3

votes

Why can I gain lean mass/strength, but running speed eludes me?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created October 15, 2012 at 2:34 PM

I have been Crossfitting for over a year now. I've dropped a net of around 35 lb., but in there is a significant lean mass gain (15-20 lb. at least) because I went from over 40% body fat to somehwere around 27% currently.

I've done paleo-style clean eating for much of the year and have put on muscle and gained strength nicely - I'm a 5'6" 180/185-ish lb. woman (135 lb. or so lean mass) who can now deadlift 255, front squat 190, etc.

I just ran my first road race - a 5k. It went well, but I was still annoyed to find my legs pooping out on uphill stretches. My overall time was a hair over 33 minutes, so I was averaging roughly 11 minute miles.

So, why has my strength stuff done decently, but my running stuff stayed mostly the same?

I'm curious: Is a body type that "easily" (with training and eating right) adds muscle mass also a body type that does not naturally earn parallel gains in running speed and endurance?

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 17, 2012
at 12:06 PM

Very helpful, thank you!!

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 17, 2012
at 11:53 AM

OK...I see CD's point and understand his number-crunching. However, I did not say "40%", I said "over 40%". My first body fat assessment in January AFTER 3 months of Crossfitting DURING which I had already lost a net of +/-16 lb. had me as follows: 38% body fat, 77.85 lb. fat mass, 126 lb. lean mass. <-- I'm attributing a significant lean mass gain as having happened in the 3 month period - the first 3 months of Crossfitting, having previously been sedentary - before that as well. I'll never be able to get uberprecise numbers for the entire period, but now does general idea make more sense?

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 17, 2012
at 11:50 AM

OK...I see CD's point and understand his number-crunching. However, I did not say "40%", I said "over 40%". My first body fat assessment in January AFTER 3 months of Crossfitting DURING which I had already lost a net of 16 lb. had me as follows: 38% body fat, 77.85 lb. fat mass, 126 lb. lean mass. <-- I'm attributing a significant lean mass gain as having happened in the 3 month period - the first 3 months of Crossfitting, having previously been sedentary - before that as well. Now do the numbers make more sense?

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on October 16, 2012
at 11:41 AM

*btw, I mean lean body and not lean mass too, sorry for the typographical error

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on October 16, 2012
at 11:41 AM

@Jake it does. it effects body fat percentage. ~familygrokumentarian, I don't disagree with the BF%s, I disagree with the assertion that, "significant lean mass gain (15-20 lb. at least)" (of course you mean lean body and not lean mass, but still). @185 and 27% BF that leaves 135 lbs lean mass. @220 and 40% BF that leaves 132 lbs lean mass. Thus you gained 3 lbs lean mass -- Still impressive and significant, but not "at least 15 lbs"

Medium avatar

(2338)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:59 AM

......how does GAINING 15 pounds of muscle increase total fat loss?

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 15, 2012
at 04:25 PM

Constructive AND compassionate, thanks for the wise words, Dan!

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 15, 2012
at 04:07 PM

That test looks like fun...wish I had the kind of giraffe money to run that. Right now, my goal is just overall fitness, strength, wellness, health, and a generally leaner physique. No comparatively huge running/training-to-run goals - basically, I'd be thrilled to eventually get that mile pace under 10 minutes if I ran another 5k.

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 15, 2012
at 03:55 PM

Thanks, Steve. Let's just say that I would like to some day enjoy being able to run the 8-9 minute mile paces that other women at my box regularly run. It's worth noting that at our box, the workouts will often involve one or more legs of 200, 400, 800 meters mixed in with other stuff, and an occasional longer run workout maybe once/month.

59fa7cd87fb9d669adf21e5cf3e7ada5

on October 15, 2012
at 03:50 PM

I wouldn't say that 11 minutes is slow for someone who does not run, you did well to finish the 5k at all.

A2c38be4c54c91a15071f82f14cac0b3

(12682)

on October 15, 2012
at 03:47 PM

I'm also interested, though I am the exact opposite.

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 15, 2012
at 03:44 PM

I don't necessarily have the goal of becoming a crazy-fast runner...I'm just aware that 11 minutes/mile is pretty slow for someone who's been doing HIIT, weight training, and the odd metcon on a regular basis for a whole year. At my current weight I still have about 135 lb of lean mass, ~50 lb. of fat mass. 50 lb. fat/185 lb. = 27% body fat, and the lean/fat mass numbers were calculated by a trained person using skin calipers and a tape measure. If I were 20% BF I'd look just a couple of percentage points off of being a swimsuit model...one look in the mirror tells me that I am not there.

