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Client Question: I used to run 3 miles at a time, and have recently increased to 6 miles most days. I am surprised that I am not dropping weight and that I still have ‘problem areas’ that are flabby. What is going on? I can’t possibly increase my mileage any more.
Running is a great tool for body recomposition because it burns more calories than just about any cardiovascular activity—but it does have its limitations.
First of all, realize that the body is an amazing adaptive machine. Whatever you do on a habitual basis, your body will adapt to and accommodate by becoming more efficient at that activity. Your body will become more efficient at running and your times will improve to help with the goal of running is to improve your time. However, becoming more efficient at running means you burn fewer calories doing it, which will not help you if your goal is to burn body fat. Sure, you can run farther now, but you will burn fewer calories with each mile. Also, when you run a lot your body will begin to shed muscle because muscle is extra weight that slows down your running, which is bad for your appearance and for your metabolism.
Running 6 miles will always burn more calories than running 3 miles, but will not burn double the calories. There are some things you need to do to keep your body from adapting. When you are running a lot, you need to make more sure than ever you consume at least 1 gram per lb. of body weight. Also, you need a solid weight training program and you need to occasionally choose other types of cardio so that you body doesn’t stagnate.
The best strategy is to include speed work as part of your weekly running in addition to your weight training, your longer cardio runs, and your interval work. Your nutrition also needs to be appropriate for your goals.
**Mentioning nutrition--some people increase their food consumption when they exercise more or harder--whether it be consciously because they tell themselves they've 'earned' it, or subconsciously because they just get hungrier. Watch for this.**
The benefit of running is that it’s great to train your body to become more efficient and cardiovascularly fit in the least amount of time. I recommend doing 2 days per week of a longer run, and those days should be high protein and lower carb days.
You can either perform weight-training 2 days per week or half-body weight training 4 days per week in order to keep your muscle mass. On those days you can also incorporate speed work. I recommend one day per week of repeated bouts of sprints and one or two days per week or relatively short, easy runs with a sprint at the end, or of an alternate cardio workout such as complexes or an aerobics class.
This way you will have the best of all worlds—the large calorie burn and cardiovascular conditioning of the longer runs, plus the metabolic stimulation of the speed work and other types of cardio to keep it fresh.
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