5 Myths About Distance Running

by A Manly Guest Contributor on January 10, 2013 · 65 comments

in Fitness, Health & Sports


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field certified coach.

Hey Skinny, looks like it’s time for some push-ups!

So, you live on pasta and bagels right?

Running isn’t a real sport!

After more than 14 years of running experience – in high school, college, and ever since – I’ve heard every insult and misconception that exists about the sport of distance running. Some are true (yes, our shorts are short), but most are false.

Running has a bad reputation that seems to be exaggerated by some fitness circles that don’t understand the right way to train for road races like the 5k, 10k, or even the marathon. Indeed, running is a one-dimensional form of exercise that has the potential to create specific weaknesses or imbalances.

Flash back about 40 years and you’ll see that runners ran a lot of miles at a slower pace – and did little else in the general fitness and strength departments. The conventional wisdom insists that marathoners are doing the same today.

If we look even further back in history – back to the 1950s when Roger Bannister became the first man in history to run a sub-4:00 mile – training looked wildly different. Instead of high mileage and sparse speed workouts, runners favored low mileage and high intensity. Track intervals were so common that they comprised almost every training session! This training style resembled the popular HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or Tabata workouts of today.

As our understanding of training theory, physiology, and exercise science has matured over the decades, the training of today now takes a more balanced approach than both the 1950s and 1970s. And in turn, modern runners are more well-rounded and athletic than their predecessors. The dramatic improvement in world records as varied as the mile and the marathon is a testament to today’s state-of-the-art training.

Runners don’t just jog slow miles and eat platefuls of spaghetti. Nor do we shy away from lifting weights, sprinting, and working on coordination. In fact, these are skills necessary to successful distance running. These skills allowed me to (somewhat surprisingly) win the 2012 Maryland Warrior Dash, beating nearly 17,000 other CrossFitters, Parkour athletes, and runners.

Today I’ll dispel the popular misconceptions about runners, running, and the sport’s effect on your health. By the end of this article I hope you’ll be lacing up your running shoes and pulling on your short shorts (well, one step at a time).

MYTH #1: Running Decreases Muscle Mass

This myth is actually partly true – but for the majority of men there’s no need to worry. If you’re particularly bulky and don’t practice any aerobic exercises like swimming, cycling, or even hiking, then starting to run can slim you down.

However, running doesn’t “eat muscle” or break it down as fuel. To get to that level of catabolic activity, you’ll need to combine a diet almost entirely void of protein with a high mileage, high intensity running schedule. Like any extreme form of exercise, that combination will certainly reduce your overall muscle mass.

A more realistic running program – say an introductory marathon training plan – will instead just prevent additional muscle gain. Your weight will stay about the same and muscle mass can easily be maintained by most men who are doing complementary strength workouts.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the image of an elite distance runner who weighs 120 pounds when he’s soaking wet. With thin legs and even thinner arms, how can I say that their running doesn’t make them so scrawny? Simple: running doesn’t make them look that way, their genetics do. Elite runners are often natural ectomorphs with a slight build, an incredibly low body fat percentage, and a tendency of staying skinny. This body type is one of the pieces that make them so damn fast.

Ultimately, running will only reduce your muscle size if you stop lifting and start running significant mileage. Most men will find it rather easy to train for a road race without sacrificing their biceps. Plus, running is only going to help define those washboard abs.

Myth #2: Running Requires No Skill

Just put one foot in front of the other, right? Wrong.

Running is a skill-sport. There’s no question about it. Training consistently over weeks and months without injury takes coordination, strength, and athleticism. Indeed, this study shows that running economy (i.e., efficiency – or skill) improves as beginner runners naturally refine their gait.

When you consider that running is actually a highly coordinated series of one-legged hops, the importance of learning the proper way to run is underscored. Without a basic understanding of good running form, you’ll not only be slower but your risk of an injury caused by overuse will skyrocket.

So what are the fundamental aspects of running form that will help you be a more skilled runner? Stick to the basics:

  • Increase your cadence to roughly 170-180 steps per minute.
  • Land with your foot underneath your body, as opposed to “reaching” out with your foot and over-striding (this strategy will also reduce heel-striking).
  • Keep your back tall with a slight forward lean from the ankles. No slouching or leaning from the waist!
  • Try to land on your midfoot, though a slight heel strike isn’t necessarily bad.
  • Keep your arms at roughly a 90-degree angle (though this will vary) and don’t swing them across your chest.

Those are the basics. Of course, there are some additional improvements that you can make, but most runners don’t need to get lost in the weeds of excessively tweaking their running form.

In fact, research has shown that consciously trying to change your running form can decrease your running economy – or in other words, when you try to alter your form, you become less efficient.

A better way to improve your form is to follow the first two bullets above and just run consistently. Your body will naturally develop the skills necessary to become a more efficient runner.

Myth #3: Runners Are Weak

Well, runners who only run are certainly weak! Just like weight lifters who only spend time at the gym aren’t very fast.

But a well-rounded training plan will include a lot more than just running. Most plans will involve warm-up drills, strength exercises, dynamic stretches, mobility exercises, and preventive exercises if you’re predisposed to injures.

Runners who avoid the weight room and skip their core work are bound to get injured. You can’t let your engine outpace your chassis. This analogy refers to your metabolic or aerobic fitness (endurance) vs. your structural fitness (bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles). You don’t want a Lamborghini engine in the frame of a Geo Prizm. That engine is going to tear the car apart.

Learning how to build a strong body is something that’s critical for runners. A great example is that of elite runners: some spend more time doing strength exercises and preventative work than they actually do running! Most of us aren’t elite athletes and can’t spend 2-3 hours working out every day, so instead there’s a solution for the rest of us.

