What effect does bodybuilding (weight lifting) have on running? I’d like a more muscular and toned physique like sprinters. I’ve also heard that running breaks down muscle. True? – Lorraine T
Dr. Ross Tucker answers:
Running well and building muscle lie more or less on opposite ends of a spectrum, so a compromise has to be made. There’s a reason why the best distance runners in the world are so skinny – the less mass you have to carry from the start to the finish of a race, the better.
For sprinters it’s different, because their upper bodies and arms have to produce enormous power to counteract the rotational forces generated by their legs, but for a distance runner the lighter the better. And any mass, be it fat or muscle, that doesn’t contribute to propelling you forward, costs energy.
The analogy is that a distance runner must be a fuel-efficient hybrid car, whereas a sprinter is a jet engine.
Size also makes a significant difference to how easily you can keep your body temperature down, and bigger athletes really do struggle once temperatures get warmer. This is why the typical elite distance runner is small, has low body fat, and extremely long, skinny muscles.
As for whether running breaks down muscle, the answer is yes – but only with really extreme bodybuilding demands. The reason is that to gain muscle, you have to train specifically and ensure that energy intake is high. Running costs energy, so it can prevent muscle gain. But that’s true for a bodybuilder, not a runner looking for a more toned body.
Dr Ross Tucker has a BSc (Med) (Hons) Exercise Science Degree and PhD from the Sports Science Institute. Visit him at www.sportsscientists.com