Running like She-Ra: Are strength and speed mutually exclusive?

Angst over this New York Times piece on female tennis players deliberately choosing not to gain muscle because of fears that it looks “unfeminine” made its way through my Facebook feed last week. Reaction bordered on outrage, and it definitely seems crazy that there are professional athletes in this day and age who are more concerned about their appearance than their potential athletic achievements. But for me, this is a debate that comes at an interesting time. I just switched up my strength routine and am now working out with a trainer at a CrossFit gym.


In a perfect world, the perfect me is outraged about this kind of thing. The ideal me is all hard-charging and proud and ready to embrace any extra muscle mass that might come with this new set-up… and not at all wondering what the hell I’m doing WORKING OUT AT A CROSSFIT GYM. But then there’s reality. I want to be stronger, but I also worry: what happens if it actually starts working? Can I be as fast if there is more of me to carry around?

The truly ridiculous part of all of this is that at my age, the chances that I will bulk up in any way are probably pretty slim. Especially with the paltry weights that I’m throwing around. Conventional wisdom would have you believe that there’s nothing but upside. Injury prevention? Check. Increased efficiency? Check. Jason Fitzgerald elaborates on this on Breaking Muscle:

The stronger you get, the more resilient your body will become to the demands of running. The repetitive impact of running won’t wear you down as much. Plus, when you’ve got a strong body, any preexisting conditions will be less likely to worsen. This is because strength training helps to improve structural weaknesses in your body, whether in the muscles, joints, or connective tissues. Often, this will eliminate the source of many common running injuries.

But there are even more benefits to be had from a small, targeted dose of strength training. Strength training also builds core strength, which is particularly important for distance runners. A strong core will not only look great, it’ll also help contribute to better posture throughout the day and while running. This means you’ll be a more efficient runner.

Whether you simply want to run pain-free or you want to shave some time off your favorite distance, strength training will help. Plus, you’ll enjoy many of the other benefits that come with strength training, such as higher energy levels, increased bone density, a stronger metabolism, and less body fat.

He had better not be wrong. I’m not giving up my skinny jeans for nothing.

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