9 Reasons You’re Not Building Muscle As A Runner (& What to Do About it)

If you are a runner and are looking to build muscle, then look no further.

In today’s post, I’m going to share with you the eight obstacles standing in your way of achieving a stronger body, along with a few practical tips to help you overcome them.

With that said, don’t get me wrong here.

You don’t need to become a full-time weightlifter, ending up like the Incredible Hulk, to reap the benefits of strength training.

Au contraire my friend, the training guidelines below will help you get strong without getting huge.

In other words, ripped and strong is the way to go.

But first things first, why runners need to strength train?

Keep on reading for the answer…

Strength Benefits For Runners

Getting strong as a runner is going to help you improve your athletic performance, by boosting power in key running muscles.

Also, this reduces the risks of injury, by fixing muscle imbalances and adding support and stability to key areas, such as the knees and hips.

Would you like that? Of course, you do…

In other words, lifting weights is going to help you become a better runner, period.

For more on the benefits of strength training for runners, check my two posts here.

The Seven Best Strength Training Exercises For Runners

8 Strength Training Strategies That Actually Work For Runners

For some of the best runners-friendly strength workout routine, check these three excellent workouts:

The 7 Best Full Body Exercises for Runners

The Top 5 Quadriceps Exercises For Runners

The 7 Best Isometric Exercises for a Full-Body Workout

9 Reasons You’re Not Building Muscle As A Runner

Here are 9 of the main reasons you are not getting strong along with the proper solution and guidelines.

1. Poor Diet

For most runners, consuming the right amount of calories is typically the solution for getting stronger.

In other words, you need to be taking in more calories than you are burning off, period.

Said otherwise, you’d need to create a calorie surplus.

Quantity Matters

Well, as you already know, the human body requires a specific amount of calories to maintain weight. That’s what’s known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR) in the fitness circles.

This BMR varies from one person to the next, depending on many factors, including fitness level, gender, body weight, age, and so on.

But here is the catch.

If you consume fewer calories than your BMR, then chances you are creating a calorie deficit. This means that you are either losing weight, muscle mass, or both.

On the other hand, if you score a higher calorie intake than your BMR, you can see an increase in body weight, again either coming from fat, muscle, or both.

As Well as Quality

And it’s not just about the number of calories; calorie quality is critical too.  That’s why you ought to opt for the right foods that will support muscle growth and promote good health.

The Fix

The first step is to consume enough calories to sustain your running and weight lifting activities.

As a general guideline, to build muscle you need

(1) Enough additional calories to gain a bit of weight each month;

(2) The right amount of protein—roughly 160 to 200 grams of protein per day, depending on your fitness level, training and personal goals; and

(3) A good dose of the healthy fats—aiming for a minimum of 20 percent of your daily calories coming from healthy sources, such as avocados and olive oil.

The Rough Numbers

Aim for at least 20 calories per pound of bodyweight. For instance, a 160- pound runner should consume at least 3000 calories on training days.

Of course, these are just rough suggestions, so feel free to tinker with them in line with your needs and personal preferences.

The second step is to eat clean, the whole time.

As I have already stated, not any food would do the trick.

Instead, you have to go for healthy whole foods all the time, or it’s no deal.

Therefore, make sure to eat plenty of complex carbs, lean sources of protein, and healthy fats such as coconut oil and avocados.

Also, steer clear of fast food and sugary drinks. Resolve to remove junk food from your life. Binging on fast foods and sugary drinks ain’t gonna help you get the muscle you desire.

Your mantra should be “Eat clean. Eat healthy. Then repeat.”

Still, if you are looking for more, then try out the “Paleo diet” or any other proven muscle building nutrition plan.

2. Too Much Running (and Cardio Training)

Although research shows that sticking to a regular running program does not affect muscle gain, running too much can hinder muscle growth.

This is especially the case if you are eating like a bird. (Check mistake No.1)

The reason why is simple: if you are running too much, you might be creating a catabolic (muscle-wasting) environment in your body; this can hinder muscle growth.

The Fix

If your main goal is to get strong, then during the first few months of training, make sure that long runs are not the main focus of your program.

