The Truth About Sprinters vs. Marathon Runners

103 Comments | Training

If you’re even slightly into fitness and have been interneting on the internet for the past few years, you’ve do doubt come across the picture below.

sprinting body

To summarize the picture above:

Marathon runners = skinny, weak, no muscle, pale.

Sprinters = lean, ripped, muscular, dark and handsome.

But there are some huge misconceptions about sprinting and running which I cover below.

Running does not make you lose muscle.

This is the most popular myth that a lot of fitness pros love to spread. Their argument is that due to the long distance nature of running, you’re burning your muscles for fuel.

But there’s really no proof to back this up. When asked for proof, all anyone says is blah blah blah look at the pic above.

Dude…look at marathon runners. They’re so skinny and weak, obviously they’re burning muscle when they run.

Truth: Just think about it logically. Maybe the reason a marathon runner is so skinny and doesn’t have any muscle is because they’re not trying to build any muscle and they don’t have much muscle in the first place.

Marathon and long distance runners train for their sport and that sport is running for a very long time without stopping. For a runner, lifting weights is just time wasted that could be focused on improving their running.

Marathon runners can gain muscle…if they want

You’re right, I’ve never seen someone look like Arnold Schwarzenegger compete and win in a marathon but there’s a damn good reason for that.

Here’s what you need to know:

1) Running is an aerobic exercise and doesn’t involve the explosiveness of sprinting or weight lifting. It’s all about endurance and running for as long as you can.

2) Runners don’t try to gain muscle. Their focus is on running fast and far.

3) Train for your sport. Bodybuilders train to look as lean and muscular as possible. Sprinters train to run as fast as possible over a short distance. Runners train to run as fast and far as possible. You train for your sport so you can’t criticize a runner for the physique they have.

Pick your battles

Sprinting and running are 2 very different sports. Sprinting is usually done in conjunction with weight lifting and runners tend to be laser focused on well…running.

A person who’s running 10 miles a day will simply not have the energy to hit a heavy weight lifting session as well.

It’s not that a runner’s body lacks the ability to gain muscle, it’s simply that runners don’t try to gain muscle. It’s counter-intuitive to their goal.

Also note, runners tend to have a diet that is much higher in carbs and lower in protein, so once again this is the polar opposite of most sprinters/weight lifters who put a larger focus on eating massive amounts of protein which you need to maintain muscle mass.

So should you be running or sprinting for the best look physique?

Obviously, most of you guys are not marathon runners.

I know most of my readers simply want to look and feel good and that’s great. And if that’s the case, just stick with a couple heavy lifting sessions per week and maybe throw in a quick workout finisher at the end.

My main point that I want to drill into your head is – don’t believe that doing a little or even a lot of cardio will cause you to lose muscle. The act of running itself doesn’t cause muscle loss, but it does take your focus and energy away from things like weight lifting.

What are your thoughts? How do you incorporate running or sprinting into your workout routine?

Ray - April 24, 2017

Bodybuilders who run, run to cut fat from their body. They want a huge upper body. Big leg and small waist. They don’t want to overdo it in running and look scrawny and sick.

Bruce - April 13, 2017

Extra weight (bulky, useless muscle) is the last thing you want when running long distance. Ever seen one if those top heavy bodybuilders with stick legs run at the gym? Embarrassing.

Bad article reader - April 9, 2017

Horrible inaccurate article. Waste of time reading it.

Dennis - February 11, 2017

I believe you have this all wrong. According to an expert on the subject, Doug McGuff, MD, author of Body by Science (2009), muscle wasting occurs when doing a steady state activity (conventional aerobic exercise such a long distance running) for a long period. According to McGuff, long distance running does not produce any metabolic adaptations (engagement of fast twitch fibers) and the price paid is muscle wasting or the destruction of the most productive and protective tissue of your body. McGuff states that when glycogen stores are depleted, muscle tissue is converted into its constituent amino acids and converted to glucose in the liver via the process of gluconeogenesis.

    Keith - February 11, 2017

    Never heard of the guy. But does the study take into account calorie/protein intake plus whether or not the person is doing any resistance training in addition to the distance running?


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