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Why are runners skinny and swimmers muscly ?

I have been pondering for ages why distance runners are generally quite slim, but swimmers are generally much bigger. You can sort of tell which discipline someone has come from into triathlon by the shape of their body. Does impact exercise burn more calories ?

PS, I am a muscly swimmer, and a crap runner !

Comments

  • Whereas, I'm a fat runner and a crap swimmer.
  • 101SUSY101SUSY Posts: 53
    And a contrary Mary
  • Jack HughesJack Hughes Posts: 1,262
    Think about it. Form follows function.

    You'll see more variation between a sprint runner and an endurance runner, a sprint cyclist and an endurance cyclist, and a sprint swimmer and an endurance swimmer.

    However, in running you have to carry all your weight your self. You'll also observe that you heart rate max will be higher than for other activities. In cycling, your bike carries you. Except going up hill. In swimming the water holds you, and water doesn't tend to have hills.

    So, extra weight is punished in running, but you can get away with it in swimming. Cycling is in between. On a flat course you'll do ok, but in hill climbs you'll suffer.

    Extra weight could be in the form of fat or unnecessary muscle. Bulky muscle comes from all he fast twitch fibres used for explosive efforts. You don't need these for endurance.

    If your muscle comes from swimming, rather than pumping iron in the gym, or doing some non-endurance sport, then you are probably doing the wrong sort of training I.e. Sprint rather than distance.

    You will find, other things being equal, that if you loose weight you running would improve but your swimming would not suffer.

    Of course swmming uses the upperbody more than running, so there would be a difference between a triathlete and a runner - but the differences would be subtle - more about tone than bulk.

    Of course there is an element of fashion and taste. Since the rise of Brownlee, the big bulky triathletes are in decline. Brownlee looks like a runner - but is no slouch at swimming or cycling.
  • I also remember reading that Bradley Wiggins reduced his weight from about 85kg to less than 75kg when he changed from the Olympics power cycling events to the longer distance Tour de France style events. I imagine that there is probably a similar disparity between sprint swimmers and long distance swimmers though, as Jack said, gravity matters less in swimming, so there is a less pronounced trade-off between power (weighty muscle) and stamina (light weight).
  • 101SUSY101SUSY Posts: 53
    Wow ! Thanks very much for such a detailed answer. I get it now ! I've also realised that I've made a heinous error in my training. I was doing some weight training over the winter, thinking that being bigger and stronger would help me with my running endurance in the Spring. OOps ! I did knock 2 minutes off my 5k time yesterday though so all isn't lost !
  • stratoTomstratoTom Posts: 36
    Yes weight training isn't generally considered very useful in triathlon, the best thing to improve your run times is to increase your aerobic capacity and think about the efficiency of your running form.
  • HarryDHarryD Posts: 424
    Sorry to disagree Tom, I know where you're comming from, but weight (resistance) training can be very usefull in triathlon training. Thats why all the top triathletes do it. I'm sure that CH would correctly point out that it's far from essential for most of us but also that we can learn from what the elites do even if we can't do it as well as they do.

    Have a look at the Triathlon Training Bible to see how to do it to the best effect. Even in running there are benefits & UK Athletics includes it in their Level 2 Endurance (800m to ultramarathon) coaching module. Efficient running requires good core strength & its application. The polular exercises include crunches, planks (normal & side) and wipers - all use body weight to provide the weight/resistance. Hill sessions require lifting the weight of the body up a hill to increase the intensity. Weight training can be used to build strength for injury prevension. However, just doing weights to build bulk or tone for its own sake would certainly be counterproductive. Aerobic capacity is important but so is a high lactate threshold.

    Big benefits in swimming & cycling can be gained through weight/resistance training. Again not essential but can be beneficial

    As to the original post. The tall thin body type with small hips and narrow chest (ectomorph) usually have a high metabolism & find it difficult to build muscle - they generally become runners & cyclists. Endomorphs are usually a bit more rounded, carry a little fat, are strong and quickly gain muscle, have a slower metabolism and generally excel in swimming. Mesomorphs look athletic, can gain & loose muscle quickly, respond to aerobic training and are usually good at the more explosive events. There are few who would fit exactly into one of the three types. With tri being mostly bike & run then the ectomorphs should win out if the swimmers don't get too big a lead. Perhaps 80% ectomorph with a bit of the others to be on the safe side would be best.
  • stratoTomstratoTom Posts: 36
    Actually, I do agree about the weight training. I suppose I read 'weight training' and assumed it was real body-building type stuff, as opposed to muscle conditioning that certainly IS beneficial. I tend not to think of things like core work as weight sessions, even though essentially, they are.
  • Jack HughesJack Hughes Posts: 1,262
    There's weight training and there's weight training. Trying to build as much mass as possible a la the gym bunnies is not for endurance sport. Lighter weights, more reps for condition - healthy strong flexible muscles and ligaments is good.

