Lou Schuler

Author, Journalist, Presenter

Posted 05/02/2011

Running for Weight Loss: Does It Ever Work?

Saturday morning, and I’m sitting in my car while one of my kids does one of those things parents pay money for kids to do. I’m geeking out on the sequel to A Game of Thrones, and I’m happy to have an hour to do nothing but read.

A couple of the other parents, though, are more ambitious. They’re dressed for a workout, and apparently serious about it. They take off jogging, and don’t come back until the hour is almost over. When they do, I can see by the way they’re walking — short, stiff-legged strides with feet splayed slightly — that they’ve pushed themselves. They spend the next five minutes going through a choreographed stretching routine.

They move like people who work out. But they don’t look like people who work out. They’re obese by any standard.

I don’t like to make judgments about people, and I’m not going to start. I don’t know a thing about them — when or how they gained the weight, when or why they started running, what they eat or how they train the other six days of the week.

But I think every fitness professional cringes when seriously overweight people pound the pavement. Two years ago, my friend Keith Scott wrote this:

I spent the Memorial Day weekend at the Jersey Shore relaxing and getting some much needed sun. As I sat out on the deck, I noticed masses of people running each morning. Now, these were not “runners”; in fact, most of them were jogging very slow, and looked to be struggling the whole time. Most were overweight. My assumption was that they were running to lose weight. …

I have nothing against running or people that run. In fact, I think it is a great sport — if you are a real runner. The problem I have is that most people out there running have no clue how to run correctly, and because of this, are ruining their feet, ankles, and knees, while stressing their low backs. …

I am also coming at this from another angle: I have treated way too many people that come to me with major issues and pain related to running. As I already said, most people don’t run correctly, and doing a repetitive movement for over 30 minutes incorrectly is just setting yourself up for major joint issues and pain. And for what? A few hundred calories burned?

Aside from injuries, I wonder what else running does to people on a metabolic level. I’ve known one or two people who lost a significant amount of weight with endurance exercise (one did it with hours a day of cycling), but I’d run out of fingers counting the number of people I’ve known who gained weight and got hurt, or got hurt and then gained weight.

The injuries I get. It’s the weight gain that puzzles me. Any exercise should result in some modest weight loss at first, unless you counter it by eating more.

I may have gotten some insight into this on Sunday. My wife recently had abdominal surgery, so I’ve been gardening for two. That is, I’ve been doing all her girly digging and planting along with my manly lawn mowing. And it’s killing me. It’s way more exercise than I’m used to, using different muscles and movement patterns. I’m sore and exhausted.

But I should at least be getting leaner with all the extra activity. Right? I’m doing this in addition to my normal gym training, so I should be dropping pounds and getting all ripply.

Not even close. I’ve gained several pounds, all in the middle.

I don’t need any fancy “science” to explain why. The more beat up I feel, the more I eat. And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that there’s an empty space in my refrigerator where you’d normally find the beer.

I’ll throw this question out to the group: Have you ever gained weight from an exercise activity, especially one where the goal was weight loss? Thanks in advance for sharing your stories.