In defence of running. An argument for a focus on performance as a means of weight loss.

As a follow up to my post “In defence of cardio“, this post makes the argument for focusing on improved performance as a means to lose weight. What I’m suggesting is that weight loss should be the outcome, not the purpose, of running.

Parallels can be drawn with what Akio Morita, the founder of Sony, describes as the difference between Japanese and Western business philosophy. In Japanese business thinking, profit is the outcome, not the purpose of business. Profit is a measure of success on the balanced scorecard, as opposed to the objective itself. Similarly, weight loss is just one of a series of by-products that are the result of improved performance.

To illustrate this point, take a look at a finish line at Durham parkrun. You’ll notice that the body size changes as the field crosses the line. If you’re 5 stones overweight then you’re going to struggle to achieve a sub 23 (men) or sub 26 (women) 5k. If you want to get in the top ten and run around 18 minutes (men) or 20 minutes (women) then you’re not going to do that carrying what’s effectively a 70lb weighted vest.

And this is the essence of what I’m getting at. Instead of mindless pavement pounding and fretting over the next weigh-in, a much more motivating, fun and healthy way to lose weight is to make improved performance the goal. As I discuss in my post on enjoying the process, take the long-term view that you’re going to be doing what you’re doing for the next few years, so you might as well enjoy it, achieve lots of milestones and get fit and lose weight in the process. Moreover, it could be argued that improved performance is the only way to make real long-term progress. The body adapts pretty quickly so after the excitement of the “newbie gains” or, in terms of weight loss, “newbie losses” wears off and The Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in, if you’re not constantly getting faster, increasing the mileage (sensibly!) and generally getting better, the body has no need to adapt and shed the weight. It doesn’t need to increase the mitochondria, there’s no incentive to increase the lactate threshold, it’s not required to build muscle or to increase Vo2 max. So, even if it’s just with a focus on weight loss, you’re going to need to improve your performance constantly – think Kaizen, think TQM, think continuous improvement.

Of course, these adaptations are not going to happen overnight and, depending on your starting point, it might take 4-5 years of dedicated training to get anywhere near a sub 19 minute 5k, a sub 38 minute 10k or a sub 1.30 half marathon. But, as Brian Tracy says, the time is going to pass anyway! Where do you want to be in five years time? Still pounding the pavements and watching the scales? Still waiting for New Year to get started? Or the person who people use as an example of what can be achieved with a long-term, goal focused commitment to improved performance. In addition, when combined with a regular resistance training programme and diet based around “real foods” (meat, fish, fruit, veg, whole grains, nuts, seeds) this period of time will see you become stronger, leaner, more “toned” and achieve whatever weight loss and body aesthetics goals you decide are right for you.

In conclusion, make weight loss the outcome, not the objective, of your running programme and you’ll see better results, have more fun and achieve more glory than you will fretting over the scales.

Danny Sroda is owner and Lead Trainer at Reach Corporate Fitness for Business.