Does Running Build Muscle?

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Congratulations, United Kingdom. I hear that your nine-month winter is nearing its end and there’s a small prospect that a giant ball of burning hydrogen will soon appear from behind a blanket of grey cloud. Don’t be alarmed. The rest of the world calls it the sun.

So you may soon want to take your shirt off in public. If you don’t want people to think you are the gruesome result of a breeding experiment between a human and a marshmallow, do some sprint training. It’s one of the best ways to build muscle, burn fat and improve heart function. If the last time you ran was to get to the fried chicken shop before it closed, here’s why you should start sprinting.

Sprinting torches fat

Sprint training is significantly more effective at promoting fat loss than steady-state aerobic training, and it does so in far less time – research has repeatedly proven this. One recent study found that just six sessions in two weeks of six 30-second all-out cycle sprints, with four minutes of rest between bursts, reduced the waist size of the subjects by 3cm. The participants also became more efficient at burning body fat for fuel.

Sprinting builds muscle

The men in the study mentioned above also put on lean muscle mass. Sprints trigger the same muscle-building response as hard weight training, specifically by increasing the size and strength of your powerful fast-twitch muscle fibres. A study of male wrestlers found that performing six 35m sprints, with a ten-second recovery between them, significantly increased the male sex hormone testosterone and decreased cortisol, the stress hormone that encourages the storage of body fat.

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Sprinting improves endurance

Do you want to improve your marathon or triathlon PB? Studies show that sprinting is more effective than steady-state endurance training for improving endurance capacity and oxygen uptake. This is because repeated intervals at a high intensity require your body to use energy more efficiently by increasing the amount of glycogen that can be stored in the muscle by as much as 20%. Sprints also boost your running and cycling speed. One study found that cyclists who did six 30-second all-out sprints increased endurance speed, and they improved time-trial performance times by 26% more than rivals who did steady-state training.

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Sprinting helps your heart

Even if you don’t want to be leaner or faster, sprint for your heart. In a 2011 study, subjects achieved a lower resting heart rate and better lung function after four weeks of cycle sprint training. Another study of sprint training showed a decrease in inflammation that damages heart function.

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Sprinting makes you smarter

Just about every form of exercise generates some mental benefits, but sprinting leads the pack: it decreases inflammation in the brain, improves hormone balance, leads to better mobility and makes you feel energised and capable after you blast through a series of testing reps.

Sprinting makes you tough

Sprints are hard. They hurt. There will be moments of doubt in the middle of a sprint workout. The uncertainty about your ability to finish is all in your head. You must not give in. By pushing through the physical discomfort and pain, you will build confidence in your physical and emotional ability while building a lean, muscular body.

Charles Poliquin

One of the world's premier strength coaches, Charles Poliquin has successfully trained professional athletes and Olympians worldwide. Poliquin writes a monthly column for Men's Fitness about how to train as effectively as possible.