Aerobic exercise has been shown to actually produce muscle hypertrophy, another word for muscle growth, in clinical studies. Researchers also suggest it should be “considered an effective countermeasure for muscle loss with advancing age.”
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There are lots of reasons as to why running can help build muscle, but one of the main ways it does so is because of the impact when you hit the ground. “When you run, the foot strike causes up to six times your bodyweight to land through your legs,” explains physiotherapist Lyndsay Hirst. That means that if you’re 70kg, you’ll be applying up to 420kg of pressure through the leg muscles.
“Imagine leg pressing that weight and you’ll understand how much force running puts through the muscles,” Lyndsay says. We don’t know about you, but that’s better than any of our attempts on the leg press machine.
But it’s not just the heavy foot strike that helps with hypertrophy. Aerobic exercise also stimulates growth hormones which are responsible for tissue repair and increasing muscle mass. In a study by the US Army, aerobic exercise was shown to produce higher rates of growth hormone than resistance-based exercise, even after up to 20 hours after the workout.
Of course, that doesn’t mean neglect the fundamentals of strength training. It’s still one of the most all-round effective types of workouts, and you also need your body to be strong before you run in order to prevent injury. Next time you don’t fancy dumbells, why not lace up instead?
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).