Run less and lose more body fat

Run less and lose more body fat

Low intensity workouts such as jogging or power walking can be the most effective way to lose weight and reduce body fat. Leading personal trainer Callum Melly explains why.


One of the most common reasons people give up exercising is because they don't see the results they want, and to be honest, I don’t blame them. 

Many individuals who exercise are looking to lose weight, but in fact they are trying to reduce stored body fat that leads to those unwanted muffin tops. There is a huge difference between losing weight and reducing body fat and I will go into this later on.

Cardio is a great way to burn fat, but only if you are training in the right way. 

When I walk into the gym, I see people running with the aim to reduce body fat and by all means that is a great start and is far better than doing nothing at all; however, the way they are going about it isn’t going to maximise fat loss. It’s no wonder people are running out of patience.

You’re running at an all out pace for as long as you can, you’re dripping in sweat, out of breath and watching the calories rack up and thinking to yourself ‘yes, I’m going to lose so much weight if I do this everyday.’ Sound about right? 

Ok, you are right in some respects, you will lose weight if you create a calorie deficit (fewer calories going in from food than going out from energy expenditure) but it isn’t the weight you want to be losing, it's reducing body fat.

Don't get out of breath

Treadmill runnersIf you are getting out of breath as a result of prolonged cardio then you are simply working your aerobic system which is going to improve your blood circulation, aerobic power, aerobic endurance and in layman's terms, make you more efficient at running faster for longer. But it isn’t going to help you burn fat. So the first thing to remember, if you are getting out of breath from running, then you are not likely working in your optimal fat burn zone.

Secondly, if you are exercising at over 70% of your maximum heart rate (a basic calculation is 220 minus your age), then your body can’t convert body fat quickly enough into energy to sustain this intensity of exercise. Therefore, your body will require another readily available source.

The body's fuel of choice will firstly be recently ingested or stored carbohydrates, which will likely support around 15 minutes of exercise at over 70% of your maximum heart rate. Second are proteins, which means your body will be breaking down your muscles to sustain this level of intensity.

It is a bit of a vicious circle, because if you are burning protein (muscle) as an energy source then you’re reducing your body’s natural efficiency to burn body fat as energy; the more lean muscle your body has, the more effective it is at using stored body fat as energy.

Adding to this, muscle weighs more than fat, so as I previously mentioned, just because you are losing weight, doesn’t mean you are reducing your body fat which is the common aim. As a result, you can actually look worse for wear, as lean muscle will give you that nice toned and curvy shape that is most commonly desired.

So, what do I suggest for optimal fat-burn?

Switch to low intensity

I would recommend completing 30-45 minutes of LISS cardio (low intensity steady state) working at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate, three to five times per week. 

The best times to do this are either fasted (upon awakening and before eating) or immediately after a resistance workout, the reason for training at both these times is that in both a fasted and pre-resistance workout state, you will have very few carbohydrates available for energy use and this will promote fat being burned as energy providing you are exercising at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate.

A great way to achieve this 60-70% intensity would be to power walk with a slight incline and regularly check your heart rate. 

Other good reasons you should be doing more LISS and less endurance and HIIT (high intensity interval training) are:

1. LISS cardio is far less demanding on your tendons and joints.

2. If you are completing resistance training, then LISS cardio will enable you to recover faster in comparison to endurance and HIIT cardio. LISS cardio is a much lower intensity, requires less muscular energy to complete, doesn’t tax the central nervous system and will allow you to burn additional fat without compromising your resistance workout results.

3. LISS cardio is often preferred when in a calorie deficit as again it requires far less effort to complete and won’t require excess calories for recovery compared to endurance and HIIT cardio. The harder you work out, the more glycogen you burn (glycogen is stored in the muscles as workout fuel) and therefore that glycogen needs to be replenished which means you need to eat more. HIIT training is so taxing on the body that often you can crave starchy foods to restore muscle glycogen and actually go into a calorie surplus which means you won’t lose the weight you want to.

4. Nearly everyone can do LISS cardio, whereas endurance and HIIT cardio can be limited by a number of factors. They include injuries, body composition or age and the stress it puts on the entire body from the heart, to the lungs, to the muscles to the joints.

5. People are far more likely to stick to LISS cardio because it’s easier, but that doesn’t make it any less effective at burning fat when done properly. 

If you are walking for the purpose of reducing body fat, power-walking on an incline is most effective. Plus, the steeper the incline, the more you’ll shape and tone your lower body muscles, like your gluteus, hamstrings, quads and calves.  

Make sure you are wearing the appropriate footwear for the terrain you’re going to be walking on and ensure that it allows a comfortable roll of your foot from heel to toe as you take each step. 

So think about missing (or at least getting off earlier) the bus, train or tube home and get power walking to a healthier, more active and happier you!

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