Running for weight loss seems to be the go-to strategy. Sit in any park when Spring hits. You’ll see everyone scurrying around in running attire, sweating their asses off, looking like they hate life.

Is that you? If that’s you, lean in because I’ve got some good information for you. I’m going to answer once and for all whether running for weight loss is effective. I’m going to do that by exploring whether running is good for you at all.

Don’t leave without downloading our “Healthy Running Cheat Sheet.” It includes 10 adjustments to make for better results with fewer consequences.

Why people think running for weight loss is effective

If you believe the myth of calories in–calories out, running seems like a perfect activity.

For one, it’s an easy plan to execute. You run around your town every day burning a bunch of those little mini-Satans called calories.

There’s no fancy equipment to mess with and no classes to sign up for. You walk outside and run in a big ass circle. It’s free, it’s painful, it’s outdoors, it must be working.

Pair that with some good old fashioned calorie cutting and you’re going to be hitting weight loss goals in no time.

Not so fast.

There are 7 important factors we need to look at when it comes to deciding whether you should be running for weight loss.

I want you to contemplate these for two reasons:

  1. Because there’s nothing I hate more than watching people do shit they hate. And there’s an epidemic of that when it comes to running.
  2. Even if you’re “a runner,” I want you to be aware of the potential downsides. This gives you valuable information you can use to mitigate a lot of the damage, even if you’re still going to run.

Ready? Let’s do it…

#1: Weight is not fat & running isn’t always great for fat loss.

The typical language sounds like this: “I want to lose weight so I’m going to start running.” But losing weight – as we’ve discussed before – is a goal that lacks context.

What you actually want to lose is fat. And what a lot of runners lose – especially avid runners on calorie cutting diets – is lean muscle mass.

Once you put “weight” in context, it becomes clear that’s not what you want to lose.

The reason runners lose muscle and not fat is the combination of a calorie deficit and an increase in cortisol.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that has some side effects. Two of which are storing belly fat and cannibalizing muscle. Chronically elevated cortisol can also lead to insulin resistance, which makes you metabolically “inflexible.”

This becomes even truer if you don’t get enough sleep, don’t rest enough in general, and are under a lot of lifestyle-driven stress. You know, like pretty much everyone in America.

This isn’t to say that all running is bad. The more you run the more you’ll experience the law of diminishing returns.

What’s working against you is the culture of running. The culture seems to suggest that increasing your running distance and frequency is of primary importance. This plays you right into the hands of high-stress, inflammatory outcomes.

#2: You can’t out-run ANTI foods.

There are very popular running programs, such as Couch to 5k, that promote running for weight loss. The problem is that they say nothing about nutrition.

What you’re eating is 80% of the process of achieving a healthy weight.

What we’ve ended up with is a bunch of people running often while still eating all the stuff they used to eat. Worse, they think running by itself is going to take them to the promised land. Even worse than that, they sometimes use running as an excuse to eat things they’d normally try and avoid.

If you’re trying to “eat better,” then this may not apply to you. That’s hard to determine, though. 75% of people think they’re eating healthy but aren’t.

In my experience, most people who are running are also engaging in traditional dieting tactics. Namely, calorie cutting, fat-avoidance, and using “heart healthy” vegetable oils. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Your absolute first step you should be to make sure you’re truly eating healthy for your body.

#3: Running increases inflammation and reduces testosterone.

We talked about the elevated cortisol levels earlier but didn’t really talk about why cortisol levels become chronically elevated with running.

Exercise is an inflammatory activity. In that regard, pretty much all exercise is going to promote cortisol production. This isn’t a bad thing. Cortisol has some important functions in the body and acute cortisol increases are normal.

The issue is that running often falls in the category of being excessive and physically abusive. You’re taking a pounding movement and repeating it thousands of times. Then you wake up and do it again tomorrow.

If you’re a daily runner, when does the body get to rest? When does it get to slow down on the cortisol production? When does it heal?

All of this adds up to one thing: chronic inflammation. Keep in mind that inflammation is a key marker for disease and a key deterrent to fat loss.

Secondary to that, overtraining and long chronic training regimens can significantly reduce testosterone. There’s a great article here on the relationship between overtraining, cortisol, and testosterone that you should look deeper into.

#4: Chronic stress from running can mess with your thyroid.

When it comes to health, happiness, and fat loss, there’s a lot to say for your thyroid. My discussion with Dr. Lo on Rebooted Body Podcast Episode 32 more than alluded to that fact.

If running creates chronic inflammation and a chronic stress response, that means there’s going to be an impact on your thyroid. And that impact can have implications in every corner of your body.

So what does that impact look like? It turns out it can be pretty extensive. The consequences range from low TSH production to the inhibition of T4 to T3 conversion. Excess estrogen is also a possibility.

