Does running build muscle? This is how cardio can actually make you stronger

Posted by for Strong Women

It’s not just about weights. Cardio workouts help to build strength, too.

We know that lifting heavy and re-fueling properly are the best steps to take if building muscle and getting strong is the goal. But training with heavy weight and low reps is a bit of a struggle for most of us at the moment, as lockdown has meant swapping the gym for home bodyweight circuits or cardio.

But if you think that your new 5k habit is only benefiting your heart, think again. 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”. 

And if you’re looking for the best type of cardio to build muscle, don’t over complicate it. Running is one of the simplest and best muscle building workouts you can do. 

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. 

Can running help you build muscle?

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. But it does mean that you shouldn’t worry about needing to mix up your workouts during lockdown. So, next time you’re missing those dumbbells, lace up instead. 

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