Why do sprinters have powerful upper bodies?

What’s the contribution of arm swing to forward momentum


Arm swing is a natural counterbalance to human motility. The front/back motion of the arms mirrors that of the legs. The quicker the gait, the more quickly the arms must swing in order to keep the human in balance. One “trick” to running faster is to pay attention to swinging the arms faster. Effective arm swing for a sprint involves moving the arm primarily at the shoulder, and the faster the arm moves, the greater momentum it has. Greater momentum brings greater resistance to the muscles that have to move the arm and, presto! you’re getting a light upper body workout.

Also, sprinters are just in real good shape. The low ration of body fat may go a long way in just making them look buff. I could probably take a sprinter…especially a little one. :wink:

icky…I meant “RATIO.” Although I’m pretty sure sprinters don’t eat any more or less human body fat than the rest of us sloths.

All I got to say is what the hell are you talking about?

I ran track in high school and most of the dedicated runners (not the football jocks that had to take track for speed) couldn’t do ten pushups,well maybe ten, but certainly not much more. We’re talking guys who can run a mile in under 5, they tend to heavier on the leg side.

Guys who can run a mile under 5 aren’t sprinters.

When I took track, it was certinainly evident that the sprinters (100m & 400m runners) were a lot more buff than the middle-distance and distance runners (800m & upwards).

Why this is, I’m not sure, but even us distance runners were required to work out our upper bodies. Our coach’s explanation (and you know how accurate high school coaches can be) said the reason was that eventually each muscle was interconnected, so you had to work out all your muscles and not just your legs. Perhaps there’s a grain of truth somewhere in there, but I suspect that’s a grossly simplified explanation.
I don’t think the muscle tone you see with sprinters has anything to do with arm swing and forward momentum.

The OP clearly states sprinters. What you are talking about is long distance runners.

The body is a system of counterbalances and levers. For motion your legs require something to “work against”, particularly while accelerating. So sprinters need bodies that are as powerful as their legs.

Long distance runners are a different case, as bulk is a hindrance over long distances and acceleration is not nearly as important.

My theory is that they don’t. They just look powerful because they are very very thin and have great muscle definition.

I guess it depends by what you mean by powerful. They are not stacked like weight-lifters, or body-builders, but you can be sure that weight-lifters or body-builders can’t sprint, some you suspect couldn’t manage a brisk walk. But in comparison to the average build and the general population they are certainly powerful.

I can assure you that body-builders can run exceptionally fast. They usually walk slowly and clumsily, just like King Kong, but they do it on purpose! :wink:

Part of it is due to the use of (undetectable) steroids and human growth hormone, in combination with weightlifting. If you look at the bodies of sprinters in the 50s-80s, you rarely saw the musculature you see today. (“Flo Jo” was a case in point. Before becoming a notorious sprinting cheat within the T&F community, she was a second-tier sprinter who then paired with a coach noted for his steroid expertise, which subsequently produced an astonishingly ripped and astonishingly fast woman within 4-5 months.)

A more satisfying explanation, however, is that sprinting calls for explosive power. Any sport that requires participants to unleash a tremendous burst of energy will have muscular people. Remember: the arms are also driving you forward, to some degree, during the first 20-30 metres.)

BTW, sprinters today are not “skinny.” Someone who stands 6’ tall, weighs 175 pounds, and has maybe 3 percent body fat is not “skinny” by most measures. Ripped, yes.

In explosive running -sprinting- the athletes are more likely to weight train and train more heavily. Additionally, it would be naive to think that the elite sprinters are not on performance enhancing drugs (anabolic steroids growth hormone and other muscle building drugs)

It continues to boggle my mind how many people think that a few guys do steroids, and some get caught, when reality is: Y’aint got a SHOT…not a shot in hell of being there unless you are on steroids or related drugs.

