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

  • 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...
Must See
Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift
Views: 1,576,462
Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds
Views: 41,499,378
Abby Wambach Will Do Whatever It Takes Abby Wambach Will Do Whatever It Takes
Views: 5,961,387

Featured Videos

Kevin Love's In-Season Basketball Workout Kevin Love's In-Season Basketball Workout Views: 1,015,900
A Day in the Life With Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce A Day in the Life With Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce Views: 15,235
Path to the Pros 2015: Shaq Thompson Path to the Pros 2015: Shaq Thompson Views: 70,354
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Two-Ball Dribbling Drill With John Wall Two-Ball Dribbling Drill With John Wall
Views: 3,362,676
Paul Rabil's Box Jumps Paul Rabil's Box Jumps
Views: 851,362
Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift
Views: 1,576,462
Dribbling Drills for Tighter Handles Dribbling Drills for Tighter Handles
Views: 4,333,004
Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill
Views: 9,499,053

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like
3 Ways to Build Sprint Speed (No Sprinting Required)

3 Ways to Build Sprint Speed (No Sprinting Required)

In order to improve your sprint speed, you have to sprint. That makes sense, right? It does...to an extent. Sprinting is a skill and in order to improve...

These 5 Drills Will Increase Your Baseball-Specific Speed

These 5 Drills Will Increase Your Baseball-Specific Speed

Why Agility Is Critical for Soccer Players

Why Agility Is Critical for Soccer Players

Building Sprint Speed for Soccer Players

Building Sprint Speed for Soccer Players

Todd Durkin's 5 Exercises to Increase Your Agility

Todd Durkin's 5 Exercises to Increase Your Agility

NFL RB Zac Stacy Works to Get Faster for the 2015 Season

NFL RB Zac Stacy Works to Get Faster for the 2015 Season

5 Stretches That Can Instantly Make You Faster

5 Stretches That Can Instantly Make You Faster

What Is Fast in Soccer?

What Is Fast in Soccer?

Get Faster with High-Speed Treadmill Training

Get Faster with High-Speed Treadmill Training

King of the Hill: 5 Hill Run Exercises to Supercharge Your Speed

King of the Hill: 5 Hill Run Exercises to Supercharge Your Speed

Get Even More Out of Your Hill Sprints With These Variations

Get Even More Out of Your Hill Sprints With These Variations

3 Acceleration Drills to Get Faster

3 Acceleration Drills to Get Faster

Developing Soccer-Specific Speed

Developing Soccer-Specific Speed

Speed Drill of the Day: Get More Explosive with Ankle Hops

Speed Drill of the Day: Get More Explosive with Ankle Hops

Feed for Speed: 5 Foods and Supplements That Make You Faster

Feed for Speed: 5 Foods and Supplements That Make You Faster

Sprinting Tips from Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Johnson

Sprinting Tips from Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Johnson

Six-Pack for Speed: 5 Core Exercises That Can Make You Faster

Six-Pack for Speed: 5 Core Exercises That Can Make You Faster

Why Youth Athletes Need to Focus On Strength to Improve Speed

Why Youth Athletes Need to Focus On Strength to Improve Speed

A Linear Speed Progression for Increasing In-Game Speed

A Linear Speed Progression for Increasing In-Game Speed

Resisted Sprints: Use the Right Weight to Get Faster

Resisted Sprints: Use the Right Weight to Get Faster

Fine-Tuning Soccer Sprint Speed

Fine-Tuning Soccer Sprint Speed

How the Cable Machine Can Help You Get Faster

How the Cable Machine Can Help You Get Faster

Run Faster and Longer

Run Faster and Longer

5 Movements You Should Be Doing to Gain Football Speed

5 Movements You Should Be Doing to Gain Football Speed

Soccer Players: Get Quick on the Pitch

Soccer Players: Get Quick on the Pitch

YardBarker