Running gets your heart pumping, your blood pumping, and your breathing heavy — so, yes, that most definitely counts as cardio. But run the best kind cardio? And can you really lose fat by running?
The simple answers are yes and yes; running is cardio and you can lose fat by following a regular running routine much like any other consistent exercise habit. But in order to maximize its benefits, you need to learn how to best go about it.
Read on to find out what cardio exercise really means in the context of overall fitness and how to make sure your running routine helps you lose weight.
What counts as cardio?
“Cardio workouts aim to provide activity that challenges the heart muscle,” says Ronnie Carda, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Kinesiology.
Cycling, swimming and rowing are eligible, of course, but interval training (i.e. exercise that alternates periods of intense exercise and rest, such as sprint exercises or hill workouts) and circuit training (a series of strength-based exercises performed back-to-back without rest).
And, of course, running is also high on the cardio list.
In general, as long as the workout involves sustained activity that elevates your heart rate and keeps it elevated, it can be considered cardio. “And running is one of the best ways to challenge your entire cardiovascular system,” says Carda.
Running and weight loss
Because it challenges both your cardiorespiratory and muscular systems, running can provide significant weight loss benefits. This is especially true if you are new to this activity, as your body will have to work overtime to meet the energy demands of your muscles.
An average 150 pound person can burn about 100 calories per mile during a run. If you weigh more, you will burn more, and vice versa if you weigh less.
This calorie burn can result in a daily “calorie deficit,” which will result in weight loss as long as you don’t wipe it out by eating too much. In short, combining running with smart eating habits is a much more powerful weight loss strategy than focusing on running alone.
“It’s also important to keep in mind that if you’re just running at steady state, you’ll eventually – maybe even quickly – notice that your weight loss starts to taper off and level off as you go. that your body adapts to your unchanging cardio routine,'” says Trevor Thieme, CSCS, BODi’s senior director of fitness and nutrition content. “That’s why it’s important to change up your running workouts regularly. “
Not all running workouts are created equal, and different routines provide different benefits.
“Research has shown that it may be best to exercise at different intensities — from steady-state training to high-intensity interval training,” says Carda. This is especially true if your goal is to lose weight.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) alternates periods of intense effort with brief periods of rest.
A 2:1 work/rest ratio is the norm. In practice, this can mean repetitions of 40-second sprints paired with 20-second jogs, or a similar timed workout with, for example, burpees, mountain climbers, squat jumps, and push-ups.
Not only can HIIT help optimize weight loss, but it can also increase aerobic capacity and improve running performance over long distances. Indeed, a study in the Strength and Conditioning Journal found that sprint interval training improved overall endurance.
The opposite of HIIT, low intensity steady state training (LISS) involves sustained activity lasting more than 30 minutes that does not raise your heart rate above about 60% of its maximum. A LISS running workout basically consists of jogging at a steady pace for a long period of time.