One of the biggest discussions among runners is whether squats help or not. There is no doubt that squats help to build strength and muscle, but are muscle and strength beneficial for running?
The answer has multiple sides that are worth knowing and considering, especially if you run competitively or plan on running competitively.
Most online guides say that squats help with running, overall. And while this is true to some degree, the real answer has many layers, especially when taking into consideration short-distance running, long-distance running, and even sprinting.
In this guide, we take an in-depth look at squats and whether they help running – including the benefits of squats, the different types of squats (and what they offer) and, finally, the pros and cons of squats for running.
The Benefits Of Squats
Squats are, without a doubt, the best compound exercise for strengthening the legs and building leg muscle.
Squats, lunges, and all the variations of these are common exercises that should be part of any workout routine, whether done at home or in the gym.
There are numerous benefits to squats. And aside from strengthening and building leg muscles – specifically the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves – squatting also helps to strengthen joints, reduce the risk of leg injuries, and burn fat.
Summarized, the benefits of squatting include:
- strengthening quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves
- building muscle in the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves
- strengthening and improving joint health (ligaments and tendons)
- reducing the risk of leg injuries, especially knee-related injuries
- burning calories and contributing to fat loss
Overall, squats are a necessary part of any workout regimen that benefits strength, fitness, physique, and cardiovascular health, in general.
The Different Types Of Squats
Squats can be performed in a number of different ways, which is worth considering in regard to running.
On the whole, squats can be trained to increase strength, muscle mass, or endurance. Athletes squat to improve one or two of these areas, or all of them, depending on the goal and purpose of their training.
If you see somebody in the gym squatting a heavyweight load for a few repetitions only, it is likely that they are training leg strength.
If someone is squatting a moderate weight load for a moderate number of reps, it would likely be to increase muscle mass and size.
Someone squatting a lightweight load, or no weight at all, for a high number of reps (more than 15) would be to improve leg endurance.
Overall, how squats are trained can have a huge impact on whether or not it helps with running.
Do Squats Help Running?
So, do squats help with running?
As touched on above, there are different ways to train squats, which each have an impact on whether squats can help with running.
On the whole, the simple answer is that squats do help with running. However, the full answer has multiple layers.
Squats will help to build muscle strength, power, and endurance.
And this is obviously going to help with running short and long distances, running uphill (or on difficult terrain), and also sprinting, where power is needed for bullet sprint starts and strong strides.
At the same time, however, squatting – especially squatting for strength and size – can also build muscle mass on the legs.
Having too much leg muscle, such as thick quads, can hinder running movement. In addition, bigger muscles require more energy to power their contractions.
So, in a long-distance race, this is not going to be ideal because fatigue will set in faster.
Going into more detail, squats can help long-distance runners as long as squats are not trained to increase muscle mass to a disadvantageous amount.
This would involve squatting moderate weight loads as well as squatting for endurance.
Squatting to build muscle mass, using heavy weights and moderate reps, can hinder movement while running and also expend more energy in powering muscle contractions, meaning faster onset of fatigue.
Overall, this is the reason why it is not common to see long-distance runners with big, muscular legs.
Long-distance runners tend to have toned legs that are on the slim side, trained for strength and endurance as opposed to the visual aesthetic sought through bodybuilding.
Sprinting, on the other hand, which involves running for speed across a shorter distance, is another matter.
In this case, power and strength is needed as opposed to long-distance endurance, which would involve performing a different squat workout altogether.
Sprint athletes tend to focus on plyometric leg exercises that improve fast-twitch muscle fibers and overall speed or power. This is important for quick sprint starts and strong, powerful strides.
Plyometric exercises are the same as “explosive” exercises, which are also popular among boxers and tennis players. In terms of squatting, this would involve jump squats, box jumps, and more, which build explosive power and muscle in the legs.
As a result, it’s more common to see sprint athletes with strong legs that are muscular but not on the thick or big side in terms of size.
The Pros And Cons Of Squats For Running
As explained above, squats can hinder or benefit running, depending on how they are trained and for what purpose.
So, to conclude, here are the pros and cons of squats for running in general:
Pros Of Squats For Running
- increase leg strength
- improve joint strength, including tendons and ligaments
- improve leg endurance
- improve cardiovascular fitness and health
- improve power (for sprinting, running uphill, and running on difficult terrain), especially if trained explosively or plyometrically
- burn calories and body fat to get in running shape
- reduce the risk of leg injuries through muscular support of the bones and joints
Cons Of Squats For Running
- if trained to build muscle mass (heavy squatting with low reps), squats can hinder running due to increased leg size and greater energy expenditure
Overall, and as you can see, there are more advantages to squatting than disadvantages when it comes to running.
The short answer is that squats can help running.
There are more advantages to squats for running than there are disadvantages, which include improving leg strength, joint strength, power, endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and preventing leg-related injuries.
There are different ways to train squats, however, which is worth taking into account. Squats can be trained to improve strength, power, endurance, and muscle mass.
The only disadvantage is if squatting leads to developing large leg muscles.
Bodybuilder-style training that involves squatting to build muscle mass would be disadvantageous for running due to the larger leg size and the energy needed to power bigger muscle contractions while running, leading to quicker fatigue.
However, if you are not running competitively, how you train squats and your legs in general should not matter overall.