Running is one exercise that for a bodybuilder can either be a serious asset, a love hate relationship, or an absolute gains killer. To us, running is a simple science that if done right can both grow your mind and your lean muscle mass.
But, unfortunately there is a lot of confusion being spread around about the effects of running on muscle growth. Heck, if you were to walk into your gym and ask the first 10 people you see how running influences muscle growth, you would probably get 10 completely different answers. Even worse, you may have been spoon fed bad advice from people that don’t even work out or run! Either way, that’s the past; and we’re not here to discuss running backwards. Rather, we’re going to talk about how when properly moderated and executed running can assist your muscle building efforts in the gym.
The Benefits Running has on Building Muscle
To start, let’s get you amped up. What exactly can running do for you and your goals? Well, a lot of this depends on your starting point of course. We’re not going to spend time talking too much about shedding pounds while running (request if you want us to write about it); rather, we are interested in the effects on health and building muscle.
Circulation Improvement – Improved Blood Flow
One of the easiest takeaways with running is that it’s going to make your heart beat faster and harder which will demand your body to do maintenance on your circulatory system. Long term, this will increase your energy, mental clarity, and overall health. However from a bodybuilding and weight training standpoint – running can increase circulation to your muscles which will boost nutrient delivery, oxygenation, endurance, and that all-mighty muscle pump.
Reduce Estrogen in Men
Estrogen levels can easily be the biggest crutch for a man trying to build muscle. Elevated estrogen can occur from bad diet, high body fat, lack of sleep, contact with plastics (ex. Water bottles, pre-made meals), and countless other sources. When a man has high estrogen levels, he will gain fat more easily, lack energy, and have a really hard time building good solid muscle tone.
Luckily, running combats elevated estrogen levels in men two ways. First, fat reduction is an effective way at reducing a male’s estrogen production. Second, exercise has been found to help reduce estrogen in men via improved hormonal balance, release of endorphins, and other pathways.
I hope this benefit gets your attention. Getting your cardio up via running and even hitting the gym can improve the quality and ease of sleep. This is a cyclic benefit considering the better you sleep the more likely you will be feeling good enough to hit the gym or go for a run. But wait, let’s settle some quick details. According to the Feinberg School of Medicine, consistent running and cardio based exercise significantly improves sleep quality over long periods of time. What this means is, you may not notice better sleep right away, but, a consistent running and exercising schedule has been found to improve sleep quality after approximately 6 weeks.
That’s cool, but does this improve a runner’s ability to build muscle in the gym lifting weights? Yes! See, sleep is one of the most important muscle building times for someone trying to build muscle! For males specifically, the majority of your testosterone is actually produced while you sleep. So, after you’re 6 or so weeks of consistently running and working out, you should anticipate a good little testosterone boost and likewise muscle growth affinity increase!
The more you care and the more you take personal responsibility for yourself, the more you realize it’s all in your head man. Luckily, running is a great way of building up your mental power and control which translates excellently into bodybuilding and the rest of your life as a whole. That’s how you build more muscle from the inside out; mind over matter.
Now, you never see a big marathon champion; but with a mix of dedication and moderation running is a very unique and powerful leg muscle building tool. While running, there are several muscles that get worked which exercises like squats may never reach. Building these muscles will both improve your weight and improve your stability during weight lifting.
Minimizing the Negative Effects Running has on Building Muscle
Above we have summed up the majority of ways that running can help build muscle while weight training. Though, running is definitely a double edged sword. Here are the ways running can actually compromise your muscle gains in the gym and how to avoid these effects while sequestering the benefits!
As your about to see, the majority of negative running effects on building muscle can be directly attributed to endurance running and over-running. To build muscle you can keep running, but you will definitely want to change your running habits based on these issues.
Here is the most well-known explanation for how running compromises your muscle building potential as a bodybuilder – nutrient depletion. When you run, you go through a lot of your body’s resources. Mile after mile your tearing down proteins, blasting through glycogen, using up mineral co-enzymes, and even tapping into your adrenaline depending on how hard you go. Mile after mile, man. And, if you’re like most people then you are probably not eating additional food to make up for this outward flux.
So, in this sense nutrient depletion is a huge stab in the ribs for guys trying to bulk on those lean gains in the gym. There simply are too many resource demands on the body and not enough protein to go around and tend to the construction of extra mass. At that point, your body is struggling to stay at current stature.
Dehydration is the ultimate poison drip for a dude trying to put on muscle mass. It simply attacks you around every corner and you will find yourself rationalizing your short comings for all the wrong reasons. See, while you run long distances dehydration happens naturally unless you’re actively fighting it. And, if you’re not adequately taking it on, then several negative things happen while you are dehydrated. First off, it’s going to make you tired and make your muscles weaker. Second, the loss of water is going to decrease muscle volume which reverses a body’s affinity to construct additional actin-myosin fibers (restriction). Third, while yes you are ‘sweating out’ toxins; after a while you just start to condense them inside you as sweat transport slows down. Plus, it’s only your skin sweating.
Muscle Volume Continued – Mitochondria to Actin Myosin Ratio
A trend has been discovered regarding the ratio of contents inside muscle cells between bodybuilders and endurance runners. That is, bodybuilders contain a greater amount of actin myosin fibers while runners contain a greater amount of mitochondria. This is because runners are in a constant state of oxygen restriction while bodybuilders are in burst states of high tension.
Since muscle cell expansion is a slow process itself, bombarding your body with endurance running will metabolically trigger a greater need for additional mitochondria than your weight training signals more action myosin fibers. And, since there is a volume dependency more mitochondria may be created at the cost of actin myosin fibers.
It has been found in several studies that running long distances suppresses testosterone. Most studies discovered the threshold to be around 2 hours of running. Up until that point, you are promoting testosterone production. So, to play it safe try to run for short periods of time and never exceed an hour and a half unless you are in a sporting event that matters to you.
How Weight Training Effects your Running
Here is an interesting twist on your running schedule. Chances are, that a good portion of our readers are reading this article after weight training and putting on some muscle mass, or even after gaining pounds of fat that need shedding. And to you we say this…
If you used to run, and were good at running; we still recommend you ease into it. If you’re just a few pounds heavier, shin splints can and most likely will happen. And it’s going to be unpleasant. But, if you keep your running shoes new and ease into running, you should be fine.
The Final Message on Running to Build Muscle
We did our best to make this article all-encompassing and contain as much information as we could possibly find. If you want to learn more about our muscle building philosophy, we encourage you to check out one of our newest articles about naturally reducing estrogen in men.
For the record, what we went over above are realities; but the effect that those realities has on each individual may be different. Also, its important to point out that there are a lot of awesome bodybuilders that run like 5 miles every day (Terry Crews). So, we are not going to tell you not to push yourself to your own limits. This is your one and only life and you should become as mighty as you possibly can. But, if you find your gains in the gym diminishing as you continue to run then this article may help you problem solve your way through it and get the muscle back on the upswing. Cheers.