Light On Your Feet

Forget diet shakes and hamster-size portions. The secret to losing weight is better training - here's how

Posted: 6 February 2003
by Martha Schindler

As a runner, you’re already in on the best-kept secret of weight-control. “Running is one of the most efficient ways to burn calories,” says sports medicine specialist Dr Cathy Feiseler. Depending on your gender, body size and running pace, you can incinerate between 500kcal and 1300kcal per hour of running – a number that blows most other forms of exercise out of the water.

But being a runner doesn’t automatically ensure you a greyhound-like physique. Plenty of us are carrying extra pounds. One way to lose weight is to add a few more miles to your weekly training, but there are plenty of other strategies, and none of them involve dieting. This four-week plan simply focuses on the work-outs, with a few sensible lifestyle and eating tips thrown in for good measure.

Why weight?

You already know the simple truth that to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. That should be easily possible with our programme, which calls for six work-outs per week: two days of strength training, three days of short runs and one day of longer distance.

Figure on a 10 per cent increase in your mileage each week, to be divided evenly between one of your short runs and the long run. So, if you’re now running 20 miles a week, your first week’s increase will be two miles total. Add one of these miles to a shorter run, and the other to your long run.

The plan calls for similar increases in your strength training. As for the calories you’ll be burning, remember that your total will depend on differences in gender, pace and body size. (As a rule, because of physiological differences, men are better calorie-burners than women, and larger people normally burn more calories during a given activity than smaller people.)

Lastly, when following the plan, be as consistent as possible. Don’t eat like crazy and sit around all week, then try to compensate by fasting and running 20 miles over the weekend. But equally, don’t go mad trying to hit your mark each day. If your mileage falls a little short, or you don’t lift as much as is called for, don’t worry. Just try to make up for it later in the week.

Action plan

Below is a sample week from your four-week plan, but feel free to personalise the schedule. If Saturday is a better day for you to do your long run, do it then and switch your day off to Sunday.

Monday Shorter distance
Tuesday Strength train
Wednesday Shorter distance, extending it by half your weekly mileage increase
Thursday Strength train
Friday Shorter distance
Saturday Rest day
Sunday Longer distance, extending it by half your weekly mileage increase

Things to do – week one

Monday Even if you just grab an energy bar before your run, be sure to eat breakfast. Almost 80 per cent of successful dieters eat breakfast every day.
Tuesday To burn more calories at the gym, simply work out a little longer than usual. Five minutes more of strength training can burn an extra 40-50kcal.
Wednesday Increase your shorter run by half of your planned increase for the week.
Thursday Take less time between exercise stations. Instead of resting for one minute between 30 seconds of lifting, lift for one minute and rest for 30 seconds. You’ll burn 20 per cent more calories.
Friday Make time for tea. Research states that drinking green or oolong tea speeds fat metabolism.
Saturday Burn some calories around the house. An hour with a hedge clipper can burn up to 400kcal. Gardening nets you around 250kcal in that time. Even ironing burns about 50kcal in 30 minutes.
Sunday Extend your long run, and throw in a leisurely bike ride later in the day. An easy two-hour ride can burn up to 1000kcal.
Bonus advice If you have dinner with others, stay more aware of your food intake. A recent study found that those who dine in a group eat twice as much, on average, as those who eat alone.

Things to do – week two

Monday Mix some short strides into you regular run. Don’t sprint, just pick up the pace so there’s a noticeable difference from your regular training pace. Adding 10 x 30-second sprints will increase your calorie-burn by about 100kcal.
Tuesday While you’re lifting, stay hydrated, but trade the sports drink for water. You’ll save 50 calories for every 250-300ml of fluid you drink.
Wednesday Once again, increase your distance by half your planned increase for the entire week. Every additional mile of running burns an extra 100kcal.
Thursday At the gym, stretch the time you spend on each lift to make your work-out slightly longer and tougher (10 minutes more equals an extra 80kcal burned).
Friday Run easy, then try to stay on your feet more today. For example, stand when you’re on the phone at work, or when talking to colleagues. Standing burns 1.7 times more calories than sitting, so make this a habit, and think of all the extra calories you’ll burn.
Saturday Take a hike. In two hours of trekking, you’ll burn between 800kcal and 1200kcal. Carry a 25lb pack, and you’ll burn an extra 200kcal.
Sunday Run long, then hit the pool later for a few laps. In 15 minutes of leisurely swimming, you’ll burn between 125kcal and 175kcal. Pick up the pace, and tack on at least 30kcal more.
Bonus advice Don’t always trust your gut. Most people underestimate their daily food intake by about 20 per cent (that’s 400kcal for someone eating 2000kcal a day). If you really want to know how many calories you’re taking in, keep a three- or five-day food diary. For an online diary, visit