    I spend a fair bit of time in the gym - as you get older it's far more important to both recovery and injury prevention
  • 101SUSY101SUSY Posts: 53
    Thanks again guys, this is all really interesting stuff ! I wasn't doing bodybuilding type of training, just general strength work so I feel a bit more reassured now. However, I have also learned from this thread that I am absolutely, definitely, 100 % an endomorph so whatever I do, I'm never going to be the skinny type !

    I am going to carry on with my weight training then, and do more running and cycling to build aerobic capacity.

    Thanks again, and really good luck for whatever events you're doing this year !
  • Jack HughesJack Hughes Posts: 1,262
    101SUSY wrote:


    Thanks again, and really good luck for whatever events you're doing this year !
    And to you!
  • jonEjonE Posts: 1,113
    Body type,genetics etc try not to worry too much about it.
    There is nothing wrong with being different.As Monty Python said."the key elements are Fear and Suprise".
    If you look out of place,i.e the big person in an endurance event,but can pull out a good result,you can gain a significant psychological advantage,you are mently prepared for the event,and providing you are content that you cannot alter what nature gave you.Then you are onto a winner.

    Don't be type cast,please.

    Best of luck for the Kendal sprint,a PB,is definite.
  • And not forgetting that most bike courses within Tri tend to be flat(ish), thus reducing some of the greyhounds' advantage.

    Jan Frodeno didn't do too bad and at 6'3" and 76kgs he's hardly a waif.
  • md6md6 Posts: 969
    Im Spartacus wrote:
    Jan Frodeno didn't do too bad and at 6'3" and 76kgs he's hardly a waif.
    um...well at 5'11 and 79kgs in comparison he is - although he looked huge - wheras i don't, but interesting stuff about body types as i realised that i gain and loose muscle very easily - so i know the reason now, genetics. Well thats another thing to blame the parents for i guess
  • Jack HughesJack Hughes Posts: 1,262
    At the elite level, all the elites have one thing in common - a low body fat percentage. This is more significant that different body types.
  • HarryDHarryD Posts: 424
    At least we can all do something about our own body fat levels, how we train & what goals we set.

    Jan Frodeno's BMI works out at somthing like 20.9 which is similar to Haile Gebrselassie's (2:03:59 marathon) of 20.6 but far greater than Paula Radcliffe's 18.1. James Cracknell who is no slouch comes in at 26.8. (if you believe all the relevant websites)
  • danny_sdanny_s Posts: 235
    It really depends on what your objective is as to whether weights are going to be good for you. Also the type of weights you lift and frequency have a big influence. I'd say that the science really does support the notion that your calorie consumption determines whether you build bulky muscle or become leaner.

    This study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11932584 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20019638 both seem to say that higher weights, lower reps are more inclined to give weight loss. The first is with a non-athletic cohorts, but the notion that low resistance based high rep workouts are good for lean muscle is pretty strongly refuted.

    For triathlon, where your primary goal is endurance performance, this will be different than someone doing strength work for injury prevention or general fitness. I like core and back strengthening exercises since I've got a herniated disk, and it hurts less if the muscles around it are more developed. I don't do leg presses and squats so I can bike faster.
  • 101SUSY101SUSY Posts: 53
    [quote="jon.E"]Body type,genetics etc try not to worry too much about it.
    There is nothing wrong with being different.As Monty Python said."the key elements are Fear and Suprise".

    *Susan rolls about laughing* It doesn't get geekier than this does it - quoting Monty Python on a triathlon forum ! I love it !

    PS I can do fear quite well....
  • Monty Python and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy...
    Um - are we giving our ages away?!!!
    XXX
  • jonEjonE Posts: 1,113
    Curvy_Cactus wrote:
    Monty Python and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy...
    Um - are we giving our ages away?!!!
    XXX
    Maybe if I said that triathlon first grabbed my attention when I was watching an episode of Magnum P.I back in 1981 or was it 1982,I lose track of things too easily these days. (for the geeks I believe the episode was called Beauty knows no pain,last episode season 1.)That might make me too old to be running around in flourescent,gender enhancing clothing
  • jonEjonE Posts: 1,113
    The book Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald does provide a good explanation into the differing anatomies of swimmers/runners etc
  • Hi i swim every day, im not skinny but i am very muscly. It all depends on your metabolism and how many times you train. We are generally slim because swimming is the sport that works every single one of your muscles. We go so fast because its all about being streamline, figure and body state helps that a lot the slimmer and musclier the faster you should go because when your thinner your more streamline and when your musclier you have more stregnth to get through the water faster its all about having the right combination.
  • 101SUSY101SUSY Posts: 53
    Gosh, that's an oldie ! Well, having spent the year doing less and less swimming (really bored to death) and more and more running (marathon training), I can honestly say that I am exactly the same size and shape as when I started ! Bloody endomorph, definitely nature and not nurture in my case !
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