Strength Training During Marathon Season

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Despite March and April not exactly being perfect running weather, these months are a far cry from the polar vortex and the endless rounds of ice and snow. As the weather starts to improve, you typically see runners start to ramp up their training for both the spring and summer marathon training seasons.

That usually means more time outside, higher mileage, and often neglecting to stay consistent with a strength training routine. Even if you have done a good job getting into the gym for the first few months of the year, it can be challenging to keep it up with marathon training.

Runners have heard it 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 marathon 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 pushups with perfect form
  • Balance on one 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 sloppy technique. Consult a fitness professional or experienced runner who has strength trained before and can mentor you.

Work from the Core Out:

Focus on your most running specificmuscles 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 marathon runner.

In Season Marathon Training Recommendations

18-Week Marathon Program

Weeks 1-4: 2-3 x per week (focus on building a consistent routine and good exercise technique)

Week 5-10: 2-3 (start to progress and build upon exercises)

Week 11-16: 1 x per week during high mileage weeks, 1-2 x per week during “step back” weeks

Week 17: 1 x per week(maintenance) 

Week 18: Rest (focus on race prep and complete muscle recovery)

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