Like the parents who can’t see that there kid is smoking pot every week, or is wrestling with other drugs and alcohol… to people who know, it’s incredibly obvious that the only people caught using steroids are the ones who didn’t mask them or get off their ‘cycle’ in time.

Sprinters are more likely to weight train, and even modest upper body weight training while on steroids will produce an incredible upper body NOTABLY different than a distance runner…notably more muscular/bigger…and the low body fat makes it even more ripped.

You cannot compete without taking steroids, and sprinters are likely to take them, whereas DISTANCE competitors enhance their capacity to carry oxygen, not build muscle…and this is done through ‘doping’.

In addition to what’s already been mentioned, during heavy and explosive leg training, which is a lot of what sprinters do, pretty much everything attached to the spine contracts or lengthens to some degree, and that’s pretty much everything.

It’s not entirely relative, either–top sprinters have awe-inspiring bench presses.

I ran Cross Country in High School. Our coach was a marathon runner, and stressed full body health, especially upper body strength to balance the leg strength we already had. The shortest race we ran was the Girls 2 mile run. (The last half mile of the girls race is a “sprint” you run all out as hard as you can, building speed until you are going as fast as you can at that point.) After we were done running, we’d hit the gym and work out, with an emphasis on building upper body strength. Not only is it important for overall fitness to have your upper and lower body balanced strength wise, but that upper body strength does actually help the runner distance or not. (Not talking about bulk here, we did “toning” and strength building regimens, our arms weren’t huge.) Whole body strength, and endurance is needful for distance runners.

Here’s an experiment our coach had us do to try to point out his reasoning. Stand up, straight not slouching. Put your weight forwards on your toes, but keep your heels touching the floor. Move your arms in a forwards/backwards motion, first one, then the other so one’s going forward while the other is moving back, move the arms in a fairly straight line, the hands not going above nipple height. Lightly shift your weight so you “bounce” as you do this. Feel the forwards push that arm pump gives you? That’s why runners keep their upper body strong too. You can actually use that momentum to help you a bit. The idea is to help your forwards momentum, and to make the best use of the energy you have. (It bugs me to see distance runners moving their arms side to side, such a waste of energy, and counter productive.)

Reasons listed here.

Another cite

Dr. Stephen M. Pribut’s explanation of the concepts behind whole body strength for distance runners.

The workouts listed here are similar to what we did, but we did more upper body focus.

A neutral take on weight training for distance runners.

Former sprinter here, (not that that makes me an expert, but I was the fastest guy in junior high :stuck_out_tongue: )

Sprinters need upper body strength because it allows for better running form - balance, as stated above, and overall body positioning. The better your balance and positioning, that is, the better your form, the faster you run. Less energy is wasted, more is put into forward motion.

All things being equal, the sprinter whose form breaks down the least wins the race. If you’ve watched or participated in enough races, you’ll recognize the way that the winners usually maintain good form well past the finish line, but many of the losers are twisting about awkwardly as they end the race.

It’s not all about steroids. Bob Hayes, for example, was a top sprinter (and later, a reciever for the Cowboys) was just naturally ripped. You can’t prove a negative, of course, so it’s easy enough to say that everybody who runs fast is using roids. Some top sprinters use legal performance enchancing supplements - like amino acids that boost growth hormone release.

Yep. Compare today’s sprinters to Jesse Owens. Owens was sleek, but not bulging with muscles like today’s crop. Maurice Green claims PEDs are rife throughout the sprint community today, but insists he’s the anamoly, which makes you wonder when you gawk at his frame. Even the women today are ripped, and that simply can’t be attributed to good training, genes and diet.

Olympic cheat Ben Johnson, however, called attention to himself, because of his jaundiced-looking eyes and what everyone in the sprint community said was his “look”–he was overdeveloped even by their standards.

Carl Lewis was another specimen–ripped, by no bulging muscles. Kinda like a cheetah, not a bodybuilder.

