Is Running the Best Form of Cardio?

Is Running the Best Form of Cardio?

Running gets your heart pumping, your blood pumping, and your breathing heavy — so, yes, it definitely counts as cardio. But running the best kind cardio? And can you really lose fat by running?

The simple answers are yes and yes; Running is cardio and you can lose fat by following a regular running routine, just like any other consistent exercise routine. But to optimize its benefits, you need to learn how to do it best.

Read on to learn what cardio exercise really means in the context of overall fitness and how to make sure your running routine is helps you lose weight.

What Counts as Cardio?

“Cardio workouts are all about providing activity that challenges the heart muscle,” says Ronnie Carda, Ph.D., with the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Biking, swimming, and rowing qualify, of course, but so do they training in between (ie, exercise that alternates periods of intense exercise and rest, such as sprint drills or hill workouts), and circuit training (series of strength-based exercises performed back-to-back without rest).

And, of course, running is also high on the cardio list.

In general, as long as exercise involves sustained activity that raises your heart rate and keeping it high, it can be considered cardio. “And running is one of the best ways to challenge your entire cardiovascular system,” says Carda.

Running and Weight Loss

happy man running |  benefits of running

Because it challenges both of you cardiorespiratory and muscular system, running can provide significant weight loss benefits. That’s especially true if you’re new to the activity, because your body has to work overtime to keep up with the demand for energy from your muscles.

The average 150-pound person can burn about 100 calories per mile while running. If you put on weight, you will burn more, and vice versa if you weigh less.

That calorie burn can translate to daily “calorie deficit,” which will result in losing pounds as long as you don’t erase them by overeating. In other words, combining running with smart eating habits is a more powerful strategy for weight loss than focusing on running alone.

“It’s also important to keep in mind that what you do is ‘stable state’ running, eventually you will notice – perhaps even quickly – your weight loss begins to diminish and plateau as your body adapts to your consistent cardio ‘routine,’” says Trevor Thieme, CSCS, BODi’s senior director of fitness and nutrition content. “That’s why it’s important to vary your running workouts regularly.”

Operating Routines

Not all running workouts are created equal, and different routines provide different benefits.

“Research has shown that it may be best to exercise at different intensities – from stable state in high-intensity interval training,” said Carda. That’s especially true if your goal is weight loss.


High-intensity interval training (HIIT) alternates periods of all-out effort with short periods of rest.

A 2:1 work to rest ratio is the norm. In practice, that might translate to repetitions of 40-second sprints paired with 20-second jogs, or a similar timed workout with, for example, burpees, mountain climbers, squat jumpsand push-ups.

Not only can HIIT help optimize weight loss, but it can also make you stronger aerobic capacity and improve long-distance running performance. In fact, a study in Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that sprint-interval training improved overall endurance.


The opposite of HIIT, low-intensity steady-state training (LISS) involves sustained activity lasting longer than 30 minutes that does not raise your heart rate above 60 percent of its maximum. A LISS running workout essentially involves jogging at a steady pace for an extended period of time.