The Truth About Sprinters vs. Marathon Runners - FitMole

The Truth About Sprinters vs. Marathon Runners

142 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?

Sierra - December 21, 2017

Long distance cardio is terrible for your health, especially your heart. It’s a tremendous strain plus it weakens your immune system. I do only HIIT and interval-style cardio and weights. I’ve had three babies and I have a abs and wear a size two. Oh, and I eat. A lot.

    waynw - March 24, 2018

    What are you talking about? you are just lazy. Try before you knock it.

    Chelsea N Rivera - April 18, 2018

    Wow. Just wow. I can’t stop laughing. No offense…you’re not the sharpest tack in the box if you really believe that.

    Cas - May 17, 2018

    I was overweight and was sick and tired all the time. Now i cycle for 60 miles a day for work for an year. And i feel great. Lost a lot of weight and havent felt healthier.i also run 2 days a week and 1 time i do the gym. And judo training on saterday. And long distance cardio helped me lot in gains, stamina and endurance in my sport and life.

Mike - December 27, 2017

Wow, this is the dumbest thing I’ve read in a while.

    wayne - March 24, 2018

    It’s only dumb to you because you don’t have any training experience and your looking for the easy way out.

bosodabamo - January 16, 2018

this article has a very distinctive flair to it. i wonder (((who))) is behind it. I mean the editor, not the puppet writer

Bill - January 24, 2018

I don’t think whoever wrote this article is very educated. Long distance runners have little muscle mass because if you’re running a long distance, you need to be as light as possible. For sprinting, however, during the short 100 meters in a race, weight won’t carry you down so sprinters build up muscle to have as much power as possible to go the short distance.

    Keith - May 17, 2018

    not what i said. I said, people have different goals. If you want to train for a marathon, you typically don’t have the energy/resources to maximize muscle growth as well.

Greta - February 2, 2018

Great article! I’m so tired of people body shaming marathon runners. As a female, I would never want to look like I could bench press my own weight. I personally don’t find extreme body building physiques attractive. I don’t go around shaming them for the way they look. If you’re not into endurance sporting, don’t run long distances. If you aren’t into heavy weights don’t lift. What a marathon runner may lack in physical strength, they make up in endurance and the opposite goes for body builders. These are two completely different ways to exercise. Sheesh!

    Mana - February 8, 2018

    Coming from the male point of view that I know of. I think running has the inferior physique 😛

    Mana - February 8, 2018

    I would say it goes the other way too

    Mana - February 8, 2018

    I would say it goes the other way too

ELIJAH - February 6, 2018

I came here looking for information for my persuasive essay I am writing. Keith, you have a good start, I am a body builder personally but both my parents prefer the distance route and have run multiple marathons. Distance running does in fact burn muscle fiber though. Our bodies adapt to what it’s thrown into. I think one of the biggest reasons, which while reading this article I was waiting for, is supplying oxygen to a muscular frame is far more extensive than a thinner one. A muscular person can be good at running but they will never be as good as Dathan Ritzenhein for example, who is freakishly skinny in my opinion. If someone runs as much as a distance runner has to in preparation for a marathon, their bodies would immediately start eliminating it’s muscle which makes it easier to supply more oxygen to it.

This is also highly dependent on ones VO2 level, which is the rate that someone can consume oxygen. All humans have a peak and that’s roughly 85 ml/kg/min, where as a horse for instance has a maximum of 200ml/kg/min. This is why they can run so much longer then we can. Our muscle requires high amounts of oxygen while it’s being used and running by far requires the most when it’s for that long, the only way for the body to adapt to that much running at some point is to simply eliminate muscle so it doesn’t need to fuel as much of it.

Great concept to write on but I’d get a little more information though.

Richard - February 21, 2018

Well, I must say, my muscle mass has diminished quite a bit over the past year, since beginning long distance running (about 25-30 miles per week on average). That said, my waist is slim, bodyfat at all time lows, and I feel great. What is equally puzzling is, my strength is up some-despite the loss of mass. So, am I experiencing muscle loss due to the running, or some sort of restructuring of the fibers, etc? It is odd I would lose so much volume, but still benching and curling the same amount of weight.

Barry - April 6, 2018

A smart person will utilize the benefits of sprinting, long distance and weight training and not engage in silly, non sensical debates. It’s like trying to argue which is better, fruits or vegetables.

    Chelsea N Rivera - April 18, 2018

    Love that

    Barry 2 - April 27, 2018

    Are you mentally handicapped? The author is just trying shoot down misconceptions that were spread by idiots like you.

Ven - May 3, 2018

Nobody, nor this article has mentioned that there are 2 different types of muscle fiber. Marathon runners have a less-bulkier type of fiber which is why they appear to be leaner than sprinters. Long-distance training is the only sport that lengthens lifespan, but extreme endurance training may cause cardiovascular problems:

Joy - May 20, 2018

Just out of curiosity, why does it seem that those who develop eating disorders and develop an unhealthy relationship with exercise tend (not always) to run for long periods of time as if training for a marathon that never comes? They could just as easily do repetitive sets of sprints and achieve the same effect if their body is not being fed properly. Also, why is it that in most cases of exercise induced eating disorders it is distance runners and not sprinters?

    Keith - May 20, 2018

    most likely because they are trying to compensate a shit diet with more exercise.


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