I recommend you take a few minutes and run through this article by Chris Kresser on stress and hypothyroid symptoms.

#5: Running drives serious hunger.

Losing excess fat, without cannibalizing muscle, can be a difficult process.

If you listen to conventional wisdom, you’re likely to be hungry during that process. This is especially true if you’re avoiding fat and limiting calories.

On a program like Total Body Reboot, this is a non-issue because you’re giving your body exactly what it needs. On traditional approaches, hunger can become a nightmare.

Want to know what burning a lot of calories through inflammatory exercise does? It makes you want to eat. Everything.

This is especially problematic for people who struggle with cravings or emotional eating. Binges from this style of training and dieting are very common.

You may not notice this right away, but as the weeks go by your hunger meter is going to go haywire. This has derailed a countless number of people.

#6: Running is a fantastic way to get injured.

The overall injury rate for non-competitive runners is 37% to 56%. Of those, 50-75% are over-use injuries (also contributed to by poor mechanics — more on that later).

20% to 70% of sustained injuries will occur again in the runner later on, which means this is an ongoing issue.

Age, gender, body mass index, running hills, running on hard surfaces, participation in other sports, time of the year and time of the day are not correlated to the injury rates. That means you can’t escape injury by being younger or running on trails.

In comparison, the injury rate for American Football is significantly lower.

That’s not surprising because injuries in most sports often depend on unplanned events. Things like physical contact, misstepping, turning wrong, etc.

With running, injuries are simply inevitable. The bottom line is that you can’t reach your goals if you’re injured, and running is a very injurious activity.

#7: Running can promote chronic physiological dysfunction.

Finally, we arrive at one of the most compelling arguments that I can make against running. The long-term degradation of the body due to poor mechanics.

Are you a runner? Who taught you how to run? Oh, you think running is something everyone knows how to do? Wrong.

There’s a proper running technique. If you aren’t taught proper technique, you’re subjecting your body to millions of punishing movements over the course of a lifetime.

These movements don’t only degrade your foot mechanics, but everything up the chain from there. Your knees, hips, back, shoulders, and neck. An improper running technique is destructive to every major area.

Even if running were the best exercise for fat loss (it’s not), I’d still argue, but at what cost?

What doesn’t kill you might make you stronger, but what you don’t know might kill you.

There’s a bunch of people running around thinking they’re doing something beneficial. What they’re actually doing is buying a ticket to dependence. Dependence on walkers, wheelchairs, canes, custom orthotics, and surgeons.

Is it worth it?

10 Adjustments to Get Better Results With Fewer Consequences…

There’s two camps of people: those who like to run and those who don’t like to run. If you don’t like to run, stop running…immediately. In fact, stop doing shit you hate in general—in all categories.

If you enjoy running, that’s fine. I just want you to be aware of what you’re doing to your body so you can take the proper steps to mitigate the damage. I want you to enjoy your activity without doing yourself harm. And ultimately, I want you to reach your goals.

If you want running to be part of your movement practice, make sure you grab our free “Healthy Running Cheat Sheet.” It details 10 adjustments we recommend so you can get better results with fewer consequences…

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  • Jefferson says:

    I think running can be a great part of any diet/weight-loss plan.. But it can’t be the only part. You need to vary your workouts, mix-in strength training..etc.. but I do run, multiple times each week, typically in intervals. Running is a great way to stay active and to set goals for yourself.

    • Kevin Geary says:

      I’d argue that there’s a lot of better ways to stay active and set goals for yourself.

      • magicsign says:

        paying you ? Keep running guys at your local parks and combine it with some stretching, weight lifting, abdominals, push-ups…it’s all free and everything can be done at your home with no cost.

        • Kevin Geary says:

          You clearly don’t have a handle on the real issues people are struggling with. If “keep running at your local park, do some stretching, lift some weights, and do some push-ups” was the answer, do you think we’d have an obesity and preventable disease epidemic? Do you think the majority of people would feel poorly about their body and hopeless about living a healthy lifestyle?

          When you look at a population of people who are struggling and say, “it’s so simple!” it’s pretty condescending, don’t you think?

          Furthermore, you attack someone who is helping thousands of people around the world because people pay me to help them? Do you have a job? Does being paid for your job disqualify the work that you do or is this just a double standard you place on others?

  • Alan Dorling says:

    Kevin – you don’t mention the mental strength benefits of running which has always been a great attraction for me. It gets you outside, breathing fresh air and you can generally solve those so called stressors in your life with a good run. Sure it can affect your body and metabolism but so do most sports. I always feel positive and good about myself after a run.

    Having said all that I now stick to shorter interval run sessions as the TBR program is about walking and body strength exercises. Despite the howling wind and rain this morning in the UK I thoroughly enjoyed my 6km run and feel it will help in some small way in burning some of those Christmas & New Year calories!

