The Truth About Sprinters vs. Marathon Runners

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?

  • Keith
  • Updated September 22, 2014
Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 77 comments
Victor Peters - May 24, 2016

I’ve been a long distance runner for over 40 years and thru these years I really never lost muscle mass. I was also well proportioned. I only noticed losing muscle in my 60’s. I do believe too that one do lose muscle mass as u age.

Sakhile - May 23, 2016

I like to run and do other types of workouts like Pilates and dumbbell workouts. When I train for 21 km races I lose some wight every time, even if I continue with the other workouts. I love to run and I would like to run a full 42 km marathon one day, but I am afraid to increase my distance because I get thinner when I run longer. That is the truth. I want to run longer without getting thinner ( no offence but I do not like the look). So should I increase my weight training as well?

    Keith - May 23, 2016

    Yes I believe all people should be weight training in any sport if they can.

N Rogers - May 7, 2016

Its well known that when your bodies glycogen/glucose is used up, your body breaks down muscle tissue for energy. This is just fact.

    Keith - May 8, 2016

    Not really. Your body will break down body fat first. Just because you start running, doesn’t lead to a loss in muscle.

Mike - May 5, 2016

It’s low testosterone due to you body creating a chemical called cortisol which comes from stress it prevents testosterone from being made. these athletes bodies can get really stressed out. I’ll explain it like this some marathon runners may run around 200 or more miles. Put that into perspective do you even drive that much in your car every week I don’t. Obviously this will stress out your body, but there are many ways for you to help your body create testosterone more. You can lift, sprint, hit the heavy bag, push-ups etc.. The point is you will not look this skinny unless you run that much, running is great for you body it can make you stronger and and give you better cardio so when someone else may be gassing put in a flag football game you are still feeling great. I personally think if you want to lose weight and get lean running isn’t a bad idea at all. Make sure you are responsible about it of course get a good diet eat your carbs protein whatever. Just don’t run 200 miles of course and when you do run attempt to do it in the morning this helps your body learn to burn fat as energy because usually early morning your doing empty stomach cardio, my step father is a body builder and I’ll tell you this there is not one body builder that doesn’t do cardio. You must understand that there is other runners that run a lot of miles and still look great. For instance Nick Simmons a great middle distance runner who was a world champion in the 800 he actually runs 70 miles a week on his pre season but also incorporates weights and explosive exercises as well. Look him up his body may surprise you. Also remember a lot of runners bodies also have a lot to do with genetics i am a highschool runner and there is a distance runner who’s name is Isaac Green he probably weighs close to 200 pounds of course he’s tall but he also looks like a football player with a lot of mass on him. He has ran a 14:55 in the 5k as well as a 4:19 in the 1600 and 1:52 in the 800. So look up some of the names I included and come back and tell me how skinny these athletes are

Mike potere - April 30, 2016

I am no expert on this subject but I believe that a very important point needs to also be brought to light. And that is the production of testosterone. I have read several times over the years that a long distance runner may not have much muscle mass in his legs as well as his upper body because his body has decreased the production of testosterone because the body knows that running long distances with alot of muscle mass is inefficient. On the other hand, Sprinters can have quite a bit of muscle mass because a sprinters body increases the production of testerone because it is more efficient to have muscle mass when performing sprints. If u look at it from a weight lifters point of view, it is common knowledge that one technique to increase the production of testosterone is to do sprints. This increase in testosterone, from doing sprints, not only yields an increase in muscle mass in a weight lifters legs but also in the upper body because the testosterone is distributed, to all muscle tissue, through the bloodstream. Your body may be making decisions for you without discussing it with you first!

Nancy - April 14, 2016

I find that having a combo of 2 mile run ( on treadmill ) then 30 min weights and finish with 30 min swim works well for me. I keep my weight steady, have energy, and my bone scans have improved ( I have osteoporosis )
I’m turning 60 soon and have kept a 108- 110 lb frame.
It’s a great routine I try to keep up 2-3 times weekly. I eat sensibly, no restrictions !

    Keith - April 14, 2016

    That sounds like a fantastic plan, keep it up.

Jamie Mattinson - April 6, 2016

I’m so glad to see the myth about skinny runners being debunked – just look at all the marathon runners that are well rounded and big like hunter Cameron Hanes!

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this idea – since using it my feet and calves are worked and strengthened a lot more: http://www.eternalgreatness.com/running-barefoot/

Jorge Guerrero - April 1, 2016

I have done both distance running and sprinting at the intercollegiate level. The main reason that distance runners don’t gain weights in muscle is because it slows them down. Muscle makes the body heavy. Sprinters need the muscle to gain as much “thrust” as they possibly can to accelerate as quickly as possible.
Muscle mass in runners is put on or left off for utility’s sake.

Vargarita - December 11, 2015

I like the statement that we train for our sport and not for our look. It really should be like that. We chose our sport because we like doing it and not because we want to be thin or something.
But I don’t agree 100% that we don’t have muscles or that we have less muscles. I run two marathons a year and I can say that I have muscles in my legs etc. Of course my upper body is weak, sure, because even if I do some cross training it’s not enough to build up massive muscles – like a body builder has. On the other hand to be honest I don’t care 🙂 I don’t because I accept my body as it is now because I can rely on my body during my races. These legs took me to the finish line when I messed up my tactic for example. I was menthaly broken, but my body did not give up for me. Obviously even if I do sometimes some strengths trainings but it’s for my cross training. And I am ok with it. I can confirm that I do have muscles because without muscles you can’t run a marathon. That’s obvious. But I don’t think we should compare as sports are different and every sport requires different skills and muscles and training. The main thing is that we are passionate about the sport we do. 🙂

    Keith - December 11, 2015

    Compared to a bodybuilder, marathonn runners do in general have less muscle and always will. Not a bad thing but it’s an opportunity cost. You simply can’t put in the same amount of effort into maximizing muscle growth while maximizing performance as a runner.


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