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Training affects the physical development of distance runners and sprinters.
If you walk through bullpens of a track and field event, you can easily distinguish the sprinters and hurdlers from the distance runners. While sprinters appear brawny and muscle-bound, long distance runners can look unnaturally thin if not emaciated. As the distance of the race grows progressively longer, the runner's body becomes smaller and leaner. In addition, speed and power training versus endurance workouts can further accentuate the physical differences between the two types of athletes.
A large percentage of an elite sprinter's musculature consists of fast-twitch -- Type II -- muscle fibers. A Type II fiber has a high anaerobic energy capacity and contraction speed. It's also very elastic. A distance runner has more slow-twitch -- Type I -- muscle fibers, which have a slower contraction speed but a higher aerobic capacity and resistance to fatigue. Subsets of fiber types can exhibit characteristics of both fast- and slow-twitch fibers, according to вЂњRunner's World The Cutting-Edge Runner: How to Use the Latest Science and Technology to Run Longer, Stronger, and Faster." For example, Type IIa fibers can contract forcefully but are not as fatigue-resistant as Type II fibers. Depending on the training method -- speed versus endurance -- Type IIb fibers can transform into either a fast-twitch or a slow-twitch fiber. Although Type I fibers predominate in their musculature, distance runners also have a large number of Type IIb fibers.
While a sprinter's muscles have more fast-twitch fibers, they're also bigger. The larger the muscle, the more force it can produce. A sprinter needs a high knee thrust and powerful arm pump coming out of the blocks and throughout the race, which requires well developed quads, hamstrings, glutes, arms, shoulders, back and chest. To maintain stability and control trunk rotation while rocketing forward, a sprinter also needs strong core muscles. According to вЂњRunning AnatomyвЂќ by Joe Puleo and Patrick Milroy, sprinters have layers of muscle shielding their ribs. Large muscles require a lot of energy from the get-go, which can negatively impact a distance runner's performance. Not only does a distance runner have to haul the extra weight, but that muscle bulk is using up energy and can cause premature fatigue.
Architecture of Leg Muscles
In a 2000 study published in the journal вЂњMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,вЂќ researchers compared the leg muscles of 23 elite sprinters and 24 elite long distance runners via ultrasound imaging. The study revealed that sprinters have thicker quads and calves as well as longer muscle fibers in their leg muscles than those of distance runners. The pennation angle -- the angle in which a muscle contracts and shortens -- in the leg muscles of sprinters is smaller than that of distance runners. Because a muscle with a larger pennation angle contracts at a slower speed than a muscle with a smaller pennation angle, sprinters have the physiological advantage of being better able to produce high-speed contractions in their leg muscles.
Long distance runners are the only group of athletes that have a longer life span than non-athletes, according to вЂњThe End of Ohm: A Science Fantasy for Overcoming Resistance to Lifestyle Change." Rigorous endurance training can improve your cardiovascular system, leading to increases in your VO2 max -- the maximal amount of oxygen uptake -- blood flow and the number of capillaries that supply blood to your muscles. In addition, the muscles of distance runners have more mitochondria, or the powerhouses in a cell that use oxygen to produce energy. In contrast, the muscles of sprinters have fewer mitochondria but a greater number of enzymes required for glycolysis -- a process that breaks down carbohydrates for energy and doesn't require oxygen.