“Have everyone run a mile. The ones who come in last are your best athletes” -Sprint Coach Legend Charlie Francis
Recently I had one of my wrestlers tell me he was getting slower. Obviously that’s never something I want to hear, so I dug deeper to find out what the problem was. “Well, how does your conditioning feel?” I asked. “I feel great” he said. I suddenly recalled hearing how he was beating everyone at his club in sprints just a week prior and asked, “I thought you were beating everyone in sprints?” He replied that he still was beating his peers in sprints and that it was his mile time that had gotten slower; to which I responded “GOOD. That means we’re doing the right things!”
While that may not make tons of sense to you now, let me explain why we want that to happen as athletes, and why long distance running is not only not good for you, but can actually have lifelong detrimental effects.
Running makes you less powerful
This one is pretty much a no-brainer. There’s not an athlete in this world who doesn’t want to be more powerful, and running is not the answer! A Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study put long distance running and sprinting to the test with Division 1 baseball players over the course of the season. Both groups of players strength trained the EXACT SAME, with the only difference being one group sprinted 15-60 meters for conditioning while the other did roughly 45 minutes of aerobic exercise. The result? The sprint group gained an average of 210 Watts of power while the long distance group LOST an average of 39 Watts of power(1)!! For a sport like baseball, which requires speed and power, that is a big deal.
Another study found that strength training alone increased the Rate of Force Development(RFD), considered by many in the field to be the “Holy Grail” of speed and power development, while strength training combined with endurance training did not(2)! The bottom line is, if you want be fast, powerful, and kick some ass on the field, court, mat, or ice, stay away from long distance running!
Running makes you less of a man
Well, that’s my interpretation at least. Numerous studies have shown decreases in testosterone levels associated with long distance running (3,4,5). We all know that low testosterone can cause fatigue, a loss of muscle mass, gain in body fat, lethargy, depression, and many other very unfortunate symptoms. While running makes you less of a man, thankfully sprinting does the opposite. In a 4 week study done on competitive freestyle wrestlers, 2 sessions/week of 6x35M sprints for 4 weeks was all it took to see a significant increase in Total Testosterone as compared to the control group.
Running makes you fatter
Have you ever heard the term “skinny fat”? A very big study in 2006 of almost 13,000 runners found that even those who ran greater than 64km/week still saw an increase in weight AND waist circumference(7)! While hard to imagine that being the case, a large part of it comes from the decrease in testosterone, increased cortisol production, and constant catabolic (muscle wasting) state the body is put in through long distance running. In fact, one study of a running club found that the average body fat percentage was 22%!! If you want to prepare for sport, start sprinting!!
The fact is, if you want to be a powerful, explosive, strong, and fast athlete, next time you do your conditioning work, skip the treadmill or running path. Instead, find a hill to sprint up, a prowler to push, or have some Tabata fun. While certainly tougher and more intense than a long jog, it will pay off in the end…Socrates agrees.
1. Non compatibility of power and endurance training among college baseball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
2. Neuromuscular adaptations during concurrent strength and endurance training versus strength training. European Journal of Applied Physiology.
3. Bone mineral density and serum testosterone in chronically trained, high mileage 40–55 year old male runners. Journal of Sports Medicine.
4. Anthropomorphic, hormonal, and psychologic correlates of semen quality in endurance-trained male athletes.
5. Endurance Training Decreases Serum Testosterone Levels in Men without Change in Luteinizing Hormone Pulsatile Release. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
6. Physiological and Performance changes from the addition of a sprint interval program. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
7. The effects of changing exercise levels on weight and age-related weight gain. International Journal of Obesity.