Cebbca9a78d5612bf3468b273c2010d5

(452)

on October 15, 2012
at 03:23 PM

Interested to see the answers here, as I am the exact same way!

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 15, 2012
at 02:42 PM

Helpful, thanks! We do have sprint intervals at our box...hopefully they'll continue to chip away at my running times.

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6 Answers

4
71bd25c5d978d8b008d9c56967f7cac1

(290)

on October 15, 2012
at 04:21 PM

I have a two pronged answer.

Prong 1: Don't be discouraged, you've come a great long way and made some incredible improvements to your body and health, don't let a silly 5k detract from that! Celebrate the distance you've covered. There's nothing wrong with wanting to keep improving but I couldn't help but get the scent of discouragement in your original post. A positive mental attitude while training cannot be undervalued.

Prong 2: A 33 minute 5k for a beginner (you've said it was your first road race) is not that bad. Crossfit has so many facets that it's hard to see measurable gains in all of them all at once. For as much strength as you've gained therefore, it does not surprise me that running has lagged behind a bit. I share a similar experience with running. As far as improving I have two suggestions, the first is to take a look at your running form, there is much to be said about being efficient while running; there is a woman at our box who looks like she is running 6 minute miles but actually ends up running something closer to 9 minutes, she's working much harder than she needs to be. Youtube Running Correction Take a look at this video posted by HQ, though his problems might not be your problems, taping yourself running and slowing it down is a great way to notice inefficiencies. I do the same for my Olympic lifts. Finally, take a look at CrossFit Endurance and maybe try incorporating an endurance WOD once a week.

Hope that helps!

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 15, 2012
at 04:25 PM

Constructive AND compassionate, thanks for the wise words, Dan!

4
59fa7cd87fb9d669adf21e5cf3e7ada5

on October 15, 2012
at 02:42 PM

You didn't mention how you are training as far as running goes, you have to train for running by running.

Then add to that you have to train to run faster by running faster.

2
3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on October 15, 2012
at 03:29 PM

I think your math is a little off. If you started at 215lbs (current weight 180 + 35 lbs net loss), and loss 35 lbs while gaining 15 lbs lean mass that would equate to a total of 50 lbs of fat loss. That would put you at 20% BF not 27%. Although that is not really the point of this post.

Significant gains in musculature equate to slower performance in endurance, look at Mo Farah's body. If you are trying to improve your 5k time then I would quit the crossfit, and put in a twice a week, compound functional strength program that maxes out in the 2-3 rep range. Then I would put in 5 days of running with 2 training days, 2 recovery days, and 1 long run.

Deadlifts/squats/etc do not help power you up hill -- runners use these lifts to improve pacing and reduce injuries.

59fa7cd87fb9d669adf21e5cf3e7ada5

on October 15, 2012
at 03:50 PM

I wouldn't say that 11 minutes is slow for someone who does not run, you did well to finish the 5k at all.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on October 16, 2012
at 11:41 AM

*btw, I mean lean body and not lean mass too, sorry for the typographical error

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 15, 2012
at 03:44 PM

I don't necessarily have the goal of becoming a crazy-fast runner...I'm just aware that 11 minutes/mile is pretty slow for someone who's been doing HIIT, weight training, and the odd metcon on a regular basis for a whole year. At my current weight I still have about 135 lb of lean mass, ~50 lb. of fat mass. 50 lb. fat/185 lb. = 27% body fat, and the lean/fat mass numbers were calculated by a trained person using skin calipers and a tape measure. If I were 20% BF I'd look just a couple of percentage points off of being a swimsuit model...one look in the mirror tells me that I am not there.

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 15, 2012
at 03:55 PM

Thanks, Steve. Let's just say that I would like to some day enjoy being able to run the 8-9 minute mile paces that other women at my box regularly run. It's worth noting that at our box, the workouts will often involve one or more legs of 200, 400, 800 meters mixed in with other stuff, and an occasional longer run workout maybe once/month.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on October 16, 2012
at 11:41 AM

@Jake it does. it effects body fat percentage. ~familygrokumentarian, I don't disagree with the BF%s, I disagree with the assertion that, "significant lean mass gain (15-20 lb. at least)" (of course you mean lean body and not lean mass, but still). @185 and 27% BF that leaves 135 lbs lean mass. @220 and 40% BF that leaves 132 lbs lean mass. Thus you gained 3 lbs lean mass -- Still impressive and significant, but not "at least 15 lbs"

Medium avatar

(2338)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:59 AM

......how does GAINING 15 pounds of muscle increase total fat loss?

