Why Building Muscle Doesn't Build Speed

We all know someone that is wiry thin, and really fast.
If you're involved in sports, especially towards the college level, you also likely know someone who trained to build muscle and then got slower.
The obvious connection here would seem to be that the extra weight you carry when you are bigger and more muscular tends to slow you down.
Truth be told, that is only part of the story.
To understand the other part, picture an elite sprinter running at top speed.
These athletes spend very, very little time on the ground for each stride. In fact, when watching them run they almost appear to be floating just off the ground.
Contrast that to slower athletes, who very clearly spend lots of time on the ground on each sprint stride.
The difference has nothing to do with their muscle mass, but everything to do with their tendon strength.
Tendons are the fibrous structures that connect muscles to bones. They are thicker and less mobile than muscles because their primary role is to create stability in a joint.
They don't expand in size very much at all as they get stronger. Athletes with extremely strong tendons will not visually appear any bigger.
The best way to understand their role is to think of them like the shock absorbers on your car. The less 'give' these shock absorbers allow when gravity pushes you into the ground, the quicker you pop off the ground on every stride.
Of course it is true that we are all born with a baseline level of tendon shock absorbing capability. This is why some people are just faster than others without having to do much.
But just like building muscle is a trainable feature, so is developing the shock absorbing capabilities of your tendons.
And you probably saw this coming, but...
The type of workout that's usually done for building muscle has almost nothing to do with how you'd improve the isometric strength of your tendons.
Yes, adding more muscle in theory will help you to power up in a sprint during the acceleration phase.
And yes, other factors like sprint technique and overall mobility can either increase or decrease your speed potential.
What is overlooked by far too many hard working athletes are the ways you can train your body to prepare for the unique demands placed on it to sprint at faster speeds. It's still kind of a secret weapon for the small number of athletes who know how to train this correctly.
Remember, speed is the skill that is most likely to open doors of opportunity for you at higher levels of your sport.

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