Sprinter vs. Distance Runner

Sprinters have a higher composition of fast-twitch muscle fibers.
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Running is a common form of physical exercise. It is often used as a method to lose excess weight and achieve remarkable athletic feats. Many people strive to see just how fast or how long they can run. Athletes often participate in long-distance or sprinting competitions. Sprinting and long-distance running are fundamentally distinct, but each has peculiar characteristics that require good physical fitness and training.


Sprinters and distance runners run different races. Sprint races cover relatively short distances, such as the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes. Long-distance races cover such distances as 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and marathons, which are typically more than 22 miles. Optimal performance in long-distance races requires endurance and usually a lean physique.


The goal of physical training is to prepare your body for certain physical activities that require extra effort. Because sprinting and long-distance running are two different physical activities, their training programs are different. Sprinters primarily focus on strength training or anaerobic exercise, which can fuel quick bursts of speed and strength. Short, intense interval training are common training activities of sprinters. The training program of long-distance runners mostly consists of relatively light and prolonged exercises to improve endurance.


Your body adapts to the type of physical exercise that you regularly perform, aerobic vs. anaerobic. The muscles of long-distance runners have high levels of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are designed for endurance. Sprinters have higher levels of fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are designed for speed and strength. Depending on their training method, runners can alter their ratio of slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers. A 2012 article from the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" indicates training may change an athlete's muscle fiber composition.


Sprinters and long-distance runners face different injury risks. Because sprinting puts intense pressure on the muscles, sprinters are often at risk of acute injuries such as a pulled hamstring muscle. A study published by the "British Journal of Sports Medicine" suggests that sprinters are highly susceptible to hamstring injuries. Long-distance runners are at a risk of more gradual injuries such as knee pain, shin splints, dehydration, muscle cramps and sunburn. Proper equipment, training and safety precautions are essential to avoid injuries in both sprinting and long-distance running.

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