Before you run, do a thorough dynamic warm-up. Most only take 5-10 minutes and are critical to increasing blood flow and range of motion, developing your coordination, and helping you gain flexibility.

After your running workout, spend about 10-15 minutes doing a comprehensive core workout (that targets the obliques, lower back, glutes, and upper hamstrings) or hip strength routine. Weak hips have been implicated in numerous overuse injuries – especially runner’s knee – so this is particularly important for distance runners.

Here are a few other ways to maintain a strong chassis:

  • Core exercises work well, but remember to do some exercises while standing up to mimic the specific demands of running.
  • Don’t ignore your legs in the gym – 1-2 weekly sessions including squats, dead lifts, lunges, and step-ups can do wonders to keep you healthy. You can lift on any running day, but make sure you have one easy day per week for recovery where you run short and easy or take off completely.
  • Skipping a day of core or strength exercises isn’t a big deal. But remember: it’s more important what you do most of the time than what you do once in a while.

Core work, gym sessions, and body weight exercises should be a consistent part of your training to ensure you stay strong and athletic. If you’re a runner who’s more likely to get hurt, 5-10 extra minutes of strength work will go a long way in keeping you healthy, consistent, and ultimately, faster.

Myth #4: Running Increases Inflammation and Chronic Stress

Many athletes, particularly in the CrossFit or paleo circles, claim that distance running can increase “systemic inflammation” that compromises your immune system and promotes oxidative damage.

But even competitive marathon training with high mileage and grueling workouts won’t push you to that level unless you dramatically over-train. Keep in mind that effective training should increase inflammation to promote the adaptation response. Without it, you wouldn’t get faster, gain more endurance, or build strength.

The key is to balance hard training with recovery. Mark Sisson at Mark’s Daily Apple has a great overview of the relationship between exercise and inflammation where he argues that chronic inflammation and stress is actually the result of over-training as a whole, and not just running. You can over-train in a myriad of ways: too much fast mileage, too many reps in the weight room, or getting overzealous with CrossFit AMRAP workouts.

Over-training (however you do it) leads to too much oxidative stress, which is the result of your body’s production of free radicals. But this field of study is very new and unclear. Consider that:

  • Hard running will increase free radical production, but that signals our bodies to produce more antioxidants! See this study and this study.
  • Oxidative stress is not clearly linked to aging or cell damage.
  • Exercise protectsyou from the oxidative damage of pollution.

So it’s much more complicated than simply “running causes inflammation and chronic stress.” Any exercise will (and should) but as long as it’s well planned, you’ll thrive.

And let’s be clear: some running – like racing a marathon – can be overly stressful. But these events are rare and recovery is the top goal as soon as they’re complete. So go run your marathon. As long as you’re adequately trained, properly tapered, and recovered post-race then you needn’t worry about inflammation.

Myth #5: Running Doesn’t Promote Fat Loss

Indeed, many folks think running just increases your desire for sugar and carb-heavy snacks without burning any fat. Let’s look at the training of distance runners to see if that’s true.

Arguably the most important workout for half-marathoners and marathoners is the long run, which helps increase endurance. One of the main goals of a long run is to train the body to rely more on fat as fuel instead of glycogen (the sugar stored in muscles). Indeed, fat utilization becomes more efficient as you run longer and as your carb stores start to dwindle. A more advanced long run includes a “fast finish” where the last several miles are run at an increasingly faster pace. This type of long run teaches your body to burn fat more efficiently (i.e., easily) rather than rely on carbs alone.

There are also several studies that point to aerobic exercises, like running, as the most efficient way to burn fat. Read this study that shows aerobic exercise burns more visceral fat (around your organs – the dangerous kind) and liver fat than resistance training.

Running is also better than strength sessions for weight loss according to this study. I’m not claiming you need to pick between the two – both should be key parts of your overall training program. And of course, a healthy, balanced diet is critical if fat loss is your goal. Running can help you get to your ideal weight, but it doesn’t give you a hall pass for eating half a dozen bagels a day!

The current research and my 14 years as a competitive runner and coach show that running is one of the best forms of exercise available to build fitness. No exercise is a miracle for weight loss, nor should any type of exercise be the only form you practice, but running has an important place in any fitness program.

If you’re taking up running or have been a runner for years, stick to a well-rounded training program that embraces variety, plenty of strength exercises, and a holistic approach to distance running.

And the next time you hear someone say, “Oh, runners only know how to run,” you’ll know better.


Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner and USA Track & Field certified coach. Get the latest training tips at Strength Running – or sign up for a free email series on injury prevention and running performance.

{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

1 nick January 10, 2013 at 5:47 pm

i was a sprinter in high school and my coach always preached that running distance would slow down my sprint speed. the idea was that the muscles would become accustom to the slower pace and would develop for distance. does this have any merit?

2 Gene Z. January 10, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I’ve heard from some people that trail running is better for your joints because humans aren’t really supposed to be running on a surface as hard as concrete. Is that true? If you log a lot of mileage on concrete, are there repercussions for your joints? Or is that rectified by proper running technique?

3 B.E. January 10, 2013 at 6:03 pm


It does have merit. I’m no personal trainer but I do have a few years of running under my belt — both sprinting and long distance.

From what I can tell you, you are correct, saying that going long distances would reduce your sprint speed over time because your muscles will, as you said, develop for distance, with lower intensity. Thus your muscles would no longer need the explosive power required for sprinting. So once you go back to sprinting after running long distance, your muscles can’t ‘explode’ as well as before.

