Built for Show – And for Go

There seems to be a school of thought when it comes to resistance training that you’re either training for performance or for aesthetics. It’s either bodybuilding or strength and conditiong. Built for show or for go.

It was as though the two goals were mutually exclusive and could not overlap.

Meatheads would mock those who couldn’t build 20 inch arms. And athletes would point out all the gym rats that trip over their own feet during a game of football.

But is that the case?

If you train for hypertrophy i.e. size, does that mean you’ll be useless on the playing field?

New research says that’s not the case.

The study look at muscle volume and strength and compared this among three groups 1) elite sprinters n= 5, 2) sub-elite sprinters n= 26, and untrained controls n=11. All study subjects were male. Elite sprinters were defined as though that could run a 10.10 second 100 meter and sub-elite as though that could run the 100 m in 10.80 seconds.

To put in perspective how fast a 10.10 second 100 metre is, only four Canadians have ever run a sub 10 second 100 m including Olympic champion Donovan Bailey and Olympic bronze medallist Andre De Grasse.

The study subjects underwent MRIs to determine muscle volume of 23 lower limb muscles and 5 functional muscles. These were then correlated to 100 m times and isometric strength.

What they found was that the muscularity of elite sprinters was greater in elite sprinters than sub-elite and both were greater than the controls. In particular the hip extensors showed the biggest difference among the groups and this accounted for 31-48% of the variability in 100 m times.

Of the hip extensors it turns out the gluteus maximus alone accounted for 34-44 % of variance in 100 m sprint time.

There is substantial difference in the size and volume of the gluteus maximus in elite sprinters compared to sub-elite sprinters and even moreso with untrained controls.

In terms of isometric strength, plantar flexors, or the muscles we use to point our toes, showed no difference. Both sprint groups were stronger, isometrically, but this was not related to sprint times.

The take home message is that you can train to be like J-Lo and Usain Bolt at the same time. Building a bigger backside helps fill out your favourite pair of denim and sprint faster.

Miller, R., Balshaw, T. G., Massey, G. J., Maeo, S., Lanza, M. B., Johnston, M., & Folland, J. P. (2020). The Muscle Morphology of Elite Sprint Running. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

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