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I like to add running to my daily schedule but I'm having problem deciding how often and how long is enough to make progress toward losing weight. I've heard if you run a lot at first then you give up and reduce the amount, you might gain weight instead.

I used to run for an hour everyday for about two weeks but now I run on odd days in the week or I run one day then I don't run two days and again!

What I need to know is, how often, at minimum, do I have to run in a week to get an "optimal" weight-loss effect?

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When you say "make progress", what do you mean? In your ability to run? As in increasing cardiovascular fitness? Because at the end you mention running being "about" weight loss, so I'm a little unclear on what your exact goals are. –  Chelonian May 2 '12 at 20:54
    
@Chelonian: In short, "weight-loss" is my main goal. –  Gigili May 2 '12 at 21:16
    
@Gigili, I deleted my main post as most people here don't care about the truth, but rather about pop science. The truth is, if you want to lose weight, you have to do much more than exercise. Exercise is for maintaining weight and fitness. If you want to lose weight, you must eat significantly less (but nutrient rich foods).Don't worry about muscle being burnt, this will happen but the body burns fat in significantly greater quantities: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/core/lw/2.0/html/tileshop_pmc/… –  Mew Jan 24 '13 at 13:57

4 Answers 4

Foreword: I've no professional running or coaching skills, this is merely experience.

Length
Set yourself a distance that means your completely tired by the end, and try and complete it at a constant pace depending on if you want to improve speed or distance. For distance I usually just run as far as possible while breathing at a rate I can still talk at, and gradually increase the distance over time, keeping at my limits of distance as they improve. For training your speed, do the same thing, just increase the pace at which you run to keep at your limits. I usually just aim for a slightly higher min/mile each time I run a regular route.

Regularity
If your non-professional it's not going to matter about hitting that exact sweet spot of off time and muscle repair. Just run often enough that you ache the day after and it was difficult but make sure you take a break. I try and stick to day off, day on, day off, day on, but not too worried if I miss one due to busy weekend / work day. Just pick it up again as soon as possible, and don't try and push hard to "make up for it" it usually ends in you missing more runs through injury.

Importantly
Enjoy it. If your not enjoying it your going to be wanting to give up. Run too often and your going to be hurting too much, not enjoyable. Run too little and you won't be improving, not enjoyable. Vary the places you run wherever possible, though I like to keep some regular routes as a measurement of my progress. If your not enjoying it, the only thing keeping you going out again is a desire to reach your goal.

More Importantly
Set your goals. Even if it's just a short term, run at x pace for y miles or a long term , "Run a marathon in 12 months" you're going to need something to head towards. So when it's snowing, freezing, you ache, have lots to do, and it becomes difficult to enjoy you'll be able to push through chasing your goals.

Also depending on your disposition, recording your runs via GPS and keeping a long term log can be a big motivator. It can also be a de-motivator if you don't get along with technology or data logging though :)

Result
You will be generally fitter after this, it's almost impossible not to be. And yes you may actually put weight on (depending on your build and how muscular you are now). But it will be entirely different weight, you will put weight on by building muscle in your legs, but will be burning fat from all over your body. So I wouldn't worry about it, aim for fitness not absolute weight loss, and you will generally come out much lighter if your on the big side now.

Of course, if you want to train professionally then most of that is probably bull.

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(not a sports professional either, going from experience as a yo-yo'ing runner/weight-loser)

There is an excellent answer above, I'll just add three things:

Overtraining - running every day can lead to overtraining. Fatigue and higher than normal higher resting pulse rates as good indicators of this. Overtraining mess up you metabolism and cause you to gain fat. So just like a beginner, 3 or 4 runs a week with a rest day in between should be your maximum.

Adjust your diet - exercise alone isn't going to help you shift weight. you need to make diet changes and run regularly. Good thing is as you are running regularly you shouldn't have to make drastic changes in order to make a difference.

Variety - don't stick to the same training pattern. When you stick with a particular pattern for a while the body adapts and becomes more efficient at it. Try different patterns; shorter runs with diferent paces, different terrain, routes including more times, interval training section and farlek. The more you keep your body guessing the more effective your training will be and the less likely you are to plateau.

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If you like running and just love to get out there, run.

If you don't particularly enjoy it or it's too low a priority in your life, diet control is far easier. It will be hard to maintain jogging when time is at a premium, the weather is not good, or when the scales aren't rewarding you appropriately for the effort.

Plus you have more chance of escaping plantar fasciitis, shin splints, tendinitis, ITBS, runner's knee, knee replacements, hip replacements and other hazards out there (a faulty manhole for instance required me to have an arthroscopy).

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+1 Diet control is much easier, you are correct. –  Mew Jan 23 '13 at 23:38

If you want to add running to spur weight loss, then ANY amount of running is going to work towards that goal. For every person, there is a "set point" of calories and activity that will maintain weight. As an example, if your basal metabolism is 1500 calories, and you have 1500 calories worth of activity in a day, then eating 3000 calories in a balanced diet will maintain your current weight.

Now, keep the same numbers as above, but add in 3 runs of 20 minutes each per week. Depending on your pace, training, skill and other factors, those 3 runs will burn X amount of calories. That creates a deficit, so you will lose weight. There is no real way to predict how much weight will be lost and how fast, and it will slow down some as you adapt to the exercise and get more fit/efficient. However, you will lose weight.

Studies are increasingly showing that diet makeup (such as Atkins, Paleo, South Beach, etc etc.) has less to do with weight loss than it is simply caloric deficit. Eat less or exercise more, and you will lose weight.

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-1 because you are not emphasizing that caloric intake will have to be very carefully managed in this regime. The exercise of 20 minutes, 3 times a week is almost negligible in terms of caloric deficit, and could cause an increase in appetite beyond the deficit. I would recommend exercising at least once a day for 30 minutes, 6 days a week (this is also the optimum regime for reducing chronic heart disease). –  Mew Jan 23 '13 at 23:35
    
Also user is asking for "optimal" weight loss training, and 3 runs a week is hardly optimal. –  Mew Jan 23 '13 at 23:40
    
@chris - It's probably best not to let your personal perceptions color your voting and debate (As in your "I win" comment on your own post). If you read, I put out a theoretical stasis, and that adding exercise (even limited) will produce a weight loss. And you don't know what is "optimal" for the OP. 3x20 may be all they have time for in their life. Also, suppositions like "Well, exercising for that little could cause appetite stimulation that promotes overeating" are just that. Supposition. –  JohnP Jan 24 '13 at 17:36
    
I just think the asker will take away the wrong message from your answer that is all. Exercising 3 times a week will cause weight loss if appetite is controlled, but the weight loss will be very small. The evidence is that diet control is far superior than exercise for weight loss and I hope the asker can take that message away. Your answer is not as comprehensive as I would have liked, that is why I gave you -1. –  Mew Jan 24 '13 at 17:41
    
@chris - If you want we can discuss this in chat, but studies actually support that diet + exercise is the best combination, but that caloric deficit alone can produce weight loss. You need to read all the studies, not just the ones that support your position. I recently changed my views on the 3500 cal = 1 lb stance because of recent studies, after they were pointed out to me on here. –  JohnP Jan 24 '13 at 17:52

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