    • Kevin Geary says:

      Thanks Alan — it’s definitely beneficial mentally for a lot of people. I’ve found that you can get very similar mental benefits from long walks and sprinting, without the other downsides. Or people can limit their running to levels that aren’t chronic.

  • Thanks for the interesting post.

    Looking at the world today, I see large food companies pushing very poor food on everyone with lots of processing, carbs, artificial preservatives, artificial colorings, MSG, etc. There’s lots of heavy advertising convincing us that we want to eat this stuff. Then, when all this poor food makes the average person overweight, we’re told that is is actually our fault because we’re not exercising enough. What a laugh! The big companies want us to keep eating their so-called foods and then get a gym membership or go running to try and make up for it.

    Eat well, enjoy the world and don’t be lazy. That should be enough. Look at people like farmers (especially organic farmers) – they can be very healthy and you don’t assume that they are running or going to the gym for hours a day.

    Another thing I have against running is that in order to do it, most people put artificial shoes on there perfectly designed feet and then run on hard concrete or asphalt surfaces. No wonder there are a lot of injuries associated with running.

    As you say, there’s nothing wrong with running as an activity. Do it if you want, but remember that your wellbeing is firstly governed by the nutrition you get into your body.

  • Cookie says:

    You mention that there’s a right way and wrong way to run. Will my son learn it on the 8th grade track team? He has a funny gate. Don’t know if it’s getting better with their coaching, or not. Could he be hurting himself?
    I have never run by choice in my life, except in the last half year. After losing 30 pounds with the help of a nutritionist and personal trainer, I find that running is not a painful torture like it had been since Junior High PE. As part of a varied cardio plan, I’m assuming I can go ahead and run once a week for 20 minutes without incurring some of those negatives mentioned in your article.
    Thank you for the reminder that I’m not helping myself with Anti-Foods. Kind of got back into some (but not all) old eating habits since ending my program with the nutritionist. Felt so good to be eating right a few months ago. Why did I decide recently that sharing some cookie dough with my kids was again okay?

    • Kevin Geary says:

      I would have to meet the coaches to provide you an honest answer, unfortunately. At public schools, most track teachers are also history teachers, general PE teachers, etc. They’re not experts in running for the most part.

      Running once a week for 20 minutes as a supplement to other things you’re doing probably won’t hurt you, but you’ll still want to get the basics of your form checked out. I never recommend people do things they’re unsure how to do.

  • Bill Holmes says:

    I was a runner and also loved it. I would say it is an effective, addictive, brutal and unsustainable way to lose weight! I had to give it up after damaging my hips and knees. I eventually gained 30 pounds continuing to eat the same low fat, high carb diet. Since then, I’ve dropped that weight after eliminating wheat, grain, processed food, and most dairy from my diet and switching to pasture raised meat and eggs and wild caught fish. My activity is walking, biking to work, and hiking on weekends. For me, walking and eating low carb and high quality fat is a more sustainable way to keep healthy than running and eating low fat.

  • Anita says:

    How about jogging/walking in intervals of 60 seconds for up to 30 mins? I’ve started doing this in the past two weeks to get my heart-rate up and condition my lungs to handle the need for more oxygen. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Kevin Geary says:

      The activity isn’t inherently bad for you and is potentially beneficial, but there are still some adjustments to make. Namely: What are you wearing for shoes and are you jogging properly?

  • Josh says:

    Although you have made several great points, ultimately there are more positive than negative effects on your body when you run. .

    Oh. And here are just some of the reasons why running is such a great thing

    1. Visit the doctor less. Runners are less likely to develop colon cancer. And ladies, women who regularly engage in intense workouts like running can reduce their risk of breast cancer by up to 30 percent.

    2. Live longer. Not only do runners have fewer disabilities and remain active longer than their sedentary counterparts, they actually live longer. And even as weekly running times decrease with age, the healthy benefits keep on coming.

    3. Slip into skinny jeans. Running is one of the best calorie burners out there. For a 160-lb person it can burn more than 850 calories an hour.

    4. Boost memory. Running has been shown to help keep the mind sharp and could even reduce symptoms of dementia. Hitting the track might also protect the brain against Alzheimer’s, even among those with a family history of it.

    5. See the sunny side. Active folks see the glass as half full not only while they exercise, but for up to twice as long after hanging up their kicks than their less mobile counterparts.

    6. Improve self-esteem. Need one more excuse to go green? Runners who ran outside and snagged a good view of nature showed increased self-esteem post-workout than those who had only unpleasant scenes to gaze at.

    7. Stay steady. Older runners can keep their balance better than non-runners, protecting their knees and tendons in the process.

