Marathon training demands a large amount of physical energy. Training for a marathon includes long runs, higher overall weekly mileage, and hard interval or tempo runs. Runners all too easily neglect strength training during marathon training, based on the reasoning that they are already working out enough. However, strength training plays a valuable role in preparing for your next marathon, half marathon, or any race – and with the right strength workout for marathon training, you don’t need to sacrifice all of your remaining time and energy to fit it in.
A recent article in the New York Times suggests that marathoners need to incorporate strength training, particularly lower body strength training, into their race preparation. The article discusses a recent study that examined muscle damage and pacing during marathons and half marathons – with interesting conclusions.
According to the researchers, marathoners slowed down more than half marathons at the end of the race. These marathoners were adequately prepared for the distanced – they had undergone a rigorous training program with higher mileage than the half marathons. They were not dehydrated during the race. What the researchers did notice was that their muscles were significantly more damaged.
The researchers concluded that the muscle damage led to the marathoners slowing down during the second half of the race. They hypothesized that long distance running alone does not suffice for marathon training and recommended that marathoners include strength training – focusing on lower body – in their training regimen.
This does not mean you can replace long runs or marathon specific workouts with strength training – you still need to do those in order to run a marathon. But strength training can supplement your training and decrease the risk of muscle fatigue on race day. That’s not to mention the other benefits of strength training – improved body composition, decreased risk of osteoporosis, and a lower risk of injury.
That all said, there’s no need to start Crossfit or heavy Olympic lifting. Nor do you need to strength train daily; two to three sessions of 10-30 minutes of strength training per week provides enough for runners.
I have talked before about why you should strength train during marathon training (in addition to the reasons above) and how to fit strength training into your marathon training. In this post, I want to share what exercises you can do to create a quick and effective strength workout during marathon training.
To make those most of your time at the gym, stick to functional movements. Since leg strength matters for the marathon, focus on lower body exercises. That said, don’t neglect your core or upper body – both of those will help you resist fatigue and muscle damage at the end of the race. Exercises that isolate a small muscle group will not be the best use of your time. Instead try to pick five to eight exercises, focusing on the basic movement patterns and major muscle groups.
The basic movement patterns include:
I also add in an exercise that trains core and hip stability, since the core must be able to stabilize during a run and resist fatigue during such stabilization.
Examples of these movements include:
- Squat (works lower body and core): Bodyweight squat, weighted squat, single leg squats, split squats
- Hinge (works lower body and core): Deadlift, single leg deadlift, kettlebell swing
- Lunge (works lower body and core): Forward lunge, reverse lunge, lateral lunge, pendulum lunge
- Push (works upper body): Push-ups, shoulder presses, bench presses
- Pull (works upper body): Pull-ups, eccentric pull-ups, rows
- Stabilize (works core): Planks, bridges, Pallof press, stability ball pikes, deadbugs
You can also add in exercises that focus on strengthening the hips, as hips can be a weak area for female runners. These exercises include hamstring ball curls, clamshells, donkey kicks, leg lifts, and similar exercises.
Using this structure, you can create a variety of quick yet effective strength workouts to add to your marathon training plan. Pick one or more of each type of exercises, use a weight heavy enough to fatigue your muscles (my personal favorite is a kettlebell), and complete two to three sets of 8-10 reps. The following workout is an example of this type of strength workout – and can be completed in less than 30 minutes.
Quick Marathon Strength Workout
2-3 sets of 8-10 reps:
- Goblet squats
- Weighted Pendulum lunges (forward and back for one rep)
- Weighted Single leg deadlift
- Plank row
- Dead bugs
Ultimately, what makes a difference is consistency – short strength workouts a couple times per week are far better than a couple longer strength workouts per month. Even if you simply do bodyweight lunges, squats, planks, and push-ups after a few easy runs per week, you will notice the difference on race day.
Obviously, you can use this structure of workout for strength training during any type of race training – half marathon, 5K, 10K, ultra, or even base building.
Need more options? Try these workouts that you can do to incorporate strength training into your marathon training plan:
Total Body Medicine Ball Workout
Hip, Core, and Glute Resistance Band Workout
Strength Workout for Running Hills
20 Minute Kettlebell Workout
5 Kettlebell Exercises for Runners
6 Indoor Workouts for Runners
6 Upper Body Workouts for Runners
6 Core Workouts for Runners
Stability Ball Core Workout
Disclaimer: I am a certified running coach, but I am not a certified strength and conditioning coach.
What is your go-to strength workout?
Do you struggle to fit in strength training when training for a race?