That’s the logic I came to.



4 shane January 10, 2013 at 6:03 pm

I ran the 200 & 400 in high school and am a fairly athletic individual but I hate running. I trained for a half marathon and at no point did I feel any different in regards to stamina. Within 30 seconds I am huffing and puffing. People who run frequently think that I’m crazy and that I just need to “break through” to that runner’s high. Any tips on getting to that point where I feel like actually going for a run? Also, anybody have tips for combating shin splints?

5 Tim January 10, 2013 at 6:38 pm


I’m also a sprinter and have several years of sprinting experience. Your coach had the right idea; as a sprinter (particularly a 60m/100m/maybe even 200m) you won’t want to do a lot of distance running. This is because sprinting and distance running builds two different kinds of muscle; sprinting works on your fast-twitch muscle, which is accustomed to more powerful, explosive actions at the cost of more energy, and distance running builds slow-twitch muscle which doesn’t expend nearly as much energy and allows you to perform an action for much longer, such as running laps. That’s also part of the reason why sprinters look so much more fit and muscular than a marathon runner; they have much more fast-twitch muscle fibers.

6 Harlan January 10, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Ever heard of CrossFit Endurance? Probably the best protocol out there for LSD right now. It brought me from a roughly 4 hour to just above a 3 hour marathon. His book just came out, worth a read, Power, Speed, Endurance.

7 Larry January 10, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Reminds me of my favorite XC t-shirt:
Our sport is your sport’s punishment.

8 Andrew January 10, 2013 at 7:06 pm


It has some merit, as your fast twitch muscles (good for sprinting) become slow twitch (good for distance).

I trained as a medium distance runner (though not very good — 20 min 5k was my best) and our coach incorporated sprinting into our training routine. I don’t really know if the inverse is true (long distance is good for sprinters), but I’m sure that distance would be beneficial.

9 Adam January 10, 2013 at 7:07 pm

@nick: Kind of, but not really. Type I, or “slow twitch”, muscle fibers are the type recruited in lengthy bouts of endurance. Like, say, hundreds of bodyweight squats, a bunch of push-ups, or an extended run. Type II (and more specifically, IIA) muscle fibers are the “fast twitch” muscle fibers used in shorter bursts of activity, like heavy weightlifting or sprints. These fibers, in males, have the potential to grow to greater size than Type I fibers, which is why sprinters (think Michael Johnson or Usain Bolt) are generally more “built” and muscular than your average Boston marathon winner.

So if you train distance and completely stop lifting or sprinting, you will lose the “edge” in the Type II fibers that your sprint training developed. However, like the writer kind of said, it won’t happen overnight. And distance training is definitely not a bad thing for sprinters, though it is completely unnecessary.

I found the article to be heavily biased, but there was some good info. It can just be confusing to the layman to read these points without all the “buts” that the author should have included.

10 Ben January 10, 2013 at 7:20 pm

For two years I was into running ultramarathons. Lots of 50k’s and 50 milers, but never got around to anything longer. I trained myself, by myself, while in undergrad at university. I had no problem keeping muscle mass. Ran Tuesday and Thursday (sprints, stadiums, and whatever mileage needed). Long run on Saturday (usually on trails). Between those days, I hit up the gym for strength training and plyo. Ate healthy and made sure I was getting the protein and fuel needed. Simple. Worked well for me.

11 joedadd January 10, 2013 at 7:38 pm

I used running (started with the couch to 5k plan) and diet to lose 58 pounds in a year. Took me off cholesterol and blood pressure medicine and I felt great doing it. The early morning run is so peaceful and quiet, it gives me a bit of a high in the AM and time to think about anything I feel like thinking about.

12 Norman January 10, 2013 at 8:01 pm


It could, but very likely it wouldn’t.

As you start to reach your genetic potential in one form of performance, i.e. aerobic conditioning in the case of distance running, it comes at the detriment of other attributes. This is why someone like Usian Bolt couldn’t come close to competing with top distance runners and vice versa.

However, this is really only an issue once you are a very highly trained athlete. For most people, you are likely so far away from this level that you could improve across the board without sacrificing anything.

It has nothing to do with muscle becoming accustomed to moving at a slower pace. Boxers do distance running to improve aerobic endurance and they are quick as hell.

13 Zach January 10, 2013 at 11:28 pm


There are definitely some advantages to running on the trail. I’ve only been running a couple months as a supplement to my other training, but some of my coworkers who are experienced runners have told me that running on the road is harder on one’s body. They/we do use minimalist shoes that offer very little cushion from hard concrete. A cushioned road running would probably help protect your joints from the jarring impact of running on the road. These types of shoes do, however, promote a less natural way of running, and I always try to exercise in a way that has my body moving as naturally as possible. Running on the trail forces your body to deal with constantly varying terrain which many claim to better strengthen your legs and stabilize your joints. I think of this simlilarly to the way that strength training with freeweights or bodyweight is better than using machines. Most importantly ,though, trail running is way more fun.

14 Rex Berg January 11, 2013 at 1:52 am

I have heard a myth that distance runners shorten their life span by up to 5 years, and that the health benefits you receive actually decline if you run more than 3 miles per day. Is there any validity to those statements?

15 Jason Fitzgerald January 11, 2013 at 5:26 am

@Nick – In general, sprinters should avoid distance running because it will fatigue them to the point where their sprinting ability will be compromised. They’re very different disciplines and can be mutually exclusive depending on your level.

@Gene – If your form is bad, then definitely. Concrete will increase impact forces, though your body naturally compensates to a certain degree. If you’re training for a road race, I’d balance asphalt running with trails/softer surfaces and only run on concrete if you have to.