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 17, 2012
at 11:50 AM

OK...I see CD's point and understand his number-crunching. However, I did not say "40%", I said "over 40%". My first body fat assessment in January AFTER 3 months of Crossfitting DURING which I had already lost a net of 16 lb. had me as follows: 38% body fat, 77.85 lb. fat mass, 126 lb. lean mass. <-- I'm attributing a significant lean mass gain as having happened in the 3 month period - the first 3 months of Crossfitting, having previously been sedentary - before that as well. Now do the numbers make more sense?

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 17, 2012
at 11:53 AM

OK...I see CD's point and understand his number-crunching. However, I did not say "40%", I said "over 40%". My first body fat assessment in January AFTER 3 months of Crossfitting DURING which I had already lost a net of +/-16 lb. had me as follows: 38% body fat, 77.85 lb. fat mass, 126 lb. lean mass. <-- I'm attributing a significant lean mass gain as having happened in the 3 month period - the first 3 months of Crossfitting, having previously been sedentary - before that as well. I'll never be able to get uberprecise numbers for the entire period, but now does general idea make more sense?

1
62fafa8cb15af7c562fa8c270f7b6174

on October 16, 2012
at 02:46 AM

Crossfit Journal recently had some videos with Nicholas Romanov trying to teach a training method called 'Pose' to a heavily muscled crossfit athlete. Kind of awkward videos got me thinking about the difference between the lessons of distance running and crossfit.

One aspect of 'Pose' should be very easy to understand for a crossfit athlete who knows that olympic lifts are all about efficient posture beneath the bar. This is the concept of posture, balancing your weight over your bones and joints rather than holding yourself in a posture with muscular tension.

The big learning curve seems to be related to the Pose idea that any muscular contraction which doesn't move you foward, interferes with foward motion. So, there is always some core engagement, but you'll have a lot of habitual muscular tension while sprinting that works against you. Running faster should always mean running 'easier', using fewer muscles and more relaxed focus.

Crossfit doesn't encourage you to run far. Running efficiency is not about intensity. The best way to learn to let go of non-productive muscular tension and find your most efficient posture is to run for longer distances in the woods at slower pace. Focus on efficient breath and posture will strip away the muscular tensions that become more evident the longer your run.

Running faster is not about pounding pavement harder, it requires an almost silent footstrike and efficient turnover with a relaxed foot. Mountain trails or any non-paved surface requires a relaxed foot ready to adapt to the uneven surface. The woods distract and relax you, until you fantasize about predatory cats or Freddy Krueger and that's just a bonus adrenaline to make the next mile go by faster. You get tired after the adrenaline rush, and once more must focus on deep breathing and moving foward using less muscular energy.

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 17, 2012
at 12:06 PM

Very helpful, thank you!!

1
47edf681280750c3712a3a56f2eae33b

on October 15, 2012
at 03:21 PM

I heard about genetic testing to determine whether a person is good at strength and power or speed and endurance. You definitely sound more like a strength and power person based on your training preference and 5k times. A 5k is a sprint and 11 minutes is pretty slow, especially on a flat course. I think you'd probably have to decide what kind of athlete you want to be and train towards that end result. I'm a runner, I know that the crossfit is a recipe for injury when it comes to my training, but I see the power guys at my gym and I know that we are two different types of body types, for sure. I think genetic testing for physical attributes and output somewhat problematic, especially when used on children but it is interesting. I wrote a play about it, and here is the link I used for my research. http://www.atlasgene.com/

Enjoy what you do!

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 15, 2012
at 04:07 PM

That test looks like fun...wish I had the kind of giraffe money to run that. Right now, my goal is just overall fitness, strength, wellness, health, and a generally leaner physique. No comparatively huge running/training-to-run goals - basically, I'd be thrilled to eventually get that mile pace under 10 minutes if I ran another 5k.

1
E17fe88b98575c183241fba50ae42b93

(398)

on October 15, 2012
at 02:40 PM

I can't answer your question, but I do know that when I added plyometrics and sprint intervals, my pace and running endurance improved quite a bit.

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 15, 2012
at 02:42 PM

Helpful, thanks! We do have sprint intervals at our box...hopefully they'll continue to chip away at my running times.

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