Anyone who’s ever thought out loud about taking up running to shift some pounds has heard the same thing: you’ll never lose weight running, you should hit the gym, take up cross fit, or – thank you, Captain Obvious – go on a diet.
But that’s not entirely true. You can run to lose weight; it’s just the kind of running you’re doing that’s important. Plodding around the park for 15 minutes a couple of times a week will get you nowhere, but sprinting could be a literal fast track to weight loss.
Just take it from British Olympic sprinter Harry Aikines-Aryeetey (known to his friends as Harry AA), a multi-time gold, silver, and bronze medalist in the European Championships and Commonwealth Games. He’s hitting 11.6 metres per second. By comparison, some of us can’t to get out of our chair in that time.
“If you’re going for 30-minute runs and focusing on distances it’s going to be a struggle to lose weight,” says Harry. “Casual jogging or running is not time efficient, because you’re not burning calories or building a physique. For fat loss, you technically have to be in some sort of calorie deficit – expending [energy] to a certain degree and consuming a controlled amount of food. With sprinting and sprint training, you’re more inclined to lose weight.”
But there’s more to it than just running fast and hoping your gut can’t keep up. Harry recommends a pared down version of his own training. A schedule of three workouts per week: a gym session, a technical session, and an endurance session. Here are Harry AA’s top tips for losing weight through running.
For the average keep-fitter, weight training seems counterintuitive for running – surely the bigger you are, the harder it is to run? But it’s not necessarily about bulking up, it’s about building an efficient engine.
“They say that fat doesn’t fly,” says Harry. “For the speeds I’m hitting you’ve got to keep everything efficient. To be running at your optimum level you can’t be too heavy – whether that’s fat or muscle mass weighing you down – but every muscle and fibre on me helps. It’s not dead weight, it’s explosive.
“As your body gets into better shape your calorie demand goes up, your muscle tone and size increases, the intensity of your training keeps the heart rate high and calorie demands after will be quite high. Building muscle fibre and tissue, and with hypertrophy [the increase of muscle mass] from weight training, you become more anabolic. By just laying there you’ll burn calories because every movement costs more.
“I’m using more energy just sitting here because the type of muscle I have requires more energy. With all of those things, you’re more likely to burn calories by just living.”
Here are three weight exercises Harry recommends to get your body into sprinting shape.
Clean Lifts: 5 Reps / 10 Sets
“We focus more on compound movements than body building. I don’t know one sprinter that doesn’t power clean, though we don’t necessarily do anything over our heads,” says Harry. “If you need to learn the technique you focus on a lighter weight and build the technique from there”
How To Do It: Begin with a barbell on the floor positioned close to your shins. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, reach down and grab the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Squat down and, keeping your core tight and chest up, pull the bar off the floor by extending your legs, making sure to keep your back flat.
Once the bar is at hip level, fully extend your hips, knees and ankles, while simultaneously shrugging the bar with your shoulders and keeping the bar as close to your body as possible. Quickly drop into a quarter-squat position with your back straight, and hips and knees slightly bent. Drive your elbows forward to rotate them around in the bar and catch the bar in the racked position across the front of your shoulders with your fingertips under the bar. Now stand up.
Front Squats: 10 reps / 10 sets
“I like front squats because it’s something that helps with your power clean, in terms of the catch and standing up with it,” says Harry.
How To Do It: Place the barbell on the floor behind you. Step in front of it, feet shoulder-width apart, and reach down and grab the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Keeping your chest up and back straight, press up through the legs. Then slowly lower the weight back down to the floor. As with all squats, be vigilant not to round your back.
Hip Lifts: 10 reps / 10 sets
“This is about activating the glutes and the hamstrings, making sure they’re moving efficiently,” Harry explains. “Get a good range, keep the legs solid, and obviously try to make sure you’re activating through the hamstrings and squeezing the glutes at the top.”
How To Do It:Lay down with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Pull your navel in toward your spine. Lift your hips a few inches off the floor, pulling in the lower abdominal muscles during the lift. Slowly lower your hips back to the floor.
“If you could only do three exercises in the gym each week, do these,” Harry advises. “You got an explosive lift with the power clean, the strengthening exercise with the front squat, and your activation in regards to the hip lift.”
Getting all technical about things might not sound as exciting or productive as a heavy lifting session, but it’s a key part of a sprint training regime. Done in conjunction with conditioning and endurance training, your body will go through a process of seamlessly adapting.
“With a technical session,” says Harry, “you improve your upright running form, understand how to accelerate, how to move, and how to slow down. The first part of a session should be drills and the second part acceleration. Lastly, do back-to-back acceleration to put into practice the things you’ve been learning over the session.
“There’s an art form to doing it properly,” says Sarada Nag, a sprinting coach with Dash Team London. “The trick is that it shouldn’t be that hard if you’re in the right position – feet beneath your body and centre of gravity slightly in front of you. If your body and muscles don’t get used to moving fast, you’ll never be able to do it. If you’re always jogging at the same pace it will be difficult to suddenly pick up.”
Sarada offers four drills to do to warm up and get your body prepared for high-performance technique.
“Most drills are done quite quickly to get your muscles fired up so you’re ready to move at that speed,” says Sarada. “This helps you stay light on the ground.”
- Keep your arms in time with your legs
5 x back-to-back drills of 10 metres each
Walking High Knees
“This is a great one to get you upright,” says Sarada. “A lot of sprinters need to stand tall because everything comes from their stomach. Walking high knees just gets you aligned into the right position.”
- Keep your knee bent and keep your ankle underneath the knee, like a little square box, then swap sides
5 x back-to-back drills of 10 metres each
“This is an extension of walking high knees but you put some bounce into it,” says Sarada. “When sprinters push their knee forward the hip comes forward. If you leave your hips behind, it means you drop your hip and you don’t cover the ground quick enough, so your knee doesn’t come up. If you’re doing the 100 meters, the knee should come up to a bit of a right angle.
- Try pushing some power into the ground to cover more distance and get that explosive work