Your top priority during the early stages is getting in, at least, three to four weight training workouts per week.

In other words, prioritize getting strong. And once you’re strong enough, aim to gradually increase the length of your runs.

Also, keep your runs short and intense by doing plenty of interval training workout, whether in the form of Fartlek, sprints, or hill reps.

Why?

High-intensity workouts increase metabolism, sheds mad calories, and, it can also help you  build muscle, according to research,

Not only that, interval runs also recruit more fast-twitch muscle, and boost your overall speed and athletic power.

Here how to proceed on your next sprint session

Start with a five-minute jog as a warm-up.

Next, sprint at 80 percent of your maximum speed for 60 seconds, followed by a two minutes jogging recovery.

repeat for up to seven cycles.

Then finish it with a five-minute jog as a cool down.

3. Bad Form

When it comes to getting the most out of your weight training sessions, efficiency is key.

Here comes the importance of proper weight lifting form.

See, weight lifting is not about lifting weights and putting them down. Weight lifting is more of an art form. If you are doing it right, you are creating a masterpiece.

Proper technique ensures that you are putting the right amount of stress of the right muscle. It also helps you prevent injury and energy waste.

But if you are opting for bad form, then you are better off not training at all. In fact, bad weight lifting form leads to a plethora of problems, including injury, discomfort, mediocre results.

The Fix

The good news is that good form is a matter of practice. The right kind of practice

  • To build and maintain proper weight lifting form, here are a few common traits you need to cultivate:
  • Keep your repetitions slow and controlled. If you’ve to go fast, then do it in a controlled manner.
  • Avoid swinging or using momentum to move weights, or locking your joints out at the top of the movements.
  • Keep breathing throughout the exercises. Holding your breath creates tension, which leads to bad
  • Keep your body straight the entire time. This means that you are not allowed to arc your back, nor rock your body to generate momentum.
  • Quarter or half reps—what’s known as cheat reps—are not allowed.
  • Do not bend at the waist to lift the weights off the floor. Instead, bend at your hips and knees.
  • Keep your core muscle engaged throughout every exercise you do. Doing so can help ward off back problems as well as strengthening your core without doing boring crunches.
  • Be open to feedback from other more experienced gym rats, and feel free to ask for advice when you feel that you need it. Do not let your ego stand in the way.
  • End the set as fast as you can when you start entering the “compromised form” land. Cheating on your exercises does you no good.
  • Whatever you do, Do NOT blindly copy what other gym rats are doing. In fact, that’s how bad form spreads in the first place. Instead, keep the focus on you and your own

4. Not Enough Compound

Classic isolation exercises— moves like bicep curls, calf raises, front raises, and leg extensions — are key for a well-rounded strength training program.

But if you are serious about making the most out of your weightlifting sessions, then compound movements are the way to go.

So what are compound movements?

Also known as s multi-joint exercises (think squats, deadlifts, pullups, push-ups, and bench presses), compound movements engage the largest amounts of muscles, leading to faster strength gains.

These exercises also increase the release of testosterone-key for muscle growth.

The Fix

Follow a balanced dose of the compound to isolation ratio.

As a general guideline, opt for a 2-1 or 3-1 ratio.

This means that for every two to three compound exercises you perform, you do one isolation move.

Also, do the compound movements first (while you are not fatigued), and leave the isolation exercises for last.

Some of the best compound movements include the deadlift, squats, overhead presses, rows, pull-ups, chin-ups, and dips.

5. Sticking to the Same Program

Another reason for your lack of strength gains might boil down to sticking to the same weight lifting routine for too long.

In fact, variety is what keep the muscles growing. It’s also vital for preventing many overuse injuries and staying healthy for the long haul.

The Fix

As a rule of thumb, change up your weight lifting routine as s soon as you stop achieving new gains.

For the beginner, this might take you about 8 to 12 weeks.

Yet, as you get fitter and stronger, you’d need more frequent “workout updates” to keep growing.

In fact, that’s why the majority of elite weightlifters rotate their exercise routines on a weekly basis weekly.

