Tim Bradley, Sr. Director of Training/Interim Executive Dir.
Strength Training During Marathon Season
With higher mileage approaching it is common to get less consistent with a strength training routine. Even if you have done a good job getting into the gym for the first few weeks, it can be challenging to keep it up during the bulk of marathon training. This can be true when training for distances shorter than the marathon as well.
Runners have heard it for years now, from physical therapists, personal trainers, and coaches, that they should incorporate strength training into their marathon program. Incorporating strength work during a marathon training program has numerous benefits. Running is largely an aerobic activity, but your ability to manage the repetitive impact of long miles and stay injury-free is aided by strengthening the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Strength training can also improve running economy, body composition, and bone density.
It can be challenging enough just trying to fit in all the miles it takes to adequately prepare for a marathon. Often strength training is the first to get scrapped when marathon training starts. Despite this, with a few simple steps, you can blend your strength routine into your training program.
Marathon Season Strength Training Key Concepts:
Define Your Goals:
What are you specifically looking to improve? Your style of strength training and exercises should reflect your goals. Examples of specific goals include…
-Maintain/build strength and stay injury-free
-Hold a perfect plank for 1 minute
-Complete 20 push-ups with perfect form
-Balance on 1 leg for 30 seconds without falling
Make Your Weakness a Strength:
Target your weaknesses in order to improve them. For most runners, that means targeting the hips and core but could also include working on posture or balance.
Focus On Technique:
You can waste a lot of time and energy without seeing much improvement if you train with poor technique. Consult a fitness professional or experienced runner who has strength trained before and can mentor you on good form and technique for each exercise.
Work from the Core Out:
Focus on your most running specific muscles and build-out. Of course you always have to be mindful of how much you can load up your legs without compromising your long run or speed workouts. Typically it is best to focus on the hips and core and build out from there.
Order of Importance:
Core (Abdominals, Obliques)
Hips (Glutes, Hip Flexors, Adduction and Abduction muscles)
Weakness Exercises (work on your most vulnerable area for an injury)
Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)
Upper Body (Postural muscles, shoulders, biceps, triceps)
Be Efficient with Your Time:
Incorporate compound movements into your routine. This means you should be using multiple joint exercises and working large areas of muscles rather than exercises that work muscles in isolation. The exception would be your weakness exercise, that might have to be a very specific isolated movement. A classic example of a compound movement would be a squat into an overhead press. If you are efficient with your time 20-30 minutes can go a long way.
Progression and Taper:
Choose activities that have a clear way to progress or taper off depending on where you are at with your training. Often marathon training plans will have weeks of increasing mileage, but also “step back” weeks where you reduce mileage to recover before the next round of higher mileage. Coordinate strength training with your weekly mileage.
With defined goals, making weaknesses a strength and working from the core out, strength training can be a great asset to any runner, not just marathon runners!