There is a wealth of information out there when it comes to health and fitness – on the internet, in magazines, with friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, the local gym instructor, your kirana shopkeeper, your cousin who lost 40 kgs, your sister’s brother-in-law who has built muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger – loads of information and lots of advice. But, which one do you pay attention to? Everyone has a different story to tell, which is natural because each body responds to exercise differently. So while someone says running and cardio causes catabolism or muscle breakdown, others are of the opinion that cardio exercises are a must no matter what your goal is. So, how do you filter out what is good for you?
What happens when you run?
Let us first understand what goes on inside your body when you run.
At first, running appears to be quite an ordeal. You do not have stamina, you cannot run for as long as you would have wanted to, or your legs give up, you tend to breathe really heavy and often go out of breath. If all this has happened to you in your initial days of running or is happening to you, now that you have taken to running – relax! This is normal. A lot of intricate things go on inside your body when you run which you may not be aware of. When you start running, unlike in some cardio exercises, you use all the muscles in your body. This makes running one of the most effective forms of cardio exercise.
While running, as you breathe, your lungs receive oxygen and your heart pumps the oxygenated blood into your muscle fibers. That is why you breathe heavily and your heart rate is much faster than when you are at rest. You will also notice that once you start running regularly, your heart rate, in general, will be slightly higher than it was before you started exercising, and you will also be breathing faster than you used to. This is because your metabolism has increased.
Muscles need ATP or adenosine triphosphate as energy and your body usually produces as much as is required at a given time. Once you start running, the ATP requirement of your muscles go up and your body starts to create more of these energy molecules. This also manifests as breathing fast and heavy.
After a few months of regular running, you will notice your stamina has increased by far. Earlier, if you could run for 2 minutes only without stopping, now that would have increased to around 10 minutes, depending on your fitness level. If you keep at it, your muscles will start breaking down glycogen to provide more ATP for the body. Soon you will notice that your stamina has increased manifold – you will notice that climbing up four flights of stairs, which previously used to feel like a huge climb, doesn’t seem so hard anymore.
And what happens when you lift weights?
Well, that’s about running. Now, a number of things happen inside your body when you start lifting weights as well. When you lift weights, your muscle tissues undergo a lot of wear and tear. Hence your body starts aching after a workout. This is also the reason why experts advise against training the same muscle groups on consecutive days – because your muscles need some time to recover, though full recovery can take over a week. Having said that, it is also important that you keep challenging your body – that’s when the change starts happening.
The underlying principle is rather simple. When you do weighted movements, your muscle tissues are actually undergoing micro tears all over them. When you stop, your muscles start to recover. When you make the same muscles work again after a day’s rest, they are again subjected to microwear and tear, and the cycle follows. This helps muscles to develop endurance, strength and the ability to recover quickly.
Training with weights also helps in improving posture and improving body shape. For example, Sumo Squats are a great way to develop thigh gap in women. Shoulder Press helps you develop your shoulders and Bench Press helps lift a sagging chest.
How do you build muscles?
But, is building muscles as simple as lifting a few kilos of dumbbells in the gym? Absolutely not. There’s a lot more than what meets the eye. Building muscles is sheer science – the more you follow the rules, the better results you will get.
Training with weights is advised for everybody, because that is what builds strength, fixes your posture and tones your body. But that is not going to help you build big guns. In order to get bigger muscles, experts advice high-intensity weight training of low duration. So, if you are trying to get bigger biceps – you should pick really heavy weights and do not more than 10 repetitions at a time. Another question you may ask is: how heavy is ‘really heavy’? Well, that depends on your fitness level. Ideally, if you are trying to build bigger muscles, you should opt for a weight that is just about right – that feels heavy enough for you to want to let it go at the earliest, but not heavy enough to prevent you from doing the exercise with correct form.
Also, as we have mentioned in our related posts, fitness and bodybuilding is 80 percent nutrition and 20 percent exercise. The same rule, therefore, applies when it comes to building big muscles. If you want an increase in mass – you will have to eat more. That does not mean you get a guilt-free pass to eating whatever junk you feel like. You will still have to eat extremely clean, but increase the consumption of proteins. So instead of having one chicken breast – you will have to eat 2 or 3, instead of 2 egg whites, you will have to have 6 egg whites, so on and so forth.
So, should you be running if you are trying to build muscles?
Now, that you are clear on what each of the two types of exercise does for you, let’s move on to the real question – should you be running if you are trying to build muscles?
When you run, your body utilizes energy. If you run regularly, your metabolism is naturally heightened and your body is in constant requirement of energy. So, if you run more, and if your body does not have enough supply of energy, your cells will turn to muscles for energy as muscles contain calories and can be broken down faster than fat reserves. This will lead to shrinking of the muscles or catabolism in medical terms. Therefore, technically speaking, if your goal is to build big muscles, running can negate your efforts. The immediate solution in your mind would be to ditch the running shoes from now on. But hang in there a while!
To reiterate what we have already mentioned above, running helps you build stamina which is extremely important for your well-being. So doing away with it in totality is definitely not an option you should even be looking at. Instead, if your goal is to build gigantic muscles, your workout routine should consist of about 45 minutes of weight lifting and not more than 15 minutes of running. Running very fast or for longer distances will burn more calories and might lead to catabolism of the muscles. In fact, not just running, any kind of cardio workout done for prolonged duration, or in very high intensity will burn more calories and may cause muscle shrinkage. That is why you should not do High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT unless your goal is to burn off fat because HIIT spikes your metabolism like nothing else.
Irrespective of your ultimate fitness goal, whether you want to shrink your size or gain more mass – the key is to push yourself and keep your body guessing. So if you want to lose weight, push yourself in terms of higher repetitions, higher intensity and lots of cardio. If you want to pack more muscles, think in terms of higher intensity, low cardio and low repetitions. In case of the latter, you may also want to add a pre-workout and a post workout meal to keep the flow of energy coming. If at any point you feel tired or exhausted, stop! Your body is telling you that your muscles need rest – listen to it.
To sum it up, never do away with running as it will keep the fat away and build stamina. But, when you are focusing on building muscles, limit running or any other form of cardio to only about 15 minutes of your workout.