Strength training for marathon runners

This is part of a series of posts I’m doing this spring focused on marathon training. To get these “Marathon Monday” posts in your inbox, sign-up here!


Guest blog post by:
Dr. Kate Mihevc Edwards PT, DPT, OCS
Owner of Precision Performance and Physical Therapy


The case for strength training for marathon runners

 

Strength training is a must in your marathon training if you want to make it to the starting line stronger, with improved efficiency, and injury-free.

 

Although it used to be thought that resistance training would negatively affect VO2max in long distance runners, the opposite is true (1). Current research shows that resistance training improves VO2max, lactate threshold, muscle power and long distance running performance in both trained and untrained individuals (1-5).

 

Resistance training also improves running economy — how efficiently you burn oxygen. The better your running economy, the longer you can hold your pace. And resistance training has been shown to improve running economy up to 8%, which over the course of 26.2 miles can be very significant (5).

 

Strength training also induces positive neuromuscular changes, increases motor unit recruitment, decreases ground contact time and increases muscle stiffness (1, 5). All of these changes allow the body to absorb ground reaction forces more efficiently, improve running form, and improve the ability to switch from concentric to eccentric muscle contractions quickly.

 

Translation: you become a stronger, faster runner with fewer injuries. Sound good?

 


How to incorporate strength training into your training

 

Circuit training, traditional strength training, and plyometrics all fall under the umbrella of resistance training and have their place in preparing for a marathon (1-5).

 

What exercises to include

 

Choose exercises that include both upper and lower extremity movements. Running is a complicated series of movements involving the upper and lower body. The mistake many runners make when strength training is to not include the upper body at all.

 

Exercises1

 

Plyometrics or single leg squats on an incline are great ways to challenge your muscles eccentrically. Eccentric muscle training is particularly important for hilly race like Boston. What many people don’t realize is that even though it may feel more difficult to go uphill, the downhill is more detrimental to your muscles and joints if your body is not prepared.

 

Exercises2

Make sure to combine movements

 

Include traditional strength training exercises such as lunges and squats, combined with plyometric exercises such as bounding and box jumps to create a perfect strength training circuit for marathoners.

 

Exercises3

When to schedule strength training

 

Perform resistance training on separate days or on shorter, less intense days. You don’t have to spend hours strength training. 20-30 minutes, 3 days a week is sufficient.

 

The benefits of strength training clearly out weigh the small amount of time it takes to perform. Elevate your performance this year by adding strength training to your program.

 


Example strength circuits for marathon runners

FOR EACH CIRCUIT:
Spend 45-60 seconds on each exercise, with 15-20 seconds in between, and repeat circuit 3-4 times:
—–
Circuit 1:

  1. Plank (front)
  2. Adduction plank (each side)
  3. Overhead squats
  4. Lunges with twist
  5. Bounding
  6. Jump rope

—–
Circuit 2:

  1. Side planks (both sides)
  2. Push ups off ball
  3. Lunges with weights over head
  4. Single leg bridge
  5. Single leg squat on incline
  6. Box jumps

 
—–
About Dr. Kate Mihevc Edwards
Dr. Kate Mihevc Edwards is an physical therapist that specializes in treating runners and triathletes. She is a board certified orthopedic specialist and is trained in trigger point dry needling, Redcord Neurac, SFMA, Pilates based exercise and advanced manual medicine. She is the owner of Precision Performance and Physical Therapy in Atlanta, GA.


  1. Jung, AP. The Impact of Resistance Training on Distance Running Performance Sports Medicine, 2003, Volume 33, Number 7, Page 539
  2. Tan, Philip. The Role of Resistance Training in Distance Running. Proceedings of Singapore Healthcare September 2010 19 no. 3 183-188.
  3. Johnson, Ronald E. et. Al. Strength Training in Female Distance Runners: Impact on Running Economy. November 1997 Vo 11 no. 4 211-288
  4. Ronnestad, br. Et al. Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. Volume 24, Issue 4, pages 603–612, August 2014
  5. Beattie K, Kenny IC, Lyons M, Carson BP. The Effect of Strength Training on Performance in Endurance Athletes. June 2014, Volume 44, Issue 6, 845-865

Let me know what you think!