Good questions guys!

16 Jason Fitzgerald January 11, 2013 at 5:31 am

@Shane – I wrote about shin splints here, you might be interested: http://strengthrunning.com/2010/07/how-to-get-rid-of-shinsplints/

@Harlan – I’d be cautious about CrossFit Endurance. It’s a long discussion, but this article by Steve Magness (MS Exercise Science, previous elite running coach along Alberto Salazar at the Nike Oregon Project) provides a lot of info: http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2012/01/crossfit-endurance-tabata-sprints-and.html

17 JD January 11, 2013 at 5:41 am

as a collegiate strength and conditioning coach with the USA Track and field certification I am going to tell you #1 and #3 are wrong, long slow distance running does make you small and weak. You can argue it takes alot of ‘mental toughness’ to run for 15 miles and thats great if you think so but they will still get their ass kicked by people that don’t run and lift or those that run sprints. Also a lot of long slow distance running does make you slow, it’s motor learning. train slow get slow, train fast get fast. Aerobic training signals protein synthesis to slow down and limit muscle hypertrophy as muscle growth doesnt enhance locomotion for extended durations.

I would also argue #2 and #4 are faulty. long slow distance running requires minimal skill, sprinting takes more focus and technique due to the demands of the higher intensity. And quite frankly based on what I’ve read oxidative stress on the heart is not the greatest thing and even if it is the repetitive stress of loading on the joints of the lower body is far from ideal even if you are lucky enough to be one of the few people with the body type for long slow distance running.

18 Dave January 11, 2013 at 6:36 am

@ Shane

It took me considerable time to build up my stamina to a half marathon. I started running about 6 years ago, and frain my first half marathon this past summer. I may have been able to run it sooner, but I did not have the time to devote to running 5x per week, with one of those taking 1-2 hours.

I would suggest starting small, making a more realistic goal of a 5K, then a 10K. Once you can complete them, do some speed work to improve your times. This will increase your endurance.

19 Tom January 11, 2013 at 7:47 am

Man is not a running animal. Bipeds are not designed to be distance runners. Ask any bird. Well, except the ostrich.

20 Perry January 11, 2013 at 8:49 am

Running is not a real man’s sport….sorry. Running is a form of cardio, which makes it harder to maintain muscle (let alone gain new muscle)

Eat some protein, bulk, and lift

21 MJ January 11, 2013 at 10:18 am

This was beautiful!! I am a (female) runner who stopped running for 6 months after college – and I put on a pair of shorts yesterday that used to fit me snugly and they are too big! I’ve lost muscle mass because I stopped running and training. (and i’m a skinny girl – I liked my legs with a bit of muscle! And I liked running an 800m in 2:14 with said legs) Back to the drawing board!

Fortunately, I had a coach who knew about good form, good strength/endurance training and a good diet, so I know what to do. I don’t see much of right kind of information out in the running world though. Thanks so much for this article! Extremely well done. And congrats on winning the Warrior Dash – that’s on my bucket list of someday dreams!

Tom and Perry, I can’t resist: read Born to Run and the above article…

22 LacksFocus January 11, 2013 at 10:18 am

Great article. I just started running about a month ago. Finding the right gait and cadence for me has been challenging as I haven’t really ran at all in the last 10 years or so. I’m really enjoying it so far. The trick for me is getting past the first mile. After that, miles 2-5 are a piece of cake.


23 Tyler January 11, 2013 at 10:30 am

@ JD
Where do you coach at? I’m a senior NCAA division I Distance Runner with a 4:10 PR in the mile, and 14:40 in the 5k. I run 85-90 miles a week with 3 workouts and 15-18 mile long run. As a collegiate athlete I would argue that distance running is a skill sport and a manly sport, those of us who run competitively devote 25-30 hours a week including lifting sessions. I guarantee you there is a fair amount of intensity in running a workout that consists of 5 x 1 mile repeats at 4:40 pace.

I live with 7 other runners: one which has been accepted to med school, 3 future engineers, and I have been accepted to a top 30 law school. All with similar or better PR’s than me. While we may not be muscleheads such as yourself, I assure you our sport pays off in the determination and discipline we have learned over many years of running hundreds of miles in the rain, snow, and heat while you’re in your comfortable, temperature controlled gym.

Oh and the other favorite past time in our house is boxing, have a nice day.

24 Ethan Thane January 11, 2013 at 10:47 am


Great article and congrats on your win in 2012.

I went for my first run the other day in awhile, been sore ever since. I found the first myth – “Running decreses Muscle Mass” interesting. I have heard this myth a lot at the gym and from trainers, but I’ve always beleived it doesn’t apply me (a normal guy). It is the opposite comment I’ve heard more than once from female friends – “I don’t want to work out because I don’t want to get to muscular.”

In the end I think just doing things is the right way to go. Not everyone has to be an elite athlete or body builder.

25 Will January 11, 2013 at 10:50 am


Actually, distance running is just about the only thing our species is really capable of (physically, at least).


26 Greg January 11, 2013 at 11:57 am

Just wanted to put in my two cents on number one because I haven’t seen it mentioned yet.

The reason that I’ve heard for people to believe that runners become small and weak (which, let’s be honest, they do) is because running is very damaging to muscle tissue itself. I can’t cite the source where I first heard this, but the idea is that long distance runners actually need MORE protein than would a bodybuilder, because they need so much muscle repair after each training session. Anecdotal evidence for this would be that most runners I know are chronically injured with strains and tears (even those with presumably good form), while my bodybuilding friends with good form are very rarely injured. In the article itself the author talks as if injury is inevitable and we can only hope to minimize its recurrence. Athletes in lower-impact disciplines like swimming do not think this way. So the point about whether they’re “eating up” muscle through high calorie burn is less of a factor than the issue of them losing muscle to trauma and strain.

