Why Sprinting is Better for Weight Loss than Jogging

Most people who start doing cardio do long, mind-numbing hours on a treadmill or bike. It’s not hard to see why people take this approach – it’s what everyone else seems to be doing at the gym. It also seems intuitive – after all, if you want to lose weight you have to put in your time, right?

When it comes to cardio for the purpose of fat loss, the most effective method is actually the least intuitive – going on shorter, but higher intensity sprints is significantly better for weight loss than long, steady jogs. This method of sprinting for weight loss is known as high intensity interval training, or HIIT.

Usain Bolt Before & After Weight Loss
Fake Usain Bolt – Before & After HIIT Sprints

High Intensity Interval Training

So what exactly is high intensity interval training, and why is it preferable to longer, steady periods of cardio? If we take running as an example, the typical jogger will pace themselves at a steady clip over a fixed distance or period of time. If the jogger is planning to run for an hour, they jog at a pace they can sustain for an hour.

HIIT training on the other hand would involve doing short – but intense – sprints where the runner runs as fast as they possibly can. On the treadmill, this might mean cranking up the incline and increasing the speed drastically. While the period of exercise is short – usually 15-60 seconds – the individual pushes themselves as hard as they can during that short interval.

After the sprint, the person takes a short break before repeating another all-out interval, and then another, until they’re fully exhausted. The total exercise time is usually no more than 10-20 minutes.  HIIT training takes less time to achieve the same results as longer, slower running – but it’s certainly not easier.

The Evidence

But how do we know that sprinting combined with interval training is more effective for fat loss than a steady jog? A study in International Journal Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism divided two groups of male students and assigned them to do either 30 minutes of steady jogging, or 2 minutes of intensive sprint interval training – 3 times a week for 6 weeks. Researchers found that the interval spring training actually boosted the student’s metabolism the same amount as those who jogged, even though the joggers exercised for 28 minutes more than the sprinters each session. This was just one of many studies.

Why is this sort of sprint training superior to longer, marathon style runs for weight loss? Here are a few reasons:

There is an anabolic effect – Research has shown that doing sprint training along with eating more calories can actually help you build muscle, which in turn burns more fat even when you’re inactive. Have you never noticed a sprinter’s build compared to a marathon runner? The anabolic effect is a factor (though certainly not the only factor) in that striking body difference.

Increased Aerobic capacity – Doing intense sprints that push your body’s systems to the limit increases the amount of oxygen your body can use. You’ll feel more energized and “fit” from doing sprints, compared to doing long, but low intensity cardiovascular exercise.

Increased Insulin Sensitivity – High intensity interval training causes your muscle groups to absorb glucose more readily, preventing it from being stored as fat.

Afterburn Effect – Doing interval training creates what some fitness experts have called the “afterburn effect”. While the physiology of the effect is complicated to describe, in a nutshell, the intense sprinting kicks the body’s metabolism into high gear, helping you burn off fat even 24-48 hours after your last workout.

Less hunger – Long, slow, steady cardio tends to make you more hungry than sprint training. Joggers tend to find themselves famished after a long run, whereas high intensity interval sprints have little effect on appetite. This effect is related to the way long low intensity training affects insulin levels

The Myth Of The Fat Burning Zone

But perhaps you might ask, what about the “fat burning zone”? For years, the conventional wisdom has been that keeping a slow, steady pace during cardio was better for losing fat. This flawed wisdom was based on research which showed that low intensity training is more likely to use stored fat as fuel than high intensity sprints, which tends to rely on glycogen for energy.

While this is certainly true, the reason this wisdom is flawed is because the high intensity training still results in more fat burned overall, even if the lower intensity training burned more fat compared to glycogen percentage wise.

Should You Stop Jogging?

This certainly doesn’t mean that you should avoid going for a jog around the neighborhood or hopping onto the treadmill for 45 minutes if you want to. On the contrary, for overweight or obese individuals, it’s essential to start building up a cardio base through jogging before you begin high intensity interval training. Many people also find going on long runs calming, almost meditative. And of course, going on long runs does burn calories, even if it doesn’t do so as efficiently as high intensity interval training. However, if you’re looking to burn fat efficiently, your best bet is to stop jogging and start doing HIIT.

Ashley Williamson

My name is Ashley Williamson. I am a part-time guest blogger and a huge runner and fitness guru. When I have time I like to go hiking and travel around the World.

15 thoughts on “Why Sprinting is Better for Weight Loss than Jogging

  • April 17, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Weight or fat loss? I’m a little bit confuse by the title… The best way to rearch you ideal weight is doing what you like the way you like (seriously of course)… if jogging work for you and you like it, just do it! If interval work for you, just do it. Physical training is only one part of the tool to change your body…, your type of boby, nutrition, mind training… will influence your result also!

    • October 29, 2015 at 10:17 pm

      Very much so. That “Runner’s High” cuts both ways. Long, middle and short distance runners get it. I’m sure if one asks all the Olympic Gold medalists at those respective distances they’ll readily agree. I’ll admit I am biased towards sprinting because that’s where the high for me is. But you are so right. People should run whatever distance they enjoy that will get them into “that zone” and into shape!

