Running Makes You Fat

On September 17, 2013 by Physical Culturist

Written by Chris Shugart. Source: Testosterone Nation

Sandra is running on the treadmill when I arrive at the gym. She’s covered in sweat and her running form is starting to deteriorate. “Man,” I think, “she must’ve been running a long time already.” Training takes me about an hour and afterward I glance over at the treadmill section. Sandra is still running. And here’s the thing: I see her doing this every time I go to that gym. I think maybe she came with the gym. Maybe she has a cot in the back.

I admire her dedication, but the fact is that Sandra doesn’t look all that great. She’s on the skinny-fat side, and every week she looks a little more broken down. And truthfully, she’s added some body fat in the year I’ve been going there.

As I’m leaving the gym, Sandra finally gets off the treadmill… and limps painfully over to a stair climber and starts it up.

I don’t know Sandra very well, but I can guess what’s going on here. She’s fighting a mental battle with herself. She’s cardio’ing her atrophied butt off, but she’s not looking any better. In fact, she’s looking worse.

She’s stuck in the cardio mindset:

“You have to do cardio of course. And when it stops working, you have to do more cardio, and when that stops working, more cardio, and when that stops…”

You get the idea. In other words, once you get efficient at it, you’re only maintaining, if you’re lucky. As coach Charles Staley says, “Jogging: The more you do the less it does for you.”

If only Sandra would believe that lifting weights would give her the body she wanted, with very little, if any, traditional cardio required.

The Study

A 2006 study backs this up. In the study, 12,568 runners were tracked for 9 years. The majority of the runners gained body fat and increase waist circumference during that time period, even if they never quit running. Especially the men.

The runners who gained the most fat around their waists were the ones who decreased their mileage, mainly due to the inevitable running injuries. But get this: even runners who maintained or mildly increased their mileage got fatter.

The only runners who didn’t get fatter were the ones who significantly increased their mileage, most by 3 times as much running per week.

In other words, unless you get to near-marathoner level, running makes you fatter as you age. And if you ever have to quit or cut back due to life’s demands or injury, your endurance-exercise adapted body will quickly pack on body fat and your waist size will dramatically increase.

Think Conditioning, Not Cardio

If running is your sport, then this isn’t for you. You’ve chosen your sport, and you probably don’t care how it makes you look and you probably don’t care about being strong or building muscle. (Also, maybe T-Nation.com isn’t for you if you don’t care about those things.) I’m not here to convince you to drop your sport.

But if you’re a regular person who suffers from the myopic belief that “you gotta do cardio to lose fat” then I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. The more cardio you “have” to do, the shittier your diet probably is. With the right food and supplements, weight training is all you need. And yes, studies have also shown that weight training-only is just as beneficial to heart health as endurance work, provided you don’t do 12 sets of dicking with your iPhone every workout.

Even experienced lifters panic and turn to cardio. If you enjoy catabolism (muscle loss), increased anxiety, and increased cravings — all linked to longer duration cardio — then traditional cardio is a good choice. For the rest of us sane folks, here’s an alternative with none of those drawbacks:

    1) First, fix your diet. No, it’s not as good as you think it is. Do better.

    2) Perform 10 minutes or so of intense conditioning work after your weight training or in another session. Choices include sled work, Prowler, battle ropes, sprints, kettlebell swings, jump rope, and things of that nature. Switch things up when it comes to conditioning — try NOT to adapt to one form and it’ll keep working.

One of my favorites is to do kettlebell swings, ab work during “rest” periods, then more kettlebell swings, repeated. It will feel like a very long 10 minutes, and will do more for your physique than an hour of treadmill pounding.

Are You a Runner or a Lifter?

Sandra probably lost weight when she first starting running. But her body quickly adapted, and with little to no weight training she’s stuck in a downward spiral. T-Nation readers are smarter than that, but we sometimes forget, panic, and turn to excess cardio. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but also one that’s easy to avoid.

Fine-tune your diet, focus on weights if you care about being strong and muscular, and use conditioning work as you need it. Just remember, running is a sport, not the best way to lose fat and keep it off. – CS

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