Running Marathons to get in Shape is Inefficient: Why I Stopped Running Marathons and Started Weight Training

Note: The most important thing to look for while choosing a workout is that you should enjoy it

Disclaimer: This article is for those of you who are running to lose weight. A lot of people run for a number of other reasons and if you are one of them please disregard this article.

Why did Larry who was weight training for just half an hour in the gym ended up in a better shape than Rob who was running for hours to condition his body to run a marathon? To understand Read more……

The main motivation behind Rob and Larry’s decision to workout was to get in shape and look good. In the end it was Larry the lifter who got in better overall shape while Rob the runner just lost weight. The flaw in Rob’s approach was that he thought, in order to get in shape, he just needs to lose weight by running and the longer he runs the faster it will be.

In order to understand why Rob’s strategy of running to get in shape did not work, we must first understand the difference between cardio and weight training exercises. Cardio exercises such as running are classified as aerobic exercises, which means one can perform them for a long time without getting out or breath. Weight training exercises on the other hand are anaerobic, that is, they are intense enough that one cannot sustain them beyond a certain time period. Both of these exercises have their place in attaining overall health and should be included in any effective workout program. The trouble arises when we only do aerobic exercises such as running for long times (marathon training) in the hope of losing weight quickly and completely ignore anaerobic exercises.

Our body uses different types of muscle fibers for cardio and weight training exercises. Muscle fibers used for aerobic cardio exercises are called Type-I muscle fibers (also called slow twitch muscle fibers) and for anaerobic weight training exercises are called type-II muscle fibers (also called fast twitch muscle fibers). So when Rob was running to train for his marathon, he was using his type-I muscle fibers. By conditioning his body for running a marathon he strengthened his type-I muscle fibers. Larry on the other hand was using his type-II muscle fibers while weight training in the gym and strengthened his type II muscle fibers by developing anaerobic conditioning. Sadly for Rob, type-I fibers are known not to grow much in size on use, while luckily for Larry, type II fibers grow in size when put under load. So by doing long cardio session Rob not only lost fat but also lost muscle mass, on the other hand Larry gained muscle mass through his strength training. Our lifter hence gets in much better shape than the runner.

To really appreciate the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercises compare a sprinter and a marathon runner. Sprinters mostly run in the anaerobic regime wherein they put in their all out effort over a short distance and exhaust themselves, a marathon runner on the other hand operates in aerobic regime and puts in a fraction of their maximal effort but sustain that effort over a long period of time. We all know that sprinters are much more muscular than marathon runners and now we understand why.

Rob might argue that his definition of getting in shape was to only lose fat and by burning more calories while doing long runs for marathon training he was accelerating that. What he does not realize is that his loss in muscle mass from running, decreases his daily calorie requirement, thus decreasing his calorie deficit for fat loss. To get in shape, he needs to either do more cardio or eat less, both of which will lead to further muscle loss and the cycle will continue. Larry on the other hand is increasing his muscle mass by weight training. His daily calorie requirement is actually increasing. He can now eat more and still get in shape. Moreover, while he is working out for a much shorter time than Rob, he is burning more calories overall. You read it right; with a shorter workout he is burning more overall calories. You might be asking how can that be? Here is the answer: Although with his shorter workout session he burns fewer calories in the gym, his weight training sessions temporarily increase his body’s metabolic rate for 24-48 hours post workout and increase his overall calorie burn. (To learn more on this phenomenon refer to this article).

One final note regarding the future of Rob and Larry, as they get old, their bodies will tend to loose muscle mass and bone density. Rob’s running or any other steady state cardio exercises will only help him minimally in reverting this, while Larry, through his weight training, will be in much better position for maintaining his muscle mass and bone density. Rob hence will have a higher chance of injury in old age as compared to Larry.

Bottom line: Running or other cardio exercises are great for heart health and are definitely worth keeping in your training schedule, but keep them short and intense, doing them for long time in the hope of losing fat quickly will only lead to disappointment. Click here to claim your free workout design guide for weight training.