If you call yourself a runner, you probably don’t think of it as a weight loss regimen. It’s a hobby, a passion, a social circle, the exercise that feels good, but not the thing that you need to keep the weight off. This is for a variety of reasons — prime among them because so many runners find a comfortable pace and stick there. This isn’t a recipe for a fitness regiment that’s going to push your body to shed excess fat, or even prevent you from bringing some new love handles with you on your run.
The truth is, while jogging is a great way to maintain fitness and improve health metrics like blood pressure, a moderate steady-state workout isn’t going to do it if your goal is to drop some digits. What you need are short, hard bursts of cardio activity that shock your system into overdrive, followed by a brief recovery, repeated again and again. Known as HIIT (high-intensity interval training), this Tabata-type of workout will yield the biggest bang for your buck, according to exercise scientists.
But you can’t just launch into this sort of running workout if you’re not currently a runner or you risk injury. So if you’re new to running, take four or five weeks to gradually work your way up to a solid base (running three or more times a week, for 3 or more miles at a time). Once you’ve reached this starting point, consider trying one of the 7 workouts below. These 20-minutes sessions are split into super-short, ultra-intense bouts of running, followed by recovery intervals. Get after it!
Yes, this is an actual thing in running vocab: Short bursts of fast running interspersed between easy jogging. The beauty of fartleks (fun fact: the term means “speed play” in Swedish) is that you can make up your own. For instance, during a 20-minute run around the neighborhood, decide that you will mad-sprint between every third and fourth lamppost, then easy-jog for three more. The intentionally imprecise nature of these runs adds an element of child-at-play that makes time fly by.
A classic workout for collegiate track runners, this session has you running a quarter-mile as fast as you can, followed by a recovery time of equal length. So if you run .25 miles in, say, two minutes (an 8-minute-per-mile pace), you’ll take two minutes to walk/rest before going again. If there’s a track nearby, .25 miles = 400 meters = one full lap. Otherwise, you can you a GPS watch or guesstimate the distance at your local park or running route.
Beware! This workout is sneaky-hard: You’ll start out running one mile at a medium pace (fast enough you can’t really converse, but easy enough you can spit out a few words). Jog for two minutes, then drop the pace to hard (heavy breathing, too hard to talk) for half a mile. Jog one minute, then give it everything you’ve got (wheezing, purple-faced, the whole shebang) for .25 miles. Repeat sequence.
Similar to a fartlek, this workout mixes up hard and easy paces, but rather than using landmarks to dictate the workout, you’ll use your watch. Run as hard as you can for one minute. Walk or jog a minute. Repeat 10 times.
Find a stretch of road and use a tree or other landmark to mark your starting spot. Start your watch and jog for 30 seconds. Mark the spot on the road where you finish. Jog back to the start. Perform 10 reps running from point A to B, with the goal of running each one faster than the one before. Jog back to the start after each. Note: Don’t go balls-to-the-wall on the first rep or you will never be able to improve your time. Your goal is to get faster and faster, making your final rep the hardest/fastest.
If you’re new to running or sprinting seems to bring on the injuries, try this approach. Head out for a 20-minute moderate-paced run. Every 5 minutes, stop and do 60 seconds of one of the following: Jumping jacks, pushups, fast lunges, squat jumps. In this case, you’re using running as a fat-burner, while introducing explosive movements to up the calorie burn for weight loss.
The beauty of hills is that they work more muscles than running at zero incline and raise your heart rate up without requiring additional pavement pounding, so they are (marginally) gentler on your body. For this workout, find a steep-ish hill that you can sprint up for 10 seconds. Dash to the top (or for 10 seconds if the hill is longer); jog to the bottom. Repeat 10 times. Next, cover the same distance up the hill, but take bounding leaps (swing your arms for momentum) rather than short, tight steps. Jog back down. Do 10 reps.