This article is probably not what you’re expecting. It’s not a condemnation of long distance running and an urge to get you on the track for high intensity interval training in the form of sprinting but more a different approach where I’ll propose you choose one or the other (or somewhere in the middle) based on what you enjoy or what you feel you are good at.
I have been guilty over the years of favouring both types of work. In the 80’s while still at school and college it was cycle racing with huge amounts of miles covered each week and in the 90’s and first decade of this century I was all about distance running. Focus on calories expended and amount of time exercising covering bumper miles in training and racing usually 10k to marathon was the norm for me and as a result of this approach I became lean, defined and very fit.
In 2002 I started to lift iron while still maintaining a love of endurance sports but this time the duration came right down. Kettlebell Sport (10 minutes), Cycle Racing Time Trials (25 minutes), Indoor Rowing (5-18 minutes) and only recently in the last two years Sprinting outside (25-60 seconds). Note that sprinting cannot be done on a treadmill due to it’s very fast pace and risk element for all people. With this drop in time spent exercising, the intensity went up though. Both types of work (long or short) resulted in me always delivering the very best I could and if you look at athletes at the top of their game, they are all lean and all deliver the best they possibly can too.
The sprinters have tremendous amounts of power because they train for power but in no way does the marathon runner plod through their races with a low heart rate in their “fat burning zone”. They are burning through glycogen, muscle, fat and sheer bloody will power for 26 miles at speeds most of you could not sprint at for 200m. And I mean that too – see how far you can run at 20kmh, or if it’s even possible!
The two types of athlete need to look different to produce differing results It doesn’t make sense for a marathon runner to carry an extra 20kg on their bodies that the sprinters have because they wouldn’t get anywhere fast. Similarly if a sprinter wants to go a short distance fast then he or she needs as much power as possible to get them there and that involves the weight of added muscle. Take a look at ALL track & field athletes from shot putter to marathon runner and see how body size varies for each event. With running, the shorter duration the event, the bigger the athlete, the longer the distance the smaller the competitor.
Every athlete in all of the events competed in is concerned with one thing and one thing only though – RESULTS. None of these athletes pay attention to what they look like because what they see in the mirror doesn’t pay the bills The quicker, further, higher the task completed, the higher the accolade and the bigger the pay cheque. What the athlete looks like will reflect the optimum size and shape best suited to become the best at that event.
You could immediately jump in with the argument now of “Ok I am fat. I want to reduce as much weight as possible therefore I’m going to be a distance runner and for my fitness I will do endless cardio work.” Valid point and it may very well work but it all hinges on one condition:
HOW GOOD YOU BECOME AT IT.
If I could have put GOOD in something bigger than capitals there I would have. It is about PERFORMANCE. It doesn’t mean anything to simply go out running a long way and expect to lose weight as a result and the same on the opposite to become bigger by sprinting. As with any venture into anything in this world; becoming a doctor, lawyer, brick layer, dentist, body builder – your success will depend on how GOOD you become at your chosen pursuit.
The vast, vast, vast majority of gym goers do not follow this model and it is why they never see any results. Just ‘doing’ the same activity as somebody you want to look like without a plan will unfortunately get you nowhere. It will get you fitter so not all is lost but if you want to change the way you look then a good place to start would be to decide what you want to look like then apply the plan that best suits. A good personal trainer or coach could help you with this.
I can think of several friends of mine that are in great shape and are long distance runners. They could be better long distance runners than they are but they also want some muscle so they spend time lifting iron, have more mass and is to that cost that they aren’t as good as they could be but that is their choice. And for bodybuilders it is the cost of aerobic fitness that they pay for with huge amounts of muscle mass.
How you look is going to be largely based on how GOOD you get at something. EXCELLENCE in HIIT or lower intensity long duration training is going to make you lean. They both will. Mediocrity in either will keep you the same.
So when you decide on a goal you must remember to execute it with a plan and to become the very best you can be in order to see change.