WHY JOGGING IS BAD FOR WEIGHT LOSS AND FITNESS
Drive down any scenic road on a weekend morning, and you’re likely to see more joggers than scenery. You might feel jealous at how fit and energetic they look, and perhaps even a twinge of shame as you look down at the box of donuts in the seat next to you which was your purpose for being out this beautiful morning.
But are your feelings of jealousy and shame justified? Should it be you out there in high end cool running gear jogging along to shed some pounds and get more fit?
After a careful analysis, we think you’ll agree the correct answer is NO, that should not be you. Why?
Because Jogging is BAD for weight loss and fitness.
While you definitely should be looking for ways to lose weight and become more fit, millions of people are doing more harm than good choosing jogging as their form of exercise. Can millions of people be wrong? Well, grab a donut, read on and decide for yourself.
FIRST A FEW DEFINITIONS
Ok, let’s be clear who and what we are talking about with some definitions:
JOGGER – Person who runs 1 hour per workout session at a pace of 5 miles per hour (12 minutes per mile). Since many joggers keep a faster pace than that. We will also address “Runners” who keep an 8 mile per hour pace (under 8 minutes per mile). These definitions are provided by the Mayo Clinic Weight Loss Website.
WEIGHT LOSS – The losing of weight per your scale or your clothes feeling more loose. Sorry, buying new, larger clothes does not qualify under this definition (be great if it would, eh?).
FITNESS – There are many ways to define fitness. We have chosen one that hopefully matters to the most people: A person’s overall physical health measured by their ability to successfully perform a wide variety of functional tasks.
WHY JOGGING IS BAD FOR WEIGHT LOSS AND FITNESS – THE EVIDENCE
You will likely outeat the calories you burn while jogging or running
According to the Mayo Clinic, a 160 pound person who jogs for an hour will burn 584 calories. A 160 pound runner ramps up the calories burned in an hour to 986. If you weigh more you burn more calories, if you weigh less you burn less. Many people don’t jog for an hour per workout, but we want joggers to have a chance at success here so we’ll pretend they all do.
In order for our jogger to lose weight as a direct result of this workout they will need to ensure they do not eat more calories than the 584-986 they just burned. This is what’s called the “caloric deficit” and it’s probably the most widely accepted and proven method to weight loss.
How realistic is that? Not very. An hour of any exercise tends to create a pretty serious appetite at some point later that day (which would be the worst time to eat it by the way), let alone the feeling of “entitlement” that comes from a workout well done. So most joggers (from here forward when I say joggers I am including “runners” unless noted) are going to head out for a nice meal to celebrate their efforts. A meal that will have much higher calories than what they would eat if they didn’t jog.
But does it really take a huge meal to make jogging or running a net loser for weight loss? The Power Bar you eat right before the run has 230 calories, that bagel with the cream cheese “schmear” you eat with your running group after the run has 400 or more calories, as does ONE decent sized slice of pepperoni pizza you’ve surely earned. If you decide to splurge on dessert because you jogged today, any decent one will surely add 500 or more calories. We won’t even mention the couple extra beers or glasses of wine…oops, guess we just did!
So it’s a good bet that joggers and even runners will add enough calories to their diets on exercise days to outeat what they just burned, which at best will be a breakeven, and very often will create a net caloric (as in WEIGHT) GAIN.
But we are not stopping there. What about on those days you don’t jog? How many people are really that disciplined to cut back on their eating since they won’t be burning those additional calories? More often, you hear “I’ll run this off tomorrow” as they head back for seconds on the pasta. So, now the increase in calories caused by jogging on workout days leads to more calories on non workout days, further increasing weight gain.
We contend this is how MOST people manage their eating, which means most joggers are gaining weight as a result of their jogging efforts.
To be fair, there are a select few people who do manage their calories more effectively than outlined above– we have a name for those people – “The 2% club”: The 2% of people who successfully maintain a low calorie diet. While members of the 2% club can create a caloric deficit by jogging, it still will not be a significant deficit, and more importantly 2% Clubbers DON’T NEED TO JOG TO LOSE WEIGHT because they are successfully dieting!
You will actually lose muscle while jogging, especially since jogging does not involve your upper body in any meaningful way.
A “catabolic state” refers to the state in which your body is burning protein for its nutritional needs. A catabolic state is one you’d like to avoid as it means you are burning muscle to create energy for your exercise efforts. Yet joggers and runners are putting their bodies in this state every time they work out.
When you jog you are using your leg muscles which gives them a reason to grow stronger. That’s good, but to jog for an hour your body needs to find energy, and low intensity activities like jogging for an hour will need to access energy from all possible sources which include fat and muscle.
Here’s a simple question: What does jogging do to benefit your upper body? Simple answer: NOTHING. So along with the fat you want to burn, your body is burning muscle as part of it’s energy to let you do your jogging workouts. And, where is it most likely to “catabolize” this muscle? From your upper body where it’s not being used and therefore not needed.
And while jogging can give you stronger legs, a weak upper body is harmful to fitness as defined at the start of this essay. This is one example of how jogging harms your fitness. There’s more to come.
Most joggers and runners become aware of this and start doing upper body resistance training such as weight lifting to prevent muscle catabolism. That’s a really good idea, but that’s not jogging for fitness is it? No, that’s having to do MORE exercise to offset the negative effects of jogging!
Plus, studies indicate that every pound of muscle on your body takes 3 to 10 times more calories to support than fat, so allowing any muscle catabolism means you are actually slowing your metabolism throughout the day. Slower metabolism does not sound like a good thing for either weight loss or fitness does it?
