Why Sprinters Are Muscular and Endurance Runners Are Thin | STACK

Why Sprinters Are Muscular and Endurance Runners Are Thin

March 22, 2013 | Dan Hutchison

Must See Speed Videos

Running has been critical for human survival since the dawn of mankind—both for chasing down food and evading threats. Today, at least in the developed world, running has morphed into more of a recreational activity for sport or exercise.

We typically do not associate running with building muscle. We tend to look at it as a way to improve cardiovascular fitness and overall health. However, it's more complicated than that.

Looking deeper at the adaptations caused by running, we have to consider what type of running is performed and at what intensity. We also need to factor in genetics and how the body morphologically changes with stress.

Sprinting

1950's Sprinter photo jesse-owens-1936-olympics_zps2e200b3f.jpg2000's Sprinter photo SprintStartImage_zpsb4dec32d.jpg

Sprinters are born with a high number of fast-twitch muscle fibers, which power maximum speed, strength and power movements for short periods of time. The extreme stress of accelerating and running at top speed challenges these fibers, causing a size increase. (2)

Sprinters eventually reach a plateau, where size gains stop unless an additional load is placed on the body. The overload concept, widely used in strength training, needs to be applied to running to continually challenge the muscles. (4)  Examples include:

  • Incline Treadmill running

Treadmill Incline Running photo InclineTMpic_zpsf5dd0d5a.jpg

  • Uphill running

Uphill Running photo running-uphillimage_zps03ec4fab.jpg

FROM AROUND THE WEB
  • Resisted running

 photo Xcordpic1_zpsabbeee7c.jpg

  • Backpedal running (with resistance, inclined on a treadmill or uphill)

Treadmill Incline Backpedal photo BPInclineTM_zpsc42a82dc.jpg

  • Strength training

Strength Training photo weightliftingimage_zpsa9df355c.jpg

Long-Distance Running

Endurance athletes generally have a higher percentage of slow-twitch fibers, which are optimized for sub-maximal extended performance. However, they do not develop larger musculature based on their everyday activity. (3) They will undergo changes, and possibly gain more muscle fibers, but there's a reason why endurance athletes are generally very slim.

In conclusion, building muscle through running is possible under the right circumstances. Skeletal muscle has an enormous capacity for adapting to increased exercise loads, especially loads provided by high-intensity running (1). After an athletes has sprint-trained for an extended period of time, changes in his or her musculature will not occur unless an overload method is employed.

Remember this aphorism of an ancient exercise philosopher: "One may lay bricks over a long period of time and develop strength in doing so, but one will not become stronger laying those bricks unless the bricks get heavier."

References

  1. Martin DE and Coe PN. Better Training for Distance Runners. Human Kinetics. Third Edition (1997).
  2. Ross A and Leveritt M. "Long-term metabolic and skeletal muscle adaptations to short-sprint training: Implications for sprint training and tapering." Sports Medicine 31(15): 1063-1082 (2001).
  3. Maughan RJ, Watson JS, Weir J. "Relationship between muscle strength and muscle cross-sectional area in male sprinters and endurance runners." Eur J Appl Physiol 50:309-318 (1983).
  4. Brooks GA, Fahey TD, White TP, and Baldwin KM. Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and its Applications. Mayfield. Third Edition (2000).
Topics: BUILD MUSCLE
Dan Hutchison
- Dan Hutchinson, CSCS, ATC, USAW1, is an exercise physiologist, performance coach and training consultant through D2K Training and Consulting. A native of North Dakota, he...
Dan Hutchison
- Dan Hutchinson, CSCS, ATC, USAW1, is an exercise physiologist, performance coach and training consultant through D2K Training and Consulting. A native of North Dakota, he...
More Cool Stuff You'll Like

Why You

I Lift Weights But Can't Build Muscle. What's Wrong?

Build Bigger Biceps Without an 'Arm Day'

Why You Need to Change Your Workouts More Often

3 Simple Moves for Bigger Triceps

Get a Big Chest With 5 Stand-up Exercises

Build Muscle in Less Time With Massed Practice

Quickly Build Muscle for Football

When to Use Isolation Exercises for Growth

What You Need to Know About Gaining Muscle Mass

Build Bigger Arms With This Bicep Workout

A Simple Strategy for Serious Muscle Growth

5 Easy Muscle-Building Tips for Hardgainer Athletes

Pressed for Time? Try This 20-Minute, 200-Rep Workout

5 Food Swaps that Help Athletes Bulk Up

5 Tips to Increase Lean Body Mass

Mechanical Overload: A Strategy for Bigger Muscles

3 Reasons Why You're Not Getting Stronger

5 Reasons Why You're Not Ripped

The Food Rules for Building Muscle

Keys to a Successful Full-Body Transformation

Increase Metabolic Stress for Size and Performance

The Weakling's Guide to Working Out

How to Build Muscle: A Game of Angles

Pack on Muscle by Wave Loading

Q&A: Brad Schoenfeld on Maximizing Muscle Growth

Get Strong and Thick With Strongman Exercises

Shoulder Workouts for Mass: 3 Tips

Can Your Diet Prevent Sports Injuries?

You Need Rest Intervals. Here's Why

Why Hard Work May Not Always Beat Good Genes

How the Actors of 'Blue Mountain State' Get in Shape

5 Reasons You Can't Build Muscle

Build Muscle Faster With This Simple Weight Room Trick

6 Skinny Pro Athletes Who Dominate Their Sport

Tips for Healthy Weight Gain

The 8 Craziest Things People Do to Build Muscle

The 4 Rules of Bulking Up

How to Strengthen Small and Weak Muscles

The 15-Minute Beach Muscle (Plus Hustle) Workout