6. Not Keeping Track

To be efficient with your workout routine, you’ll not only need to eat and exercise right, but you’ll also need a training journal.

Said otherwise, you are going to need to keep track of everything.

Well, a good training log is going to help you measure your progress—or lack thereof.

This is going to help you make the right decision, whether it’s related to your running routine, weight lifting program, diet, recovery practices, etc.

As they say, you cannot improve on what you cannot measure, period.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that these training logs are just as important as the training program itself

The Fix

To speed up your strength gains,  keep track of your workouts—running and weight lifting.

Keep tabs on intensity, length, weights sued, reps performed, tempo of the exercises, etc.

Leave nothing to chance.

Also, use the log to track other facets of your training such as energy level, diet, injury and so on.

7. Overtraining

I hate to break it to you, but when it comes to training—whether it’s cardio training or weight lifting, more is not always better.

The reason?

Overtraining leads, sooner or later, to diminishing returns.

In fact, this is a big mistake and can hinder growth and lead to serious health trouble.

Not only that, this also increases the release of cortisol—a stress hormone. This limits muscle building and fitness gains.

The Fix

Make sure to keep your workouts—whether while running or lifting weights—intense and focused.

It’s the quality of the session that matters, not the quantity. That’s why you need to perform every set with intention.

As a general guideline, aim for no more than four sets of three exercises for each muscle group.

And please, and do not perform these exercises more than a couple of time a week at high intensity.

If you are a beginner, start with 30- to 45-minute workouts then build on that. That amounts to six to eight different exercises in your session with proper rest between each set.

You don’t need to do more than that.

So what’s the right amount of weight?

As a general guideline, opt for 60 to 70 percent of your one-rep max. This means a weight you can lift for 12 to 16 reps until you reach complete muscle fatigue.

And please, do not run on the day after a leg-strengthening session. By doing so, you’ll be interfering with recovery, setting the stage for muscle soreness and fatigue.

8. Mediocre Recovery

Consistent strength training has its benefits, but actual muscle growth occurs outside the gym.

How does that happen?

It’s quite simple. Resistance training creates tears in the muscle tissue.

But when you are recovering and going about your daily life that’s when the actual growth takes place.

In other words, what you do outside of the gym is as much as important as the training routine itself.

Skip recovery, then expect fitness plateaus, chronic fatigue, and other serious health issues.

The Fix

Make sure to ingrain proper recovery practices into your training program.

For starters, space out your hard workouts with a recovery day—even if you didn’t feel the nest for rest. And do not train the same muscle group in less than 24 hours.

Furthermore, post-workout recovery meals should be a priority. According to research, a blend of carbs and lean protein speeds recovery post-workout.

So, focus on eating high-quality foods, especially complex carbs and lean sources of protein.

Sleep is important, too. Enough sleep is vital for creating an optimal hormonal environment for muscle growth and proper recovery.

Aim for at least eight hours of high quality and uninterrupted sleep during the night’s time.

9. Inconsistent Training

In the end, the real key to success lies in your consistency. In fact, consistency and fitness gains—whether on running track or in the gym—go hand in hand.

So whatever you choose to do, please be consistent.

On the other hand, if you are not consistent enough with your training program, you’ll not achieve any drastic progress. Inconsistent training brings regress, not progress. You’ll be only wasting your time and energy if you keep on skipping on your workouts.

And this is true even if you are following the best weight lifting strategies in the world,

The Fix

Set long-term goals, and do what you have to do to stay on track— week after week, month after month, year after year.

But how much consistent is consistent?

Well, the answer to that question varies, but as a rule of thumb, make sure to hit the weight room at least three times a week. Every week.

Also, set realistic goals and keep re-adjusting them on a regular basis. These are going to have a great impact on your motivation for both the short the long term.

Here is the full guide to setting good fitness goals.

Conclusion

There is no such thing as the magical pill that’s going to help you build muscles. And most definitely, you won’t find it in here.

When it comes down it, getting strong is the result of experience, consistency and a long process of trial and error, period.

No more.

No less.

So get ready to embrace the process, buddy. And the rest will be history.

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David Dack

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