By Taylor Robbins, C.S.C.S
I can’t count how many times I hear someone say…
“My legs are really strong, I run like 3-4 days a week.”
And then I say things like…
“Are you serious!?”
“Well, I get out of my chair like 55 times a day so I am squatting and working legs all the time too!”
But in all seriousness, for those of you who want to see more fat loss, more tone and definition, and more muscularity, and more strength, I can guarantee you, running is not helping.
First of all, running and any aerobic training CANNOT increase lean muscle mass. Both at the cellular level and based on the principle of progressive overload, muscles do not adapt in size, or tone with jumping on one leg for 1000 reps and then doing the same on the other side (this is running by the way).
Ok, I am a bit bias about running not being a great source of fat loss and body composition improvement, but in all fairness, I ran a marathon myself at age 12, and ran a lot, so I am speaking from experience.
Let’s think about this together, the muscle breaks down from going through as much range of motion possible with as much load as possible. The biomechanics of running do not place the glutes, hamstrings, calves, or quads through their full range of motion, and the greatest load you can place on them is your body weight and applied force into the ground.
Now, if you have been a couch potato for the last decade, and the furthest distance you have ever used your legs is the distance between the fridge and the toilet, then you will see some muscular development from your first few runs.
For the rest of you who are wanting to get more tone, more in shape, fit better into your jeans, look good in a dress, have strong legs to play with kids and grandkids, then you need a little more stimulus than this.
Weight training and specifically squats is what works the legs the most effectively.
I am not talking about squats with the purple 4.5 lbs dumbbells and I am not talking about squats in the gliding smith machine…I am talking about barbell squats with women working up to squatting 1.5 times body weight and men getting to 2 times body weight. There is a long progression of training to get to this point, but this is how you develop the leg muscles and burn the most fat possible in your workouts.
You see, the muscles only keep growing and getting more toned and tight with progressive overload. This scientific principle simply states that for further adaptation to occur, there needs to be increasing stimulus.
This is where running fails.
Full contractile force is not achieved in running because of the lack of full range of motion, and there is not enough resistance to force breakdown in the muscle tissue.
Similarly, you cannot progressively overload your running like you can with weights.
For example, the very first time you ever ran, let’s say you knocked out 3 miles. Let’s also say you burned 350 calories doing that.
After the 7th and 8th time you do this same run, your body has adapted to allow more efficiency and therefore less calorie output. So maybe you only burn 250 calories now.
You can keep running further, and faster, and this will increase the calorie output, but you start to encounter plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and the hormonal ramifications that come from excessive aerobic training and stress.
Whereas with weight training, you can progress the stimulus via volume or intensity.
For example, in week one of a program, you squat 3 sets of 10 with the bar which weighs 45 lbs. You moved 1350 lbs that day.
Week two, you squat 4 sets of 10 with the 45 lbs bar. You moved 1800 lbs that day.
This is how progressive overload allows you to continue to create stimulus to the muscles to get stronger and grow.
With all this, I say, if you want to have flabby and twerpy legs, then keep running.
If you want muscular, tight, and defined legs that can propel you for speed (more practical for survival than running 15 miles away from a smuggler) and grant you more strength, then start squatting and kick the cardio/running.
By Taylor Robbins, C.S.C.S