Just for the record, distance runners train in the gym with weights just as much (or at least nearly as much) as sprinters. The training is just different. Mid- to long- distance runners want to develop their fast twitch muscle fibers, which are explosively powerful, without being big and bulky. Sprinters aren’t as concerned by this, because they are freight trains that only need to run for a very short time. They develop their slow twitch muscle fibers (like football players) and aren’t afraid of being bulky. Plus, as Zabali_Clawbane starts to point out, your upper body pushes you. One thing not mentioned, and it’s something that coaches of mine have pointed out forever, your legs will only go as fast as your arms are pumping. Sprinters need their upper bodies to be able to keep up with their lower.
One of my coaches was a world record holder (relay anchor). He was built like a tooth pick. Maybe 5’9" and maybe 120 lbs. There was no shoulder press machine out there that he couldn’t stack and do multiple reps on. It was just the method of his training stayed away from anything that would bulk him up. These theories that “they’re using steroids, and therefore are bulking up as a side effect” is not only wrong, but stupid and shouldn’t be perpetuated. Take a look at Carl Lewis. He was rather ripped and bulky, and people aren’t beating his WR by seconds, or even tenths of a second, but hundredths. Training has just evolved to not be afraid of the extra pounds of muscle.
Also, count me among the “naive” people that Philster points to, who think all elite sprinters don’t take steroids. (and all athletes don’t dope, etc) This statement

is not only ridiculous, but it’s made by the parent next door who thinks that their neighbors kids must be on pot, and their parents are naive, but he just doesn’t understand good parenting, and, in fact, the kids AREN’T using pot.
It’s so easy to assume things outside of a sport, but when you meet people with talent that you just simply can’t imagine, you realize that it’s you who needs drugs to compete with those that have talent.

Other way around. Slow twitch fibers are for endurance, fast twitch fibers are for strength & bulk.

I respect your view, but you’re wrong on many counts. I don’t have time to single out each one, but can you tell me the name of your world-record-holding coach who was toothpick thin? I’m fairly savvy when it comes to world-class sprinting (as an observer, of course) and know of no male sprinters who fit this bill in the last 30 years or so.

One point of yours that deserves argument, today’s sprinters are not carrying around extra weight. They are perfectly sized, proportioned and weighted for their event.

Culled from various sources:

“A dynamic and powerful arm drive is crucial to absolute sprint speed, and this machine conditions the upper body accordingly.”"maurice+green"&hl=en

MAURICE GREENE Events: Sprints Height: 5-9 Weight: 176

some good quotes from John Smith “…sprinters need a lot more muscle than long distance runners…the shorter the dash, the more muscular the runner needs to be…” Smith immediately started Greene in the weight room to add the needed muscle to carry him to the world class level. Maurice came to HSI at 155, and now weighs about 175. “…one of the primary purposes of weight training for sprinters is to train the nervous system to produce power while still experiencing fatigue… more body strength, power and bodyweight is REQUIRED to propel the body forward and sustain the speed across the finish line…”"maurice+greene"+WEIGHT&hl=en&start=31

He wasn’t a sprinter, he was a mid-distance runner. His name was Mike Stahr, and he ran in the 80’s. My point with him was that he was just as strong as a bulky sprinter, but with less muscle mass.
And as to the extra weight, being perfectly sized and proportioned doesn’t equal not weighing more than people before. It just means that they figured out what the proper proportion is. I would bet that proportionally, today’s runners are heaver than, say, Jesse Owens. I can’t find Owens’ height and weight right now, so I can’t say for certain. I’ll admit, I was a mid-distance guy, so I don’t know everything there is to know about sprinters, but I did pay attention to them a bit.
ultrafilter is correct, I switched them. Sorry about that. Anyway, please come back when you have time to tell me what I have wrong. (that is absolutly NOT sarcasm, I really would like to know.) Seeing as how I’m watching the Olympics on TV, I definately still have a lot to learn about this stupid sport.

You’d have to catch him first.