If anyone else has heard this or can address it, please do.

27 Max January 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I get a laugh looking back now on all those football types that knocked my running. While I’ve remained slim and fit (haven’t gained a pound since high school, although I did run in college as well), the majority of them are all fat, unhealthy, and just as stupid. I’ll get the final laugh when they’re struggling with the multitude of diseases that come with the obesity at age 50 and I’m still fit and happy running road races every weekend.

28 Jason Fitzgerald January 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm


You’re assuming that a runner’s entire program is “long slow distance.” Any good program is not (and you should have learned in the USATF Coaching curriculum), as Tyler eloquently outlined. Rest assured, runners do not train slow, even if some of their runs are easy.

29 Brian January 11, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I have to ad my agreement with what seems like a general consensus that this article is not accurate and long-distance running is not something I would want to do if I wanted to be fit and healthy. I hope people aren’t reading this and making a decision to take up something which is widely regarded (however debatably) as bad for you.

30 mike January 11, 2013 at 4:19 pm

…however, running is a proven indiscriminate weight loss mechanism.

31 bb January 12, 2013 at 2:45 pm

i can’t resist replying to the ol’ “bla bla weak runners get their ass kicked by weightlifters” claptrap. it’s a silly statement. anybody who knows, knows fighting is more technique and toughness than raw strength anyway.

Funny story: I used to lift a lot of weights. I was never national competition power-lifter good but I could lift a lot. The worst ass kicking I ever got was by a dude that couldn’t have weighed more than 150 lbs. Sure, if I hit him he woulda been rendered mildly retarded but he landed about 5 punches for every one I threw (and missed).

As for running distance making you scrawny and totally weak, I started doing it a few years back. now I can crank out 10-15 miles somewhat regularly at a 8 to 8.5 pace. it feels really good. It leaned me out a bit but I still weigh over 200 lbs and can do 1.5 to 2x my body weight on any lift that matters.
but hey, that’s only my personal experience, fwiw.

32 A McLean January 12, 2013 at 4:45 pm

@ Perry
As a 5’8 145 pound distance runner that does CrossFit, I challenge you to try to keep up.I’m not huge but I am by no means a twig and I laugh when you say running is not a real man’s sport,
I bet I get more ladies asking me to help with running form than you get asking for help bulking up. Just saying.

33 Josh January 13, 2013 at 1:57 am

I am a naturally an endomorph. Decent build, but not big or small on either level. i try to work through Couch to 5K 3 days a week when not doing a lifting routine. Its mainly become run HIIT intervals with a long distance (to me at least) run every other week.

34 Eli January 13, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Plain and simple, distance (3000 meters and up) runners should not have much muscle. Of course muscle is very important in the sense that if your arms aren’t swinging and pumping, your knees won’t efficiently be getting high enough for a proper stride length. This is a reason sprinters need to train their upper body much much more. Their strides are longer and more explosive. BUTTTTT for distance runners excess muscle is quite bad. In a long grueling race, you can not afford to be pumping blood to bulky muscle that is not critical to keeping a proper stride length. This is why you will rarely see an exceptional, bulky, distance runner. So to train your upper body, the muscle that is needed is not oxygen rich “red” muscle that needs constant blood supply, but “white” muscle than can function with very little oxygen. To develop this muscle this is what I do. http://www.ehs1.org/podium/default.aspx?t=204&tn=December+16%2C+2010&nid=560042&ptid=130297&sdb=False&pf=pgt&mode=0&vcm=True. The arm lifts drain blood from your muscle, and creates an anaerobic enviroment, training the muscle correctly.

35 Steve January 13, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Fantastic article! I’m a 5K runner and a swimmer, and I’ve found that my two sports balance each other out perfectly. Swimming works all the muscles that aren’t used in running while also increasing my cardiovascular endurance (by making me more oxygen efficient!) while running gives me monster endurance abilities for the longer swim races like the 500 free and the 200 IM, and as a bonus lets me push off the wall harder than everybody else.

36 Nate January 14, 2013 at 9:27 am

I generally agree with the article having been a runner since junior high, through the military, and now into my 40s. My shorts though, sir, are long enough that the neighbors don’t have to avert their eyes when talking to me. One thing I’ve learned over the years though: if you ask 50 people their opinion on any aspect of running, you’re going to get 50 different answers.

One trick I use in a 5k race to keep myself from going out too hard is that I force myself to run the first half mile slow enough to breathe through my nose only.

@ Shane: Try going for a run and leaving your watch at home. Don’t try to hit a pace or a distance, just go as far and as hard as you feel like going. Run with a friend. Enjoy the scenery. Plan your run to end somewhere in town and reward yourself with a slice of pizza and a brew (if you’re legal) when you’re done. Just like training for any sport, you’re going to have good and bad days, so don’t let the bad ones ruin your outlook.

37 Joel A. January 14, 2013 at 11:53 am

I think I’d follow the following advice over this article -


Elite statuses aside, in which case go for it because you’re aiming for a #1, there’s not a huge amount of carry-over value in being able to jog for what is realistically a nominal amount of miles all things considered when compared to a serious lifting routine.

38 Ben January 14, 2013 at 10:22 pm

And myth #1: Running is good for you!

Truth be told, distance running is the most inefficient workout a person can get. It does not promote a good-looking physique, it hardly helps develop any useful skill, it’s boring and time-consuming.

