We've all heard this before:
"Sprinters are slimmer and more muscular than marathon runners, so high-intensity intervals are better than steady stamina."
I admit that when I started training Coach I've used this analogy, although I've never fully occupied myself with it. Now I know that it is absolutely wrong.
First, all top sprinters have over 90 percent fast twitch muscle fibers, suggesting an ACTN3 RR profile. Without going too deeply into genetics, ACTN3 is the gene that determines both your muscle type and how your muscle responds to exercise.
The ACTN3 profile, which occurs only in about 1
Endurance athletes – these are used in comparison to elite sprinters – are very slowly twitching dominants. This is an indicator of an ACTN3 XX profile found in 10-15 percent of the population.
This is the muscle profile "endurance": slower twitch fibers (less growth potential), lower mTOR and larger AMPK (poor for muscle build-up, good for endurance), slower muscle repair, but higher maximum VO2 and fat utilization capacity.
Simply put, anyone who reaches a high level in sprinting has the genetics to be fast, powerful, strong and muscular with. Those who excel in endurance sports are the opposite.
The Barbell Factor
Also, sprinters make a lot of heavy lifting. Heavy Benches, Squats, Power Cleans, Deadlifts, etc. These guys have pretty impressive numbers. Most Elite Sprinters squat in the 500s and bench presses in the mid 300-pound range. Some squat in the 600s and sit in the 400s. No world-class powerlifting numbers, but strong enough to build a ton of muscle along the way.
Have you ever taken an endurance athlete while doing dumbbells? Neither do I! Well, seriously I have. And apart from a few smart exceptions, they all perform BOSU ball exercises, curl-lung combos and quarter squats, all in the range of 15 to 25 reps, "to work on stamina". And they do not train hard or push themselves.
They do not have great muscle building genetics, and they do nothing to stimulate muscle growth. Sprinters lift heavy; Marathon runner not. Is it so surprising that one is more muscular than the other?
How about intervals?
Do you know what sprinters DO NOT do? Intervals! Sprinters do not make any intervals in their training, but their bodies are used to "prove" that intervals are better to give you a lean and muscular body. Do you see the problem there?
I was training sprinters, training with an athletics coach, working with Charlie Francis (former Ben Johnson coach), coaching Bob athletes (who train like sprinters) and I have never used intervals.
A typical training for a 100-meter sprinter consists of 4-6 sprints (30-100 meters depending on the phase) with more than enough break between sets – up to 10 minutes between sprints. A good coach would never have a sprinter who performs intervals. It would kill his CNS and destroy his sprinting mechanics.
Sprint training is all about quality. And to achieve the best possible quality, they avoid fatigue accumulations. They want to be as fresh as possible for every sprint. This is the opposite of intervals where you want to build up lots of lactic acid and fatigue.
You know who makes many intervals? Endurance athletes! It's part of their weekly routine and for many of them it's the primary training method.
Let me clarify that. I will use the body of a sprinter to prove the superiority of the intervals (even if they do not) to the stationary cardio, comparing them to endurance athletes who actually perform intervals. Is not that messed up?
But do not freak out …
I'm not saying that endurance training is not without problems. Endurance training makes it harder to build muscle – first through a strong calorie deficit, then through the inhibition of mTOR and also through overproduction of cortisol. However, it is not endurance training to train for 30 minutes in inpatient cardio two to four times a week.
You can not look at an athlete who is doing stunts for hours at a fast pace and thinks that even remotely correlates with doing 30 minutes of slow heart several times a week. The two are not even in the same stadium.
Yes, excessive endurance training raises cortisol. However, if you compare the cardio in gyms with intervals, the cortisol intervals will increase even more – the release of cortisol is relative to the amount of mobilized fuel and the release of adrenaline. Both are higher with interval work.
I'm not saying that intervals are crap or that steady stamina is king. Both can be useful if used correctly and in the right dose. But the sprinter vs. Marathon Runner thing is just stupid and intellectually dishonest.
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