The fitness and weight loss benefits of running have been well documented over the years, with the overwhelming conclusion being that in terms of burning calories and building cardio endurance, there is simply no other activity that can compare to a regular running routine. But many runners have long wondered whether they get more benefit from running shorter distances at a faster pace, or if there is more to be gained from extending their distances and running farther instead. As with many aspects of health and fitness, the answer isn’t quite so simple, and it often comes down to personal preference and performance.
Go Fast to Burn Calories
Any personal trainer or long-term runner will tell you that going faster will definitely burn calories at a higher rate. This makes perfect sense, of course, because your body is pushing itself harder; in order to keep up the quicker pace, it will need to tap into fat stores for energy. In the simplest terms, that means the faster you run, the more calories you’re going to burn relative to the distance you cover.
Additionally, running faster (or alternatively running lots of hills!) also tends to build more lean muscle mass, which can bring a boost to your overall metabolism. As your body works to create the “active tissue” that makes up muscle, it will continue to burn calories even long after you’ve finished working out. In this way, you still get a nice side benefit from your fitness routine hours after you’ve come home from the gym.
But Faster Isn’t Always Better
Based on what I’ve written above, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that in order to get fit and lose weight, you should most definitely concentrate on running faster. But there is another way of looking at the process that runners also need to consider. Running faster and harder means that you won’t be able to work out nearly as long, which ultimately means that you might not be able to burn as many calories as you could if you went at a slower, more measured pace.
For instance, if you run at your fastest pace for 20 minutes, you might be able to cover 3 miles and burn as many as 450-500 calories. That’s a fast pace on both accounts. But if you slow down and expend your energy on a 60-minute run instead, you could easily cover 5-6 miles and end up burning 700-800 calories. The workout takes longer to complete, of course, but it results in substantially more calories used. If you goal is strictly to burn as many calories as possible, this might be the best all-around approach.
Mix Well for Best Results
As you can tell, there are certainly benefits to be had from running both faster and farther. Which one works best for you probably depends on your running style and fitness objectives. If you’re training to be competitive in a race, for example, going faster will be key. But if you are looking to shed pounds, longer runs might be the best way to go.
But honestly, as runners, we should probably be mixing up our routines to ensure that we are going both faster and farther at regular intervals. There are benefits to be had from speed training, just as there are from running longer distances, and by mixing up your routine, you’re more likely to see impressive all-around results.
As mentioned above, running faster helps to build muscle and has the added benefit of taking less time to complete your workout. On top of that, when you focus on running at an increased pace, your overall speed will improve, even on the days when you are training for distance instead.
On the other hand, running longer distances is good for endurance and allows you to burn a substantial number of calories in a single workout. Both of those are good for your overall health and will provide benefits in other areas of your life as well. Increased endurance will have the side effect of allowing you to increase your distance, even when running at a faster pace.
Mixing up your workouts is always a good idea, because it keeps your body from getting used to the routine as well. Alternate speed days with distance days for good results, and you’ll more than likely find that you’ve taken your workout to an entirely new level.