Jogging to lose weight was the cutting edge wisdom of the 1970s. If you wanted to lose weight, you started jogging. If that didn’t completely do the trick, you considered dieting too.
Although the thinking is not quite as automatic or widespread now, the overall concept persists: If you need to lose weight, you start jogging.
Is jogging to lose weight effective?
But is this a valid approach? Does jogging to lose weight work?
Increasingly the “experts” are saying NO, and to a large extent I agree with them.
Jogging vs Running
Before answering, it will be helpful to clarify terminology.
In your areas of interest/expertise are there special words that only insiders know?
A friend of mine is an avid golfer. He tells me that a “real” golfer would NEVER say “I’m going golfing”. A real golfer always says “I’m going to play golf”, or “I’m going to play a round of golf”. “Golf” is always used as the noun, never the verb. Calling it “golfing” tells the insiders that you got your education about the sport from comic books, TV, or movies.
THAT is the same difference between “jogging” and “running”. Someone who calls it “jogging” probably knows very little about it and has never had a conversation with a “real” runner about it. “Jogging laps” was what they were forced to do as punishment on as a high school football player when they did something wrong.
What difference does it make for weight loss?
It matters because the answer is slightly different if you call it “jogging” than if you call it “running”. Sounds strange, I know, but hang with me for a sec.
If you call it “jogging”, it almost certainly means you don’t already do it, and probably never have. In this case you are only asking the question because you harbor that culture-wide ingrained belief that jogging will help you lose weight.
In this case, it PROBABLY WON’T HELP. The reasons for this are explained at Lose Weight Without Exercise, but in a nutshell it goes like this:
Running burns around 0.76 calories per pound per mile. So if you weigh 180 lbs., running three miles will burn around 410 calories. One slice of a large loaded pizza has around 350-400 calories. If you aren’t a regular runner who enjoys running, then running just doesn’t fit into the calorie math required to lose weight.
I’m not trying to tell you not to jog, I’m only encouraging you to have realistic expectations. The jogging isn’t going to burn enough calories to make the pain and agony worthwhile.
But what about “real” running to lose weight?
So “jogging” to lose weight is not likely to be effective for reasons outlined above, but what about serious running? Will that help you lose weight?
That’s really more of an academic question since almost no one who is already a runner struggles with weight much. And anyone who is already a runner would call it “running” and not “jogging”.
But if you are not already a runner and want to take that on as a fitness activity, you will probably lose weight as a side effect of your running. But if you start running mainly for the purpose of losing weight, everything described above probably applies to you.
The fast-twitch slow-twitch problem
There is one other thing about running – or jogging – to lose weight.
As an almost purely aerobic activity, running/jogging utilizes “slow twitch” muscle fiber almost exclusively. This is the type of muscle used in long, low-intensity, endurance activity. High intensity anaerobic activity (sprinting, jumping, lifting, etc.) uses “fast twitch” muscle fiber. Fast twitch muscle fiber is the majority tissue in most muscles.
If you are running or jogging to lose weight while neglecting high-intensity exercise that utilizes fast twitch fiber, the fast twitch fiber (the majority) atrophies.
And the one thing you DON’T want to do when trying to lose FAT is to lose any muscle tissue. One pound of muscle tissue burns between 50 and 100 calories per day JUST TO STAY ALIVE. So if you lose 5 pounds of muscle tissue through atrophy from non-use, your body burns 250-500 fewer calories per day.
That very factor is the reason that INCREASING muscle mass is so beneficial for health and weight loss. Consider this — What if instead of losing 5 pounds of muscle mass through atrophy you actually ADDED 5 pounds of muscle mass through strength training? In this case you would actually burn and additional 250-500 calories per day WITHOUT DOING ANYTHING. That’s right. Muscle tissue is “metabolically expensive”. That means it requires energy (calories) just to keep it alive.
See Weight Training and Weight Loss for more about how to make that happen.
But if you are a dedicated runner there is one adjustment you can make to your running to make it “fast-twitch friendly”. SPRINT SOME! Read Interval Training for Weight Loss for more about interval training. By alternating slow paced recovery with 20-30 second sprints (aka “Intervals”) you can actually utilize enough fast-twitch fiber to prevent it from atrophying, and maybe even cause it to grow.
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