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Jogging for Cardio: To Run or Not to Run?

Micah Reum has a bachelor's degree in exercise science. He is a certified personal trainer and is passionate about health and fitness.

Is jogging really the best way to lose weight?

Is jogging really the best way to lose weight?

Apart from walking, yes walking, running is the most popular form of exercise in the world. Jogging for a workout is very popular. Why wouldn't it be? Running burns calories, can be done anywhere, is consistent, and is easy to track progress. It doesn't require a gym membership, fighting for weight lifting equipment, or planning a different workout everyday. Running simply is the most convenient form of exercise. Just put on your shoes and run. Well that may all be true, that doesn't establish how efficient of a workout it is, and that's what I'm here to talk about. I haven't run for exercise since my high school soccer playing days, and I only ran then because my coach made us run. That's a good eight years without running for exercise. Why don't I run, you ask? Good question. Let's dive into it.

The Benefits of Running

Ok, before we really dive into it, I should say something about the benefits to running. I feel I owe it a little credit, as many people I know find at least these two benefits to be true: it creates healthy habits and it clears your mind.

If you are waking up every morning to go for an early morning jog, you are most likely setting your day up for success in all of the other areas of your life. You are creating a habit of healthiness by waking up early and starting your day with disciplined exercise. Because of this, you have a better chance of saying no to other unhealthy things throughout the day as a result of starting off on the right note.

Running can also be a great way to clear your mind and think about life, while getting away from the chaos of the world around you. I have to support the fact that some of the great ideas that people in my life have thought up have come during a mind clearing jog. I'd definitely encourage anyone to go for a run if you are looking for a way to clear your mind and simply get some space for yourself. It seems to work well for others. Now, let's dive into the health effectiveness.

Is Jogging Cardio?

When I say the word "cardio," what's the first thing you think of? I'd bet that the majority of you thought about jogging. That's because the most popular form of cardio is running, and the main reason people run is for cardio. They go hand in hand in that way. You might go for an hour run for your whole workout, or maybe you run 30 minutes before or after a gym session to make sure you get that beloved cardio in.
While it is true that you are burning calories while you run, it is actually not the best way to build cardiovascular endurance (i.e. cardio) or even burn calories. This usually mind-boggles people to hear, but it's true. Jogging is not the best form of cardio. Just let that sink in for a minute before you read on. OK, let's push through.

If you jog at a pace of five to six mph for one hour, which is the average of most joggers, you will burn anywhere from about 500 - 600 calories. That's not bad. If you take the rule of thumb that every 3,500 calories burned equals one pound of fat lost, that would mean you'd lose about one pound of fat a week if you jogged an hour every day. You're probably thinking, "Awesome! I'll lose 52 pounds this year by jogging an hour every morning!" If only it was that easy. I don't want to bore you with scientific facts, but so much more goes into your weight loss than this easy to master idea of losing a pound a week from jogging an hour a day.

To lose one pound of fat, you must have a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories. It does not mean you must simply burn a random 3,500 calories from the 17,000 calories you ate that week. We always seem to forget the calories we are taking in when we are looking at how many we are burning. Resting metabolic rate also plays a huge effect in your daily caloric outcome. Also, your body plateaus when you perform the same exercise over and over again. This means that, in order to lose weight, your caloric intake needs to be monitored, you should speed up your metabolism, and you should change up your workouts frequently. Let's take a look at each of these statements.

First, your caloric intake will have to be quite low in order to actually have a 500 calorie deficit each day. The average person burns about 1,600 calories a day without performing any kind of exercise. Add that to the 550 calories you burned running and you have 2,100 burned calories to work with. This mean you should eat 1,650 calories each day in order to lose one pound a week. That doesn't sound horrible, but it also doesn't leave much margin for error. You will have to be very strict with your diet, and may experience some hunger as a result of your low caloric intake, and you will not be allowed to miss many days of exercise. It is possible to do, but this strict calorie diet and exercising seven days a week isn't the most intriguing-sounding to me.

Second, your metabolism won't be affected much by simply jogging every day. It is not an exercise that speeds up your metabolism. Exercising can help speed up your metabolism because your body uses stored glucose in your muscles while you are exercising. Your body must then use energy to restore the glucose after your exercise. Unfortunately, your body doesn't use very much glucose when you perform cardio. Rather, it focuses more on burning fatty acids. This means, that your body does not need to use much energy to restore lost glucose after a run.

Third, your body needs to be shocked in order to continue making physical progress. This comes with throwing different kinds of exercises at your body that it is not familiar with. Without this shock, your body will plateau. You won't find it easy to change up your jogging workouts apart from running a little faster and farther each day, which isn't enough of a change to shock your body. That being said, many runners experience this plateau very early on.

Lastly, on top of all of this, jogging is a very high-impact exercise on your knees. Many people will experience joint pain on the knees and pain in the shins from jogging. This is both because of the high impact and the fact that jogging will not build sufficient muscles in your legs to support your joints from impact, as it is a cardio exercise and not a muscle-building exercise.

How Can I Burn Calories Without Jogging?

So, there are a few negatives with jogging, but what else can you do? The best advice I could give you in order to burn the most calories through exercising is implement High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). I have found nothing more efficient than HIIT to burn calories and fat. There are two simple reasons why this is true. One, the higher the intensity of a workout, the higher your heart rate, and the more calories you burn. Two, there is an amazing after-effect of HIIT. After I explain what exactly this High Intensity Interval Training does, I will give you some examples of HIIT exercises you can perform.