If you want to get in real shape, do some sprints.

39 Tim K January 15, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Thanks for the post. Despite all of the “expert” commentators the majority of us enjoyed the information.
In my spare time I box — classic. Awesome rebuttal.

40 Yogesh January 15, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Almost everyone who is taking one side or the other is implying that they are elite athletes. I’m sure everyone agrees that you need muscle mass if you want to run fast like a sprinter but how much muscle and to achieve what times in 50, 100 or 200 mtrs? Many of us would be happy to ‘sprint’ 100 mtrs in 25 seconds. Along the same theme, hardly anyone plans to win half a dozen marathons in a year. Most would be happy to run a sub 4hr marathon once every two months. And you don’t need to be any skinnier to run a sub 4hr marathon. Most runners I know can achieve the above with dedicated training. And these runners need not look bulky or skinny. Very good post by the way.

41 SteveC January 16, 2013 at 9:32 pm

@ Ben

To your first point:
When talking about efficiency you must define the parameters. Here is an example: Distance running is the most inefficient workout a person can do… if they are trying to build awesome pecs!

Here is another example of defining your parameters: Distance running is HIGHLY efficient at burning calories and training the aerobic glycolysis system in your body.

To your second point:
Your opinion, so I can’t argue there. I happen to disagree.

To your third point:
I look at the skill is useful, but that’s only because I reject your initial premise that running isn’t good for you. Since it’s a skill that makes me a healthy, fit person, then I would say it is quite useful.

To your fourth point(s):
Your assertion that running is boring is, again, an opinion. Time consuming? Yes, it certainly can be. I could see how this would detract from the sport for those who don’t like running. The thing is, there are real runners out there who actually enjoy running. Weird, right? So the time consuming thing is actually a bonus for us.

To your suggestion:
What do you mean by real shape? The idea that sprinters, and only sprinters, are in shape people is ridiculous. I don’t know a single person, I would hope yourself included, that would look at a pro distance runner and say they aren’t “in shape”. Sure, sprinters can also be “in shape”, just like hurdlers and lumberjacks and high jumpers can also be. Each one of those has a different strength and skill, but they are all “in shape”.

42 Josh January 19, 2013 at 6:04 am

I have to agree that running is heavily skill based. I have noticed how run training has allowed my mucles to slightly sweak their technique more and more for efficent long distance.

But I will be training for speed and power now, as I beleive it will improve my martial art abilites much more.

43 Dan January 21, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Here are my 3 running workouts:

-Sprints on track (50m, 100m, 200m)

-Hill sprints


44 Timmy Boy January 23, 2013 at 4:52 pm

I think the author’s response to the “myth” about running being less effective for fat loss requires clarification. I’m no fitness expert, and perhaps I’m nit-picking, but it seems to me that the devil is in the details of the two studies he cites.

The first study claims that running is better for fat loss than resistance training. However, if I’ve understood it correctly, the “resistance training” programme used for that study consisted of isolation routines on machines, whereas proponents of weightlifting for fat loss generally make a point of advocating big compound lifts using free weights instead, so it’s not really a fair comparison IMO.

The second study claims that running is more effective for weight loss. But most of the time, when people say they want to lose WEIGHT, what they mean is that they want to lose FAT, so if putting on muscle through resistance training adds weight then focusing solely on weight loss is misleading. In fairness, the poster of that study eventually concedes this point in the comments that follow, but he does seem to be attacking a straw man.

45 Chris A January 27, 2013 at 12:47 am

Running has never and will never be a true sport. Is it good for weight loss, maybe but if you’re trying to loose weight, try an elliptical machine or a bike. It is a low impact workout and is a lot better on the joints. If all you do is run and train for marathons, you will be small and weak. I saw a bunch of these runners fail on the Combat Fitness Test when it was implimented. To be healthy, you need to mix cardio and weight training along with eating right.
Source: Was a US Marine for eight years.

46 Keegan January 28, 2013 at 10:24 am

Running is the epitome of the human sport, man is the only creature that can run for hours at a time and there is evidence that tribes would spend hours chasing down elk in the wild, literally running these fast sprinting animals to death.
As for running making you weak, that is true…as long as you’re only practicing running. To be truly healthy or fast you need to implement strength into your workouts, such as core exercises.
For clarification I am a distance runner at one of the top Division II schools in the nation.

47 RW January 30, 2013 at 9:14 pm

With respect to Mr. Fitzgerald (nice marathon PR!) and JD, the “USA Track and Field Certified Coach” title doesn’t mean much. The USATF certifies coaches after one weekend of classes (no field experience) and an online, open book test. No experience or prior knowledge needed. Perhaps these guys went on to the level 2 schools, which take a week or two and do have some field experience?

48 Emachine February 14, 2013 at 10:12 am


For years I had a “runners body”, I ran tons, but guess what else I did, boxed. Guess which guys I loved seeing walk into my gym….meatheads….easy pickings. Do not be so foolish as to announce that one man is inferior in a fight due to the sport or hobby they enjoy.

49 haileg February 22, 2013 at 11:27 am

“Running” is not a sport, but Track, Cross Country, road racing and marathoning all are. Running is just like taking BP, going to the driving range, shooting jumpers, or hitting the speed bag. Its when you compete that it becomes a sport.

Track & Field is called “Athletics” in the Olympics…just sayin’.

50 gary March 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm

People who contribute an article can (unless they just cut and paste) spend a LOT of time writing it so its a bit disrespectful the responses of a minority of the commentators to mindlessly trash them just because they don’t like running or whatever.

