How to Burn More Calories When Running

Running can be an effective and efficient way to lose weight, but you may get to a point where you hit a weight loss plateau and you wonder if and how you can continue to shed pounds. Or perhaps you've overindulged a bit and you'd like to know how to burn more calories during your run. Here are some strategies to pump up your calorie burn.


Head for the Hills

Hill Running
David Madison / Getty

You may not love to run hills, but knowing that they'll pump up your calorie burn may take the sting out of them. When you run up a hill, you're moving up and forward at the same time, so you're working harder and using more muscles than when you're running on flat ground. For each degree of incline, you'll burn about 10% more calories than you would if you were running at the same speed on a totally flat surface for the same amount of time. 

To get started with hill running, start with a gentle, rolling hill or set your treadmill to a 4 percent incline. Then run up the hill at a hard but sustainable effort for 30 seconds. Run easy or walk back to your starting point, or bring the incline to zero. Keep recovering until your breathing returns to normal.  Start with 4 repeats and build your way up to 10.


Run Outside

running by the water


Some research suggests that the average runner burns up to 5 percent more calories when running outside, as compared with running the same speed on a treadmill.

Running on a treadmill is somewhat easier physically because the ground is being pulled underneath your feet and there's no wind resistance, so that may explain the difference in the amount of calories burned. The faster you run outside, the harder you're working against wind resistance. If you want to better simulate outdoor running conditions on the treadmill, you can set your treadmill at a 1% incline.

Many runners who don't like treadmill running find that they don't get as bored running outside, so you also may run a lot farther — and therefore burn more calories — when you head outdoors.


Prevent Boredom

woman running on sidewalk


The longer you run, the more calories you'll burn, right?  But we all have to admit that sometimes pure boredom keeps us from running longer. Here are some boredom-busting ideas (beyond just listening to your favorite songs) to try, so you'll keep the burn going.

  • Get distracted. Try really paying attention to the sights and sounds you're passing. Being more attuned to your surroundings can prevent boredom and also make you appreciate being able to run.
  • Run with others. Whenever I run with buddies, the miles seem to go by much faster than when I'm running by myself. Make running dates with friends or join a running group so you're not always going solo. Long runs especially are a great opportunity to run with others because you should be running at a conversational pace. And chatting with others during runs is a great way to learn new running tips and get advice or reviews on running gear.  
  • Focus on the workout and your performance. I find when I'm doing a very structured workout, such as an interval workout or hill repeats, the workout goes by very quickly, and I don't get bored because I'm also focusing on something — the time, my pace, the recovery. If you typically do most of your runs at the same, easy pace, try mixing it up with some speed work.
  • Brainstorm ideas. Running can help you clear your mind and just give you a chance to really focus on a subject. I like to use my running time to think — about anything from new topics to write about, meals to cook, activities for my kids to do, or gift ideas for relatives or friends. I even keep a notebook next to my treadmill so I can jot down an idea after (sometimes even during) my run. 

Add Some Speed

couple running on track.jpg
Robin Skjoldborg/Cultura/Getty

Incorporating speed work or interval training (running at a very fast speed for short intervals of time) into your running routine can also help your weight loss efforts. When you run faster, your body becomes less efficient, works harder, and as a result burns more calories.  You'll also increase your muscle mass and improve your resting metabolism, causing you to burn more calories throughout the day.

Here's a simple speed workout to try: Warm up with one mile at an easy pace. Run two minutes at a comfortably hard pace. You should be breathing fairly heavy (but not gasping for air). Then recover for two minutes by running at an easy pace. Repeat this for two miles and then cool down by running one mile easy.

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