The idea of adding strength training into marathon training can sound daunting. You are running more miles than normal, with longer long runs and harder workouts. The sheer volume of running alone is tiring. However, it’s worth taking the time and energy to strength train during marathon training, even at the expense of a few miles.
I’ve talked plenty before about the benefits of strength training for runners – and those benefits are even more applicable for the physical demands of the marathon. Why should you incorporate strength training into marathon training? Let’s look at some reasons.
Lower Injury Risk
For some runners, marathon training and injury are almost synonymous. Marathon training requires higher mileage, which in turn increases repetitive stress. If you have muscular imbalances, the increased load can stress your body to the point of injury. A majority of running injuries are due to overuse.
For example, if you have weak glutes, your hamstrings take over. However, your hamstrings are a smaller muscle group than your glutes and can withstand less loading. At 25 miles per week, this might not cause a problem. Once you increase your mileage to 40-50 miles per week, the loading causes tightness in your hamstrings. With enough time, that tightness causes injury such as high hamstring tendinopathy, a hamstring strain, or another injury along your kinetic chain.
Strength training does exactly what the name states: you strengthen muscle groups so that they work properly when you run. When your glutes take on the appropriate amount of work and your core is strong enough to maintain good form, your chance of injury reduces, even as you increase your mileage.
Avoid Hitting the Wall
Runners slow down at the end of a marathon for multiple reasons: poor pacing, inadequate fueling, or muscle damage.
A 2017 study in Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that the marathon induces a high amount of muscle damage. (No one who has run a marathon is at all surprised by this.) The most interesting part, however, is a conclusion from one of the lead researchers. All of the runners in the study were experienced and well-trained, which means the marathons ran high mileage in training. The lead researcher concluded that long-distance training alone does not prepare the body for the marathon. Runners must strength train, especially their lower body, so that their muscles can withstand the hours of pounding in the marathon.
The stronger your muscles are, the longer it will take for those muscles to fatigue. Your aerobic system can be top-notch, but your race could still fall apart because your quads feel trashed by mile 18. If you are properly trained and have strong muscles, your body will experience less muscle damage and you can hold your pace for longer through the final 10K.
Improved Running Economy
One of the many benefits of strength training for runners is that it improves running economy. Running economy is the amount of oxygen you consume at a given pace – essentially, how efficiently you run at a given pace. Generally, running economy is considered an indicator of marathon performance; the more efficiently you use oxygen, the faster you run over the course of 26.2 miles.
Biomechanics and neuromuscular function factor into running economy – and strength training improves both of those. Several studies, such as a 2017 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, find that strength training improves running economy, and therefore running performance, in long-distance runners.
How to Incorporate Strength Training into Your Marathon Training
- Double Workouts: Run in the morning and strength train in the evening, or strength train immediately after your run. Follow these tips for successfully doing two-a-day workouts without overtraining.
- Aim for Quality, Not Quantity: Not every strength workout needs to be 60 minutes of heavy lifting. Ten to twenty minutes of strength training is effective, especially if you choose compound, functional movements.
- Focus on Consistency: Whether you opt for a few shorter strength workouts or one longer one, consistency is what matters. Structure your strength training so that you can maintain it as your overall training load increases.
Try one of these strength training workouts for marathoners:
Quick and Effective Strength Workout for Marathon Training
Hip, Core, and Glute Resistance Band Workout
Functional Kettlebell Workout for Runners
Functional Kettlebell Workout for Runners
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Do you add in strength training to your marathon training?