    8. Turn down the pressure. Running is a natural way to keep high blood pressure at bay—and fast. Amping up workouts can help lower blood pressure in just a few weeks.

    9. Build stronger bones. Resistance training is awesome, but word on the street is that running might help produce even stronger bones than cranking out reps. As an impact exercise, running helps build the muscle that lower-impact workouts ignore, keeping bones healthier even as they age.

    10. Get an energy boost. Feeling sluggish? Try going for a run instead. Just one running sesh can increase energy and chip away at fatigue

    11. Carve that core. A strong core improves posture, strengthens limbs, And whether we feel it or not, running engages that midsection, strengthening those all-important muscles. Bonus: A solid core in runners can improve performance, too.

    12. Sleep better. Runners tend to adapt to set sleeping routines in order to keep running performance high. Even better: Running also encourages higher quality sleep, which translates into better Zzz’s all night long.

    13. Show your heart some loving. Running for just an hour a week can reduce the risk of heart disease by almost half compared to non-runners. And for those already hitting the recommended physical activity guidelines, an extra spurt of exercise can lower the risks of heart disease even more.

    14. Run stress away. Ready to pull your hair out? Instead of tuning in to a reality TV marathon, try running a real one. Not only does running boost the brain’s serotonin levels, regular exercise might actually remodel the brain, making it calmer and more stress resistant..

    15 Increase stamina. Running regularly will improve stamina, making workouts more enjoyable and productive.

    16. Get there faster. Instead of a leisurely evening stroll, try a jog around the neighborhood instead. It’ll burn more calories in the same amount of time.

    Sources: runnersworld.com

    • Kevin Geary says:

      Thanks for your attempt at adding to the conversation Josh. Unfortunately, most of this argument is a logical fallacy. I’ll quickly run down the list.

      1). Any form of exercise is protective against cancer.
      2). This would be true of most any form of exercise.
      3). This is factually inaccurate in the context of metabolism. Calories burned during exercise is far less critical than, say, increasing the metabolic rate (as happens with resistance training).
      4). All exercise boosts memory.
      5). This is true for all exercise, even brisk walking.
      6). This is true for all exercise.
      7). This is true for all exercise (and more so for other exercises than running).
      8). This is true for all exercise.
      9). This is true for all exercise (and more so for other exercises than running).
      10). This is true for all exercise.
      11). This is true for all exercise (and more so for other exercises than running).
      12). This is true for all exercise.
      13). This is true for all exercise.
      14). This is true for all exercise.
      15). This is true for all exercise.
      16). This is stupid.

      As you can see, you haven’t made an argument for running, you’ve made an argument for exercise in general. You can try again if you’d like.

      • Gb says:

        What a load of bullshit…. I run 50-60km a week and have done for years. I’m 180cm and weigh 57kg… No weight problem here!

        • Kevin Geary says:

          I’m glad running is working out well for you (for now). But you may want to read the article before you comment next time. I didn’t say you can’t lose weight running…the point of the article is that running isn’t a *good choice* for fat loss due to many other factors.

  • Elijah says:

    Since you convinced me that running isn’t the best option to lose weight what would you suggest?

    • Kevin Geary says:

      Hi Elijah — I’m sending a VIP newsletter out this Wednesday with the answer to that very question. Make sure you’re subscribed!

  • Callie says:

    I should probably hate you because I adore running and running long distances. But you make some very valid points and your no-nonsense candor cracks me up. I’ve just stumbled across your website and podcast. I’m appreciating the re-framing of my past views of “getting healthy.” I look forward to learning more.

  • Eduardo says:

    I love running but have to agree. The human body is not designed for long distance running. it puts a lot of strain on bones, joints and muscles, specially as you get older. Most of the hardcore runners I know just don’t look healthy, they look worn out. I have to agree with the article.

  • Anastasia says:

    Soo…are you gonna tell us what we should be doing instead of running? I read this article sort of hoping that there would be a pay off at the end. Instead, I just get some guy telling me that I’m doing everything wrong, and then not suggesting an alternative. Helpful.

    • Kevin Geary says:

      Hi Anastasia,

      The solutions are found all over this site. There are hundreds of articles and podcasts. There are videos. There are also programs that will walk you step by step to your goals.

  • Don Proctor says:

    Everyone please listen to Robert. He’s not saying “don’t run”. He’s saying you don’t have to run which is really good news! However, if you do want to run, like me, you MUST LEARN HOW TO RUN. Elsewhere in Robert’s blog, he turned me on to Kelly Starrett and I bought the book “Ready to Run”. At age 50+, I found I was all wrong, had to read it all down and begin from scratch. This took many months working through many issues and bugs but the first time I ran a 200m sprint, full on, with all my “steel springs” working the way they were designed, it was AWESOME! Especially because afterwards, there were no pains and no regrets! Thanks for all your advice RG.

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