Things to do – week three

Monday After your easy run, find a hill or stairway and do some hill sprints. In just 10 minutes of uphill work, you’ll burn at least 150kcal.
Tuesday Strength train, and make a conscious effort to eat more slowly all day long, as this is likely to cause you to eat less overall. Why? Because there’s a lag time between being full and feeling full, and if you’re eating slower, you’ll eat less during that lag.
Wednesday Increase the mileage of your shorter run. Also, pretend you’re back in Victorian times. Abandon all machines – your car, the lift, whatever you use each day – and get around the old-fashioned way. In the office, talk to your colleagues in person, rather than e-mailing them. Every one of these actions will help to burn extra calories.
Thursday After the gym, treat yourself to a few whiffs of vanilla or peppermint, and keep them on hand at work and home. These aromas can curb your appetite, according to research.
Friday Run easy, and make a conscious effort to ‘graze’ today. When you don’t eat for several hours, your metabolism drops. Best to keep it stoked by eating healthy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks. That way you’ll eat less during your three regular meals.
Saturday Try a fun new cross-training activity. A one-hour football kick-about burns up to 400kcal. An hour of frisbee, almost 300kcal.
Sunday Finish your run with 10 minutes of pull-ups, press-ups and crunches. Ten minutes burns at least 80kcal. And the increased muscle mass contributes to calorie-burning down the road.
Bonus advice Make a habit of brushing your teeth soon after dinner all this week, rather than waiting until bedtime. This will make you less likely to snack in the evening.

Things to do – week four

Monday Run easy, but finish off with 8-10 100-metre strides. They’ll make you fitter, introduce you to some more structured speedwork and burn extra calories as well.
Tuesday When lifting weights at the gym, add an extra exercise or two to your routine, and remember that lifting slowly is a good way of burning more calories.
Wednesday Increase your short run mileage. Also, when the time comes to munch on your mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, take a walk break to eat it.
Thursday At the gym, throw in a bit of skipping after your strength session. Think it sounds easy? Try it. It’s well worth a go – even just five minutes will burn at least 50kcal.
Friday Get your run done, then go dancing. An hour of serious rug-cutting burns between 300kcal and 400kcal.
Saturday Slap on the in-line skates, and do some ‘blading’. An hour of skating burns more than 750kcal. And you are guaranteed to have fun.
Sunday Bump up your long run by half your weekly mileage increase, then spend an hour washing the car (it’ll burn around 300kcal). You have two cars? By all means wash both and increase your calorie output further.
Bonus advice When you shop, seek out food in smaller packages. Research shows that people are likely to eat significantly more of a food when it comes in a large package than when it comes in a small package.

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training misc, nutrition general, weight

Discuss this article

I agree with the writer, especially about good muscle tone burns caloriies even while resting. But when working out in the gym, it seems to me that many people lift so light a weight as to make no difference. I was taught that on a leg press machine, where you body weight is supported, you should be able to do 3 x 10reps of twice your own bodyweight. Why? Because when you climb the stairs, you are lifting your whole bodyweight on one leg. If you build up your leg strength to do 15% more weight, you wont slow down on the hills.
Posted: 04/04/2007 at 14:53

hmmm..... Have you tried to do double your body weight on a seated or horizontal leg press????? I weigh 58kg and my maximum barbell squat to parallel (we're nt talking leg press now) is 60kg which is pretty good for a girl. On the horizontal leg-press 120kg would be almost the whole stack!!! 3 sets of 10 reps of double your body weight for a normal mortal who is not an experienced body builder is simply not realistic and is likely to get you injured. If you want to do a heavy leg work out make sure you know what you're doing and have someone to spot you if doing free-weight squats.

Low weight / high reps have their place, as they primarily tone rather than build muscle.

Posted: 04/04/2007 at 17:56

I see some shocking stuff on sledge-style leg presses in the gym by peeps who don't want to use free weights and have a falso sense of security because they're not supporting their own body weight. Classics are locking the knees out straight or going beyond parallel / 90 degrees on the way down. At least if you're squatting with a spotter someone can swiftly take the barbell of your shoulders when you're failing. If on the sledge you don't have the strength to come down slowly you can really seriously hurt your knees. Free squats and lunges are way more effective in any case as you're also working your core.
Posted: 04/04/2007 at 18:49

Can you clean and press 60kg onto your shoulders Namaste??! I squat with 34kg and need a helper :P I do find that doing the weighted squats are of benefit when hillrunning, though I do know that because I have a lot of muscle it slows me down.

Posted: 04/04/2007 at 21:30

JJ, please let us know how a pound of muscle weighs more than a pound of fat?????
Posted: 04/04/2007 at 21:40

No I have a training partner who places my weight on my shoulders (he squats 240kg and can bicep 60kg off my shoulders with a smile!). Otherwise would use Smith machine if no one to spot me. Can bench 30kg but not sure could clean & press that!! :-)
Posted: 04/04/2007 at 21:42

Finbaar: LOL!! Think what he meant was if you build lots of muscle and gain mass you will get heavier and not be as light a runner. If you're lean and have no fat to loose but put on muscle you will gain weight.
Posted: 04/04/2007 at 21:46

Of course people should build up their strength and ability slowly and steadily, in weight-training as in running. But when you have developed a base level of muscle tone and know how to perform the exercises correctly without "cheating" and doing full range movement,it should be no problem to plan to develop your strength and endurance to the level you want.
A pound of of extra muscle will store more glycogen than a pound of fat Also when the body uses up its glycogen store, it starts to convert protein [muscle] into energy before its fat store. Thus lowering the base metabolic rate. That is why it is important to build and develope muscle tone.
Posted: 05/04/2007 at 09:43

hello can i do this and still do the great north run
Posted: 20/08/2007 at 12:18

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