I am taking a beginner college running class. The other day we ran 2 miles for a time & grade. I overheard the males talking at the end about their scores and heard one of the thicker muscular guys saying his time wasn’t as fast as the other smaller less muscular guys because he has too much muscle and his muscles use oxygen really fast, and therefore he isn’t as fast.
My question – is this true? I realize Olympic sprinters and distance runners have different bodies but at only 2 miles is your muscle mass really going to affect a run?
Hey Lisa, I had to answer this question!
The short answer is yes, having more muscle mass will affect performance, even at just 2 miles.
I’ve experienced this first handed. A few years ago I ran a 4th of July 8-mile race with a client of mine. She was all of 104 pounds and bounced like a Gazelle when she ran. She couldn’t understand why someone like me who was a trainer and regularly performed cardio type exercises was slower and breathing heavier. In her mind, logic dictated that I should have run faster and easier.
But think about it – what calls for oxygen during exercise? Your muscles do. So it follows that the more muscle you have, the greater the call for oxygen, hence you breathe heavier. For me, I need to motivate my 215 pound body while running, which requires a great deal of effort and energy expenditure. Someone who gains muscle mass doesn’t always increase their endurance in a proportionate manner. I was hanging out with 2 pro bodybuilders about 15 years ago. These guys were giants, I mean just massive. They weighed in at over 300 pounds in contest shape! Let me tell you, WALKING was tough for these guys, I mean after a flight of stairs you’d think they’d just sprinted a mile. They had so much muscle and were so disproportionate that their muscle mass called for oxygen far beyond what normal requirements.
Another example is when I ran the Race For The Cure in NYC two years ago. That’s just a 5k so it comes out to just over 3 miles. I finished in respectable time but I can tell you that it was all of the thinner, less muscled runners that were flying by me. Believe me I tried, but I just couldn’t keep up. In fact at my heavier body weight everything I do elevates my heart rate more than when I was lighter. If I do a set of burpees, jumping jacks, even squats and jump rope, I’m sometimes huffing and puffing (check out my Workout videos for further proof!) And if you look within sports you’ll see the same. Watch a boxing or MMA match and keep track of the stamina, quickness and conditioning in the different weight classes. Every now and then you may see a genetic freak, but for the most part the lighter guys are faster, more nimble, have better endurance and conditioning and aren’t huffing and puffing by round 4 like the heavyweight monsters.
Now we also have to think about the style of training here. It’s true that my style of training doesn’t include much distance running these days. But I remember being 19 years old and at a weight of 165 pounds. I can honestly tell you I was a jackrabbit at that weight. I could go out and run 8–10 miles no problem. I recall running easy, efficiently and able to run that mileage multiple times per week. Now? No way. I’m simply not built for it. With the exception of people who are true mesomorphs, meaning they’re heavily muscled through genetics, most people you see walking around that carry extra muscle mass work very hard to gain and keep it. And that means the chances are that they don’t run very often and when they do, not for long distances.
Now whether or not the guys you mentioned were copping out I don’t really know. At just 2 miles, they shouldn’t have been that much slower. And just how muscular were they? Did they look like power lifters or bodybuilders, or just your average beach body gym rat? I have a feeling these guys may have used their muscle mass as an excuse. Ha! I’d be interested to see how much better they get in the coming months. Keep me posted!
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