Does Running Build Muscle?

Does running help build muscle? The relationship between running and muscle building is multifaceted. Running is often classified as a cardiovascular exercise, given its ability to improve heart health, boost lung capacity, and increase overall endurance. But does it build muscle? The answer depends on the type of running and the intensity and duration of the run (Mikkola et al., 2012).

Long-distance running, characterized by steady, continuous effort over extended distances, primarily engages slow-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers are resistant to fatigue and excel in long-duration, low-intensity activities. While they become more efficient through training, they do not typically experience significant hypertrophy or growth in size (Fitts et al., 1984).

On the other hand, sprinting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) predominantly engage fast-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers, responsible for quick and powerful movements, have a higher capacity for growth compared to slow-twitch fibers (Tesch, 1988). Hence, short bursts of intense running or sprinting can indeed lead to muscle development, particularly in the lower body, including the calves, quadriceps, and gluteal muscles (Mikkola et al., 2012).

Moreover, running on varied terrain, such as hills or trails, can introduce elements of resistance and plyometric training. This can stimulate greater muscle engagement and potential growth (Gottschall & Kram, 2005).

However, it’s worth noting that the muscle development potential of running is typically not as high as resistance or weight training exercises. For maximal hypertrophy, these exercises are generally more effective as they place greater stress on the muscle fibers, causing more significant microdamage and subsequently leading to more muscle growth during the repair process (Schoenfeld, 2010).

To summarize, while long-distance running may not contribute substantially to muscle growth, high-intensity running, sprinting, and running on varied terrain can promote muscle development to a certain extent. However, for those aiming for significant muscle hypertrophy, incorporating resistance or weight training exercises into their fitness regimen is recommended.


Fitts, R. H., Costill, D. L., & Gardetto, P. R. (1984). Effect of swim exercise training on human muscle fiber function. Journal of Applied Physiology, 56(3), 831-838.

Gottschall, J. S., & Kram, R. (2005). Ground reaction forces during downhill and uphill running. Journal of Biomechanics, 38(3), 445-452.

Mikkola, J., Vesterinen, V., Taipale, R., Capostagno, B., Häkkinen, K., & Nummela, A. (2012). Effect of resistance training regimens on treadmill running and neuromuscular performance in recreational endurance runners. Journal of Sports Sciences, 30(14), 1487-1495.

Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.

Tesch, P. A. (1988). Skeletal muscle adaptations consequent to long-term heavy resistance exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 20(5 Suppl), S132-134.