following workout once a week. Complete the speed intervals at an eight to 10 level of exertion, so at or close to your full effort. Bonus: this kind of workout will also help you get faster!
- Six-minute easy jog or walk to warm up (four to five intensity)
- 30-second hard interval (eight to 10 intensity)
- 60-second recovery, easy walk or jog at three to four intensity
- Repeat for five full intervals
- Four-minute easy walk or jog at three to four intensity to cool down
Your hard intervals are going to be challenging and you'll definitely feel out of breath by the end; that's kind of the point! Still, make sure to listen to your body and take extra breaks, extend your recovery time, or do fewer intervals as needed. And remember that diet comes into play for weight loss as well. You want to eat in a slight calorie deficit, focus on consuming whole foods (as opposed to processed ones), and up your intake of protein and veggies. (Here's more on losing weight through diet.) Making strategic food choices and doing a speed workout and a couple of slower runs throughout the week (plus some strength training) is a great plan for burning calories and losing weight.