Which Burns More Calories: Running at a Steady Pace or Varied Pace?

First of all, if you are running, congratulate yourself for even taking the time to treat your body to a sport that truly benefits the mind, the body and the soul. This form of exercise improves heart and lung conditioning, burns excess fat, strengthens muscles, improves sleeps, aids in overcoming depression or other mental problems. And that’s not all! Research shows that running can raise levels of good cholesterol, boost the immune system and lower our risk of developing blood clots.

Running at any speed is beneficial. Whether you run fast or at a moderate pace, it’s always best to start slow and build up to whatever pace you’re aiming for.

When considering the amount of calories burned while running, it’s a complex situation because there are many variables to be taken into account. Each individual runner must take note of their weight, gender, weather, distance, duration and of course speed… all which factor into their specific caloric burn.

Running for distance at a steady pace is a good way to train type I muscle fibers, which converts oxygen to energy. You might burn a lot of calories, but when you add variations of speed into your running regimen you burn more calories for lean muscle mass. A steady pace will give you only minimal calorie burn because you aren’t exerting as much energy as a varied pace.

Running at a constant low-level pace uses less energy from the arms and legs because of the shorter strides.

When you start adding sprints to your running pace, you are engaging type II muscle fibers. Anaerobic muscle fibers are responsible for enhancing muscle definition. Adding sprints into your running regimen helps you in maintaining or increasing your calorie burn in lean muscle mass, which helps you stay looking youthful in appearance. Sprinting or faster pace running uses more explosive arm and leg action, which uses more energy and triggers excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Also known as the after-burn.

So, whether your goal is to maintain yourself as you are now, running at a steady pace would be your best bet. If you are aiming for a certain goal, like muscle tone or an event, adding variation to your pace is the best route to go. You will burn lots of calories either way, it just depends on the individual in the end. Your muscles will go into habit just like any other action in life, so switching up the pace will keep your muscles guessing and the calorie after burn will be beneficial as well.

Written by: Chelsea Granberry, personal trainer, Downtown St. Louis YMCA at the MX

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