Particularly those who say running isn’t a sport. Funny, but I seem to think that the main event in the olympics that consistently sells out is the 100m sprint – not the weightlfting events. About 20million in the uk watched Bolt et al race, and an estimated 2billion around the world – thats a third of the world population.

Lastly, it stands to reason someone dedicated to winning a race will do what it takes to win, that means training to run 10k if running a 10k not to bench 300lbs. So of course they won’t be bulked up, why carry weight in excess of what they need for the job they are doing.

Excellent site, just found it while looking for erm forgotten now….

51 Jarrett H. March 20, 2013 at 9:24 pm

I’m a distance runner. I run on my high school cross country and track team, and I’d like to consider myself fairly decent in sprints as well as distance. I run a 12.43s 100m, 56s 400m, 4:52, 1600m, 17:02 5k, and a 1:04:35 10mi (untrained). Though my muscles are not exceptionally big, they are completely toned and cut, and I have never encountered a serious injury in the 8 years I’ve been running, I can do 89 crunches in a minute, and hold plank for 2.5 minutes, so i would like to consider myself physically fit and appealing. As to running being a waste of time, I could say the same for weight lifting because its not something i enjoy,but still have a respect for. Also if running didn’t take skill than that’s saying that anyone who can run a full mile could run it in 4:00, but most can’t because they lack any of the following: Skill, discipline, training, or mental capacity, which long distance running is probably one the most mentally challenging sports.

52 Josh March 21, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Someone who is looking for a general degree of fitness will probably be able to become fairly proficient at both strength and endurance (i.e., a pretty good weightlifter and a pretty good runner).

Realistically, though, if you want to achieve any degree of excellence in either one, you’ll have to choose. I haven’t met a decent marathoner who could squat 500 lbs. I also haven’t much anyone who can squat 500 lbs. who has a great marathon time. I’m sure they’re out there, but they are rare.

In the end, though, you get good at what you train for. Training for running won’t let you lift big weights, and vice versa

53 MIke April 19, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Interesting how so many of you fall back on “kicking someones ass” as if being good at the sport of fighting was any different than running or weightlifting. Also every one of you that justifies a point based on their stats is a DB.

Serious athletes train seriously. I think that was the point of this article and I think that should go without saying. The myths about running are based on the stereotype which is the weekend warior that doesnt know what they are doing. For those people…..those myths are pretty true.

Deadlifting is bad for your back. Ever hear that one? Its not true if you know how to deadlift. It IS true if you deadlift wrong, which a lot of people do.

54 Aled May 12, 2013 at 11:16 am

Im thinking of running a half marathon in October, will this affect other sports i play such as rugby.

Will i lose upper body strength , (or not be able to gain upper body muscle), or lose print speed?

Preferably i’d like to continue playing rugby which starts back in September until the half marathon in October. Is this wise (other than injuries).


55 Amos June 28, 2013 at 3:50 pm

This is my favorite article ever about the difference between distance running and sprinting.

56 Nick July 6, 2013 at 9:26 am

I’m pretty sure that the idiots that say “running is not a real sport” or “runners are weal”, are unable to run a 5k or longer. I run more 5-10k road races than anything but have dabbled in the half and can tell you for certain that yes if all you do is run you will look like a string bean. But usually, most runners I know lift weights, do interval training etc… Try to run 2.8 miles and sprint to the finish line to edge out that last person for a first place finish and tell me “its not a sport” -_-

btw… what good is 300lbs of muscle mass if you can barely move your damn arms, lol

57 Blane July 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm

@Nick: It is true that distance running (done on a regular basis) will slow you down in the shorter events below 400 meters, such as the 110 high hurdles and 200 meters, but it will really be apparent in the 100 meters and 40 yard dash. The human body is incredibly efficient at adapting to certain activities. But it only seems to be good at adapting to one thing at a time. Not only will distance running slow your sprinting but sprinting will slow your distance running. One reason the US has such lousy marathon performance in the past 25 years is that our marathoners do too much cross training, “core” training, and expend too much energy outside of just running long. Kenyan and Ethiopian marathon training is incredibly simply, disciplined and fanatical. They run and run and run, train through injuries, illnesses, fatigue, etc. Their coaches understand that this level of specialty is required for their athletes’ bodies to adapt. American and European marathon training has become much too randomized. If you plan on becoming proficient at one type of training, your best bet is to concentrate on that one aspect unless you want to be mediocre at both. A great example of this is to watch the times of decathletes as they compete in the 10 events of the decathlon and compare those times to the specialists. Not even close.
@Gene Z: Triathlete Scott Tinley had a hip replacement/resurfacing done at a very young age and has speculated in interviews that it was his overtraining on concrete and asphalt that led to his getting advanced hip osteoarthritis. Softer surfaces will contribute to lower impact on joints but not necessarily lower force. Look up some of the studies on veteran professional soccer players, who train and operate mostly on grass, and you will find that they have higher rates of osteoarthritis than sedentary controls. Keeping bodyweight low and wearing properly-cushioned shoes will do more to lessen joint impact than simply switching to softer surfaces. Running is a high-impact activity no matter what surface you run on but surfaces that absorb some impact but are still stabil, like hard-packed dirt trails, cedar trails, rubber tracks, and damp, hard sand are better than either extreme of concrete or deep sand.

