Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania. He prefers a slower pace to his travels to explore destinations more in-depth and to get a feel for what life is actually like there. When he’s not writing, he’s usually off exploring trails with his fiancée, Kaitlyn.
Does muscle slow you down? Runners would love to add muscle mass, but will gaining muscle hurt or help your running speed? Let’s take a look.
As runners, we seek out every opportunity to improve.
Whether it’s wearing compression socks after runs, sitting in Arctic waters for recovery, or strapping two giant boots to our legs while we binge Netflix.
We want results. And one of the most debated topics for runners is adding muscle.
Will lifting weights make a difference in your running?
I’ll answer all that and more here.
Let’s get started.
👉 Want to learn the differences between trail running and road running?: Trail Running vs. Road Running: Which is Better?
Does gaining muscle slow you down?
The simple answer is that muscle can be good and bad for running.
On one hand, larger muscles help propel you forward, and more power means improving speed. However, too much muscle is a negative as it adds to your body weight and slows you down.
The key is to find a balance. Not lifting like a bodybuilder but lifting to strengthen muscles that help you run faster and more efficiently.
Bodybuilding isn’t the goal. Better running is.
For example, core and leg muscle strength both benefit running efficiency.
These muscles help your stability and power, both critical for your running form. Also, your glute muscles are one of the primary muscles used in running. So, strengthening this area will have direct benefits for your running.
Lastly, you should focus on adding lean muscle mass and less on adding general muscle. Especially if you’re a long-distance runner, the added bulk adds up over time.
What the science says about if gaining muscle slows you down
There are a lot of mixed answers when you look at the science.
For example, one review published in Sports Medicine in 2018 found mixed results.
While some studies show improvements in running economy, time trial performance, and anaerobic speeds, it wasn’t demonstrated across all studies.
Another review published in the Journal of Sports Sciences in 2018 showed a similar finding.
However, it did add that you could fix any adverse effects with high-intensity interval training or similar exercises.
Ultimately, you want to focus on doing the correct exercises instead of focusing on adding muscle without a plan.
So, the question is: what kind of weight training should runners do?
What strength training should runners follow to get faster?
The best type of strength training for runners is a mix of bodyweight and resistance training.
Bodyweight training helps you build muscle and improve your balance and coordination. Plus, it also helps reduce your chance of injury (a constant thorn in the side of runners).
Here are some top exercises to help you build lean muscle:
- Squats: Squats are perfect for lower body strength. You know you’re getting an entire leg workout by targeting the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and all the stabilizing muscles that help make you fast and explosive.
- Lunges: Another exercise that targets all your major leg muscle groups. And, to strengthen for hills, there’s no better exercise to simulate it.
- Core Strength Work: Planks, sit-ups, Russian twists, and bridges all help strengthen your core. And your core is like your own set of Jenga blocks for your running form.
- Plyometric Exercises: Plyometrics help with your power and agility, both essential skills in running. Exercises like box and lateral jumps, single-leg hops, and more all help in this area.
- Weighlifting: Weightlifting is excellent for running, but be smart about it. Focus on critical exercises (squats, lunges, power cleans, deadlifts, etc.) that support your core and leg muscles to generate more power.
- Full-body & HIIT Workouts: These exercises are great for helping work on your endurance while also strengthening your muscles. The speed and power lead to a great burn and an excellent workout. Some great examples include burpees, push-ups, bodyweight squats, etc. Also, add a medicine ball if you’d like an extra layer of difficulty.
Following these strength and conditioning exercises can improve your speed, endurance, and overall running performance.
But, you have to balance it with your running. You still must focus on your running workouts, such as sprints, long runs, and running with good form.
Should you focus on workouts for building muscle or workouts for running?
As runners, we want to spend time doing what gets us the most output.
So, is it better to focus on muscle workouts or running workouts?
And the answer won’t surprise you: it’s a mixture of both.
The benefits you get from weightlifting in terms of injury prevention and power are huge for your running success. More power aids in faster running speeds, and fewer injuries mean you’re training consistently.
But your ultimate goal is improving your running performance.
And there’s no better way to do that than running. If you wanted to get better at painting, you wouldn’t spend time learning how to sell paint. You’d paint!
And the same is true for running. Consistent running improves your endurance, running economy, strength, and efficiency. You become a better overall runner through stronger muscle fibers (both fast twitch muscle and slow twitch), increased muscular endurance, and greater relative strength.
So, if you’re a time-crunched runner, focus most of your time on running.
But, if you have the time, add some strength exercises to help yourself.
👉 Should you stretch after running?: Does Stretching After Running Work?
Does muscle slow you down? — Wrapping up
Runners come in all body types.
From large to small, there is no perfect physique for us. But we can all benefit from the power and injury prevention weightlifting offers.
Whether you want to improve your explosiveness and maximal speed, add a little bulk or stop injuries in their tracks, weightlifting can help.
So, I’m eager to hear from you. Do you already use weightlifting in your training? Or will you add it in the future?
Let me know in the comments!