Heart Rate and Calories

Be honest, did you really know that higher heart rates burn more calories? It sounds like a silly question, but if it was so obvious, then why do so many people insist on walking and jogging? Those are two exercises that require relatively low heart rates to perform. If you were to go to a spin class, you'd find that the instructor would, hopefully, change the intensity of the ride numerous times throughout the class. One moment you're on a flat road enjoying a leisure ride with the wind at your back, then, all of a sudden, the wind is at your face and you're sprinting up a hill! You'll switch back and forth between these kinds of intensities throughout the class. The scientific genius behind this discovered that your body works harder to bring your heart rate down after that uphill sprint, in which it was already working hard to push your body through the sprint. That means that both during and after the intense sprint, your body is burning calories to maintain a healthy heart rate level.

Compare the above facts to a constant jog where your body does not have to work as hard at the comfortable heart rate that you're maintaining. It also doesn't have to work as hard to bring the heart rate back to a resting heart rate after the run, since it wasn't that high to begin with. Your jog just limited you to the lowest possible calories burned in an exercise, whereas, the spin instructor found a way to get the highest possible caloric expenditure from the class by working your heart rate like the stock market. In conclusion, you can burn more calories in a 30-minute spin class than you would jogging for an hour. That's pretty cool if you ask me.

A spin class is a great example of a high-intensity workout

A spin class is a great example of a high-intensity workout

Effects of HIIT

So we've discovered what happens to your body when you work your heart rate to the max. Now, let's talk about what happens after you finish your workout. Did you know that it's possible to burn calories from a workout even after you've finished the workout? I'm not crazy, this can actually happen! HIIT can allow you to burn calories for hours and days after you finish the workout! How is this possible? One factor is that muscle eats fat. Because you are working in intense intervals, your body is going to build muscle, and that means that your muscle will start taking down that fat. It will continue to eat the fat with the more muscle that you build. Still, the most important factors are the metabolic and post oxygen consumption benefits of HIIT. They go hand in hand.

Your metabolism will speed up, as it works to bring down your heart rate and bring oxygen to the body during intense exercises. The post oxygen consumption factor will last you hours after you finish your workout. Once you get a healthy routine together of building muscle and working the post oxygen consumption factor to speed up that metabolism, your body will be burning calories left and right. It becomes so beautiful, that your body will be burning calories while you are at work, watching tv, or sleeping at night! You'll even burn calories on the days that you don't workout! If you don't understand how any of these things I just mentioned work, don't worry. All you have to understand is that they work for your benefit of burning calories and destroying unwanted fat.

What Exercises Can I Do for HIIT?

There are a lot of different options for HIIT. All you need to do is find a workout that you can perform that will allow you to utilize different intensities and, in turn, different heart rates. Examples consist of running sprints, swimming sprints, spin class, bike riding (with intervals), kickboxing, circuit weight lifting training, and more. You can get creative. Just make sure you're following the high intensities guidelines for working those different heart rates.

How Often Should I Perform HIIT?

I, personally, don't currently perform HIIT as much as I used to. There's a reason for this. In high school, I used to jump rope three times a week as part of my basketball training regime. Through college, I used to run sprints every week, sometimes twice a week. I would also perform swim sprints a couple of times a month to mix up the muscle groups for my HIIT workouts. Remember how we like to change our workouts up to shock our muscles. After years of consistent HIIT, I'm in a place now where I don't need to perform HIIT as much anymore. My body burns so many calories through my resting metabolic rate, that it's a struggle in itself to keep muscle weight on. I have to eat so much food! So now, my workout regime consists almost completely of weight lifting.

My weight lifting routine allows me to burn a significant amount of calories in itself to keep me lean. Also, the muscle that I maintain continues to fight away unwanted fat. Still, some of my weight lifting sessions get so intense that they'd fall under my standard for HIIT, since I get my heart rate up so high with circuit workouts. I will still perform HIIT workouts when I go away for a weekend and don't have a gym. It's easy to find a field to run sprints on. I also perform a HIIT exercise every Thanksgiving morning and throughout the winter holidays. I do this so that I can stay lean while I eat the whole world of food that is put in front of me during family gatherings. I love having HIIT to fall back on whenever I want a quick fat burner, and I love knowing that I can let myself go every once in a while on a day like Thanksgiving if I simply increase my HIIT workouts along with it.

How Should You Start?

So, my advice for you is that you start out similar to how I did. Try to perform a HIIT workout two times a week at first. Work your way up to three times a week, and you will be a calorie-burning champion. Over time, you may find, as I have, that you do not need to perform these high-intensity workouts as often and can resort to less intense workout sessions to maintain your current metabolic state. I have found weight lifting to be the best way to have a less intense workout and maintain this metabolic state, as it continues to burn the glucose that requires energy to restore, and it also builds muscle that will continue eating away at my fat. My advice is to add weight lifting to your HITT routines.

My hope for you is that you will utilize HIIT as a compliment to weight lifting or another muscle-building method that you have in order to get you to the place that I have found myself in, with both muscle and metabolic rate working together to keep off that unwanted fat. Your physical appearance and overall health will soon thank you for it.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Micah Reum


Micah Reum (author) from Hamburg, Germany on November 20, 2017:

I’m glad you enjoyed it. There’s never a better time than today to start!

Alexa Rain from egypt on November 20, 2017:

Great Hub, i haven't run since 1900, just joking.

very motivated article i think i must start to run, thank you.