58 Bill August 12, 2013 at 8:53 am

I also find articles that debate the merits of running or crossfit or whatever your exercise of choice is to be interesting. I am a runner that lifts for overall fitness. I run decent mileage, 40-60 per week, because I enjoy it. I also have been taking karate for many years and enjoy that. I could probably win a fight agaisn’t more muscular people but again what the heck does that have to do with the article?
People do crossfit, or swimming, cycling, etc. because that is what they enjoy. One of the things I don’t understand is why either side have to say bad things about the other. Your activity isn’t a sport, or runners are weak. I don’t get crossfit and In my opinion you can’t run fast for long distances on the crossfit program but I have a friend that loves it and swears by it so I tell him go for it. I enjoy running long distances as it provides an escape from the crazy life I have. I have 3 daughters, a wife, and an intense job. My friend loves doing these workouts that would make be barf. The point is as we age, one is not better or worse, the activities keep us in shape and fighting the belly our non active counterparts have in their 40′s. Manliness is taking care of your family, doing your job, and being a responsible adult. Working out in any fashion makes us all smart and atypical in a world where obesity is becoming the norm.

59 Mark Eichenlaub August 15, 2013 at 10:30 am

Where did you hear that running over 3 miles is counter productive?

60 stevieb August 29, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Having done 5km to ultras, I’d say for general fitness do 20/40 mins, vary the pace, do some sprints on occasion and also apply weight training… both are great.

To the “expert” that said “humans are not running animals” — a study by UK scientists tell us that when we humans RUN, we engage 95% of our ‘glute’/ass muscles but only approx 50% when walking — that tells us that evolution gave us the ability to run for various and obvious survival reasons. You cannot argue with billions of years of evolution — eat, lift, eat, lift… no! FFS. Eat, lift, run, eat lift run, rest… etc etc. You cannot use the argument that being bipedal makes us non-runners or not the fastest.

Why do men lift? Men are some of the weakest animals on earth — what makes us dangerous is our brains — a chimp would rip any Body builders face off and sh*t in his mouth for afters — my pint; just because we’re not the best at some from an evolutionary POV, does not mean we shouldn’t do it.

Lastly — some of the toughest men on earth would be special forces soldiers — a core of their training is running (and weights)… ’nuff said.

Last lastly — re: tough men — the sandmen of the Khalari in Botswana are the toughest there is… they run for hours to take down Kudo and they don’t do it by eating protien and drinking shakes — they have to run to catch their protein dinner, just as your ancestors did! Theses guys run to survive and gives us an example of what our legs are really for…

Being huge, strong and heavy is impressive but not survivable in most parts of the world… except the west.

Lift hard, run strong.

61 Jonathan September 10, 2013 at 9:07 pm

I am a sprinter currently in college. There is some good information here. I would suggest some olympic lifting along with the exercises listed. They help significantly with explosiveness. Also depending on the athlete some plyometrics would be good to add to a program.

62 Tony November 23, 2013 at 8:28 pm


As a former bodybuilder and marathon runner, I can tell you that manliness is not determined by your physique nor what you do for sport. It is rather, determined by the genitalia between your legs.

63 Conrad November 23, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Jason Fitzgerald’s post is very insightful and informative. Alot of the comments in response to Jason’s post from self proclaimed “experts” and critics of long distance runners and really just comments on both sides trying to prove or disprove either side of the argument seem to neglect something that is more important. Follow your passion. If playing baseball makes you happy, play baseball. If its football, more power to you. If its basketball, great-keep hoopin it up. If you get excited about bench pressing 400lbs-wonderful. If your like me and got hooked on running 20 some odd years ago when running high school cross country-keep running and don’t listen to the naysayers. Their opinions do not define your reality. Since when does everything have to be about who can kick who’s tail? Just do what makes you happy. What ever form of physical activity is better than being inactive and as a nation we are one of the fatest nations in the world. Everything is supersized here including people. Thats why it is more important to engage consistently in a physical activity that you enjoy rather than force yourself to do an activity because one of the proclaimed “experts” here claims its more manly or that those who do it are stronger than others. The only person you have to prove anything to is yourself, not these wanna be “expert” and “anonymous” boneheads (you’ll never meet in person by the way) who want to be critical of people who are happy with what they do. Those poor miserable souls are jealous you have something that make you happy and thus are critical.

64 Mendy December 19, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Well I am a female runner. I do half marathons and may not put in as many miles as some but I’m not to shabby. I am not an elite athlete. I am not very fast compared to others. It has taken me time to get to my 9:30 mile. I’m a big girl. My legs are muscular. But I still run several miles a week. I would do more if I had more time. I can run till the cows come home and trust me…. I will never have scrawny legs. Oh and I also have boobs. Big ones at that. Just cause someone endurance runs does not mean they all look like the flat chested small framed elite runners. And weight lifters out there…. Get over yourselves. Let me tell you what is NOT attractive. A man with so many muscles he walks like he has something stick up his rear and can’t put his arms down to his side. Just saying

65 Joey March 30, 2014 at 8:29 am

Some distance running can be beneficial to one’s health… but too much is really bad for you.

The problem with distance running, is that the sport generally has a mantra of “push through the pain”… this mentality is what creates skinny, frail chronically overtrained runners.

Aerobic disciplines (such as slow running) are FAR more catabolic to the body than anaerobic disciplines (such as lifting weights or sprinting) because even at a slow pace, you are basically shifting your entire mass around for long periods – this is very tough on your heart and lungs – hence why people develop so many injuries in key stress points.

Walking is a more natural way to move across distances… it’s less harsh on our bodies. Running should only be something we do occasionally, and ideally some running should be replaced with shorter interval training and/or lifting some weights.

Running is a powerful drug imho… it’s highly addictive. Abuse it and you’ll start to resemble any other kind of drug addict (skinny, weak, frail & old looking) ;)

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