Words by Christine Bailey

There’s no doubt about it – running is one of the most efficient ways to lose weight. A 60kg woman running for 30 minutes at a 6.12min/km pace will burn about 1225kj, while 30 minutes of aerobics burns just 732kj. But many women who take up running for weight loss fail to see the results they want. If this sounds familiar, changing your strategy by running smarter, not harder, will help the weight drop off.

How often should I train for weight loss?

For efficient weight loss, the key is to include a variety of workouts throughout the week, with at least one day’s rest. Exercise six days a week, but include different types of running (for example, long runs, interval training and tempo runs) to challenge your body and burn more kilojoules. Aim to include one long run and three shorter runs, or include some cross-training, such as swimming or cycling. For effective weight loss, you also need to add some weights twice a week. Strength training improves body composition and decreases your percentage of fat, helping you burn more kilojoules. This is because muscle uses oxygen in a different way to fat, so increasing your lean muscle mass will improve your body’s ability to use oxygen and burn kilojoules throughout the day.

How far do I need to run?

It’s not so much the distance, but the quality and intensity of your runs that counts. Include a long run (45 to 90 minutes) once a week. Long runs put your metabolism in the fat-burning zone, which maximises the amount of fat and kilojoules burned. A 90-minute run for a 60kg woman, for example, can burn 3765 kilojoules.However, research has shown that intensity is equally important for weight loss, so include a tempo run each week. Tempo running involves increasing your speed so you’re running “comfortably hard” for around 30 minutes. At this faster pace, you’ll burn more total kilojoules as well as fat. Hill runs are also effective – the general rule is that you increase your kilojoule burn by 10 per cent for each degree of incline. So, running on a five per cent incline will burn 50 per cent more kilojoules than running on a flat surface.

How fast should I push myself during speed work?

Shorter, faster sessions actually burn kilojoules and fat more efficiently than longer, slower runs. A new study this year in the Journal of Physiology found that about 20 minutes of high interval training provided the same benefits of longer exercise sessions that focused on endurance. Speed work – where you run at 85 to 95 per cent effort for one to three minutes, and then walk or jog to recover – is not only a great kilojoule burner, but it also produces an “after burn” effect. This means you keep burning kilojoules at a high level even when you’ve stopped running. So, include a speed session once a week, performing eight two-minute runs, with a five-minute warm-up and cool down.

Should I run daily for weight loss?

Rest and recovery is an essential part of any training programme. Don’t push your body into a chronically catabolic state, which means you’ll end up breaking down muscle, not fat. You’re much better off working hard for six days a week and having a rest day.