25 Nov

You Can’t Be A Runner And A Wrestler

What this article will provide:

  • Information about different muscle types
  • Explanation why cross training may or may not be beneficial to you as a runner
  • Is weight lifting a good idea while training for races?

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The topic of this post comes from a recent discussion I had with a running buddy of mine. He is training to be a runner, while at the same time trying to lose weight and get in shape. He has succeeded in all his goals so far, having lost about 150lbs and also completing many local races ranging from 5k to 11k in the past year. There is only one problem with his perfect story: you can’t be both a runner and a wrestler.

What I am referring to with that quote requires a hefty explanation so bear with me. This running buddy I told you about is in good physical shape to run. In fact he runs more miles a week than I do. He works out with weights multiple times a week, bikes probably twice as much as he runs, and has the diet of an elite athlete. He just doesn’t understand why he isn’t getting faster at running. To put it simply, muscles require oxygen to work. Without getting scientific, how long you can maintain your target pace comes down to how efficient your body uses oxygen and releases the oxygen and byproducts. More bulky muscles = more oxygen needed.

The problem with a lot of people that try to get faster at running is they are spending too much time doing things that are not beneficial to running. For example, 20km bike ride is an hour that you could have spent running. Three hours swimming is three hours you could have been running. An hour at the gym lifting weights is an hour you could have been running.

Image courtesy of vitacost.com

There are two types of muscles: slow twitch and fast twitch. The easiest way to describe them is slow twitch function at slower speeds than fast twitch muscles. Pop quiz time: You are running a workout on the track and you want to sprint a lap on the track, which muscle type is being used? Exactly, fast twitch! Second question, you are running your first half marathon and want to finish under two hours, which muscle type are you depending on? Right again, slow twitch. Last question and this one might be trickier. You are running a marathon and you want to finish under 3:30 and you are 200 yards from the finish line and there’s a guy just ahead of you so you kick it up a gear and beat him across the line, which muscle type are you using? WRONG! It’s the secret unexplainable mojo muscles. The type of muscles that science cannot explain when someone is so fatigued to the point of quitting but can still somehow manage to pull a blazing fast kick to the finish out of thin air. Just kidding, the real answer is both slow twitch and fast twitch. You are using your slow twitch for the duration of your marathon but that kick at the end is our good friend fast twitch. God love him for the adrenaline at the finish.

Now don’t get the wrong message. I am not saying that there is a problem with cross training (i.e. biking, rowing, swimming etc), but if one is committed to being the fastest runner they want to be, it takes sacrifice. Sure, if you are happy running your local 5k at a moderate pace, finishing around mid pack, then this message will not apply to you. I am referring to the runners who want to win and will do anything it takes to reach their potential.

Firstly, weight lifting and strength training and running do not mix. Have you ever seen the body shape of the people who win races and marathons? They are like human rakes. In fact, if they were not runners, one would mistaken them for poor, ill fed individuals. But there’s a reason they are so thin and let’s say “unmuscular”. Muscle weighs a lot. Like, a lot. And who needs to weigh more when trying to run faster? It doesn’t take a genius to realize that if subject A weighs 200lbs and subject B only weighs 150, who is going to have the easier effort to run with their body? For some reason, people have an easier time imagining this 200lb subject A as carrying excess fat for body weight. But it actually works the same way with muscle.

If you want to leave feeling very optimistic about what you just read, here’s something to inspire your running and training. Although Usain Bolt is referred to as the fastest man in the world, you may just actually beat him on a 5k or 10k race. Usain Bolt is primarily a sprinter, chocked to the gills with muscles of the fast twitch variety. Stick him in a local 5k race and he may be completely useless. I have no doubts he would finish the race but I would be highly surprised if he broke 20 minutes.

So if you want to get faster, put down the dumb bells and give up the pushups. Sure it will make you look good with your clothes off, but it’s not gonna help you get to the finish line any faster.

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