Again, the devil’s advocate will want to argue that joggers can minmize muscle catabolism without supplemental exercise by using Target Heart Rate Training. Basically, this involves exercising at a rate below your “target” heart rate to encourage more fat burning. So now we are jogging slower which means we are burning fewer calories which harms our caloric deficit. This makes weight loss even more difficult. Now we’re confused. What’s the most effective way to jog again? Do we jog faster and burn more calories or jog slower and save more muscle?
Your body will adapt to the challenge of jogging fairly quickly, thus making it progressively harder to lose weight or become more fit. Once your body adapts to jogging you enter a “death spiral” of needing to run further or faster or both to see any further improvement.
Adaptive response is just a fancy way of saying that your body will do it’s best to adjust to whatever level of exercise you are trying to do. It will “adapt”. This is why it’s a lot easier to complete the 1 hour jog after you have done it 10 times than it is the first time you try it.
But when it comes to weight loss, adaptive response is exactly what you don’t want. It means your body has reached a state where jogging is no longer a challenge, and because you are now capable of handling the task at hand, there is no reason to drop any additional fat or add any more muscle. In addition, your metabolism has a similar adapative response. You will be doing the same exercise, but whatever metabolic benefits you were getting will continue to decrease the better you get at it. You might think of this situation as a “plateau”.
As adaptive response makes your runs less and less effective from a fitness, metabolic and weight loss standpoint, joggers are left with 2 choices: run faster or run farther to give your body a new challenge that it needs to improve upon in order to adapt. Running faster or farther is not necessarily a bad thing, but it dramatically increases your chances of injury and also starts to take an excessive amount of time to perform an effective workout. Plus it’s HARD. A much harder jog (or run) that lasts a lot longer increases your chances of giving up on your jogging program. And if you do give up jogging because it becomes too much work to see any results, you are at risk of significant weight gain without an even more restrictive diet.
Bottom line, your adaptive response to jogging has a positive aspect in that it’s good for your ability to jog (not necessarily for your overall fitness–see PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS), but it’s BAD for your weight loss efforts, and it creates a never ending “death spiral” of harder, longer jogs or harder, faster runs that most people will have trouble staying with due to injury or lack of motivation.
INJURIES AND OTHER HEALTH ISSUES
Jogging’s repetitive motion over long periods of time makes joint injuries very likely. Other injury and health concerns come from the adaptive response death spiral mentioned above, running in traffic and in inclement weather.
Pavement is hard and unforgiving. Your legs pounding against it for thousands of steps per jogging session can cause serious short term and long term injuries to your joints and muscles.
Sure, there are good running shoes that can help prevent injuries, but sooner or later you’re bound to injure a knee or ankle or even worse, a hip while jogging.
There’s also the issue of running on the roads with automobile traffic which has been known to cause serious injury or even death. That cannot be considered a plus for joggers.
And, the sheer length of jogging, a repetitive motion for 1 full hour, increases the chance of a variety of injuries like shin splints or a variety of foot problems versus shorter forms of exercise due to muscle fatigue.
There’s more. Consideration must be given to the health and safety risk of running in inclement weather. Jogging in extreme heat or cold, rain, snow or worst of all icy conditions greatly increases the risk of injury or an illness that makes you miss workouts for a short period of time or possibly something worse.
Of course the treadmill offers a viable solution to many of these issues, but not all of them. And many joggers insist on jogging outdoors throughout the year. When they do, the risk of injuries and other health related issues is very real and should be considered in an evaluation of the benefits of jogging.
Jogging has few practical applications. Jogging is not a good form of training for most other activities — except for more jogging. Plus, the loss of upper body muscle and lower body joint problems that often result from jogging can actually decrease your overall fitness level.
Remember our definition of fitness: A person’s overall physical health measured by their ability to successfully perform a wide variety of functional tasks.
We would have to concede jogging could improve your abilities at the following activities:
1) More Jogging
2) Basketball – well not really the sprinting up and down the court to be competitive, but you can jog down to set up a half court play with the best of them.
3) Football – Jogging from the huddle to the line of scrimmage.
4) Baseball – Jogging to the dugout with a beer in your hand at your weekly softball league.
Umm, that’s all we can think of. The rest of the activities in the above sports and many others like skiing, tennis and golf require strength (both muscle and joint), the ability to use your body at full speed, as well as hand eye coordination, none of which are helped by jogging.
The fact that jogging has no practical applications as cross training for any other sport makes it a lot of time spent for very little benefit, except of course for #1 above–more jogging. This is especially true when you compare jogging to other exercise alternatives like strength training, and interval training. You can spend a lot less time exercising and become more effective at performing all sorts of other sports and activities. This in turn offers you more opportunities to have fun and improve your fitness. Does developing your jogging skills help you with any other activities or tasks you like to do?
Based upon the overwhelming evidence outlined above, the verdict is Jogging is a BAD exercise for weight loss and fitness. Running for an hour at a faster pace does offer certain advantages over jogging but still ends up a net negative for weight loss and fitness when all the factors are considered.
So, the next time you head out for weekend donuts you can smile at thin or fit looking joggers, because now you know they didn’t get that way by only jogging. And when you get home, grab a maple custard (my favorite!) and spend 30 minutes studying weight loss and fitness plans that work on improving your body’s metabolism to solve the caloric deficit problem because there are much better ways than exercising endlessly and cutting calories. Also, a good fitness plan should prepare you for a wide variety of tasks and activities.
If you study hard and plan correctly, your exercise program should only take half the time the joggers spend but will take you much further down the road to weight loss and fitness.
We hope you do your homework and find the plan that’s right for you because being happy with your weight and fitness is a great feeling that everyone should enjoy.