I have a confession: during the peak of marathon training (even sometimes half marathon training), I slack on strength training. You can see it in my race photos: my arms and shoulders look soft. After months of increasing mileage and hard running workouts during my Portland Marathon training, I am excited to shift back to a more balanced routine of running and strength training. I have so much more energy and there is more time in the day to lift weights and strengthen my core when I’m only running 30-40 miles per week rather than 50-60.
While strength training during marathon (and any race distance) training is important for building speed and reducing the risk of injury, the recovery and base building period after race training is the optimal time to incorporate a regular routine of resistance and strength training into your routine. Why?
It fits into your schedule without overstressing your body.
Overloading is a significant principle in training, but too much overloading can lead to overtraining. A good rule of thumb is to include only 2-4 hard efforts each week. These workouts include hard running efforts, strenuous cross-training sessions, and demanding supplemental training workouts such as weightlifting. When you are doing a speed workout, tempo run, and long run each week, that only leaves room for at most one more challenging workout for the week. Oftentimes, during the peak of training, those difficult runs are enough of a challenge for us, both mentally and physically.
Once you finish a race, most of your runs will be easy efforts focused on building a strong endurance base. Now that you’re not doing hard running workouts each week, you can add in 2-3 effective strength training sessions without building up too much fatigue or risking overtraining.
It increases your metabolism.
I was sick with GI problems the week after the marathon, so I barely ate, but once my stomach felt better, my appetite raged. Even though my mileage last week was paltry compared to my marathon training mileage, my stomach did not get the memo. I always listen to my body’s hunger cues, so of course I ate to satiate my hunger. I never want to advocate dieting and restricting, since healthy eating and consuming sufficient calories is essential for remaining a healthy athlete; however, I know that I also don’t want to gain weight during this off-season, especially with the holiday approaching. The solution? Resistance training and weightlifting increases your muscle mass; the higher percentage of muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism.
It presents a new stimulus to your training.
If you run 15 miles every Saturday, mile repeats every Tuesday, and a 4 mile tempo run every Thursday, eventually your body will adapt to this routine and you will plateau. Adding weight lifting into your weekly routine will surprise your body with a new stimulus to which it must adapt. As you adapt, your fitness will improve. The new stimulus is mentally beneficial as well, especially as the recovery and base building periods emphasize easy runs over more exciting speed workouts and you may find yourself getting bored with just easy running.
Many of us runners are task- and goal-oriented people. We are all familiar with that restlessness that emerges after a race, when you are tempted to start training again for another race and another PR. Rather than jumping back into training too soon (you really should focus on base building at least for a few weeks!), developing and adhering to a new strength training routine will provide you with a goal to aim for without risking overtraining or hindering your recovery.
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Doesn’t that make you want to reach for a set of weights and start lifting? You don’t have to do anything crazy; this isn’t about bodybuilding (unless you want it to be!). The total body strength training routine I offer below will work all of your muscle groups with just your own bodyweight and a few dumbbells. I use 10-15 lb dumbbells; you should use a weight that you can manage for all of the prescribed reps while maintaining proper form. It’s always better to start light and build your way up!
All of these moves can be done with a kettlebell as well for an extra challenge!
Goblet Squats: Hold a dumbbell in front of your chest with both hands and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower your butt down and back into a squat, with your knees are at right angles and behind your toes and your thighs parallel to the ground. Engage your glutes and push your hips forward to stand. Repeat 12-15 times.
Single Leg Deadlift to Reverse Lunge: Begin standing on your right leg. Keeping your back flat, hinge forward at your hips and extend your left leg back and your arms towards the ground, so that your body forms a T. Pause, and then slowly return upright. Immediately drop your left leg back into a reverse lunge, pause, and then return to start. Repeat 12-15 times and then switch to the other leg.
Woodchop: Hold a dumbbell in front of you with both hands and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Raise the dumbbell above your right shoulder and rotate your torso to the right. In a single movement, lower the dumbbell to your left hip, rotate your torso to the left, and come into a half squat. Reverse the movement to return to start. Complete 12-15 reps and then repeat on the other side.
Single Arm Push Press: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your abs engaged. Hold a dumbbell by your right shoulder with your right hand. Squat slightly and then push up, pressing the weight up until your arm is extended straight. Pause and slowly lower the weight. Repeat 12-15 times and then switch arms.
Lunging Row: Hold a dumbbell in your right hand. Step your right leg back into a lunge, except keep your right legs straight rather than bent at a right angle. Your left leg should be parallel to the floor and your left knee should be in line with your ankle. Hinge forward slightly at the hips and keep your back straight and abs engaged. Slowly pull the weight up to your right shoulder., keeping your bent elbow tucked close to your body. Lower the weight down to complete one rep. Perform 12-15 reps on each side.
Single Leg Bicep Curls: Stand on your right leg and bend your left knee so that your left leg is raised off the ground. The closer your left thigh is to parallel with the ground, the more you will work your core during this move. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and slowly curl them simultaneously towards your shoulders while maintaining your balance. Return to start and repeat for a total of 12-15 times.
Russian Twist: Hold a dumbbell with both hands and sit on the floor with your knees bent. Hinge at your hips to lean your torso back (be sure to keep your back straight). Pull your navel in to engage your abs and hold the weight in front of your chest. Slowly twist your torso to the left, pause, and then twist to the right. Repeat for 12-15 reps. (Note: some people keep their feet on the ground while others slightly raise them off the ground. Do what feels the most comfortable for you.)
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Disclaimer: I am not a certified personal trainer, so please always listen to your body and practice caution while exercising. If something does not feel good, do not do it!