  • April 17, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Hey Ashley! Great article, excellent writing! Was wondering if you might be interested in guest blogging elsewhere as well? Feel free to drop me a line if so! Thanks in advance!

  • April 17, 2013 at 9:59 am

    I watched a show about this called ‘The Truth About Exercise.’ It was a good show, covered all the points in the article but they mentioned the fact that not all people will respond to HIIT. It can be determined via genetics. In fact they did an experiment and discovered that the host of the show was resistant to the beneficial effects that some achieve by this method. The genetic testing results, kept secret until after the experiment, indicated he would be. They emphasized the fact that exercise really needs to be tailored to each individual.

  • April 17, 2013 at 2:06 am

    How about simply getting on all natural weight loss chewing gum Tonify – fat burning chewing gum? It works wonderful for us…….

  • April 16, 2013 at 7:15 am

    Love this article. It’s very clearly explained as to a specific goal and why its more effective. I always incorporate a balance of HIIT/sprints and low intensity cardio for good balance and adequate recovery.

  • April 16, 2013 at 6:22 am

    I certainly agree with the notion that the “fat-burning” zone is a myth and is one reason why many individuals” cardio sessions are not as effective as they could be. But I don’t agree that sprinting is better for fat loss or weight loss than long aerobic endurance, nor does the scientific literature support this.

    Sure, sprinting is better than a very slow jog, but not better than moderate to high aerobic endurance (>70% HRM) over 45 minutes – 1 hour when it comes to fat loss and weight loss. Moderate to high aerobic endurance training burns a significantly greater amount of calories which leads to a decrease in fat mass, improvements in glycogen stores post-exercise, a reduction in body mass (i.e. weight), a reduction in body fat %, a reduction in blood pressure, and a while host of other beneficial physiological responses and adaptations.

    The key difference between sprinting in short bouts and longer aerobic endurance is that they stress different energy systems. Sprinting stresses the glycolicic and the phosphagen system whereas aerobic endurance stresses the oxidative system for ATP production. But moderate-to-high aerobic endurance training can is more sustainable for most individuals and will generally lead to more calories burned since the activity can be sustained longer, even if the calories burned per minute are not quite as high as very intense sprinting. It is worth noting that insulin sensitivity also increases with the length and intensity of the aerobic endurance system.

    High intensity sprint intervals do have their place as maximal and supra maximal training can elicit chronic adaptations leading to increased aerobic activity capabilities at a lower heart rate and lactate threshold. But many repeated exercise bouts at extremely high intensifies can lead to injury or burn-out, especially for the novice. That is why high intensity training should be like desert: it’s good in small quantities, but it shouldn’t constitute your entire meal.

    If you are training to be a sprinter or for a specific sport that requires explosive speed, then sprinting is ideal. But most individuals who are looking for fat and weight loss would be better served by moderately to high aerobic endurance training coupled with resistance training and a little bit (<20% of cardio work-outs) of high-intensity cardio as an individual is capable and ready to incorporate such into their regimen. (source: NSCA's Essentials of Personal Training)

    • April 17, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      thanks for this comment. Ashley Williamson concentrates to much on burning as much calories as possible, and misses some basic understanding of physiology.

  • April 16, 2013 at 4:44 am

    The Boot It Fitness program includes a high intensity interval training phase.

    From practical experience in taking over 1000 people trough this type of training, the term ‘intensity’ is relative. For people who are not exercising more than 1-2 times per work and especially for people returning to exercise, 85% effort + can lead to an increased likelihood of injury.

    If incorporating a HIIT phase into your training make sure you are very warm and build up te intensity incrementally. If you aren’t jogging regularly it would be unwise to go straight into hard sprinting.

    An alternative is to get your HIIT from swimming sprints which are tough as oxygen deprivation is high. The principle of HIIT can also be applied tithe bike which is safer for those returning to exercise.

    I live sprinting and use a 30 on 30 off format on a treadmill. I agree with the science of this training method.

    Take care and build up slowly. Keep some LSD work in your program for increased capillarisation.

    Mark Tulloch
    Boot It Fitness

  • April 16, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Good info
    What if you find it hard to do sprints ?
    I have a dicky knee, it pops out of socket.

    • April 17, 2013 at 9:19 am

      have you tried spinning? I’ve found that my tricky knees do ok on the sprints, runs, jumps, and intensity pushes on the bike.

    • April 17, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      If you have access, you can also use a floating vest and do sprints in a pool.

  • April 15, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Great article, I have done spirits in preparation of body building shows. I can account that everything said here is true.

  • April 15, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    Great comprehensive post that hits the highlights. And it’s important to note that you nicely start off with the goal – to lose weight. If someone has the goal to reduce the risk of a heart attack or to lower blood pressure, then recent research just came out showing that running and walking are comparable. So the key really is looking at the goal and the study specifics. THanks for offering this clear overview. Loving it

    • April 16, 2013 at 5:13 am

      Hi Kymberly,

      I am really glad that you liked my article! And actually you are 100% right, the key is to looking at the goal and try to achieve it. Keep it up and have a nice day.


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