Why Strength Training Is Essential During Marathon Prep

42.2 kilometres!

That’s a heck of a long run with tens of thousands of steps required to get you to the finish line.

You need strong muscles to take each of those steps efficiently and to produce maximum power and a high pace.

Strong muscles are more resistant to fatigue, and help to protect your joints from the impact of your foot repeatedly hitting the ground.

Unfortunately, many runners do not give strength training the respect it deserves in favour of more running. Runners like to run, but it’s often the things we don’t like that give us the best result and protect us from injury.

As a marathon runner, you must incorporate strength training into your weekly training plan.

Read on to learn why, and watch a video demonstrating some simple strength exercises you can start with.

Key Benefits Of Strength Training

Strength training comes in many forms, and there are several benefits.

1. Lean Body Mass

Muscle is metabolically more active than fat. That means you will burn more calories while at rest, resulting in a lower portion of excess body fat you must carry as you run. Eliud Kipchoge is the epitome of lean body mass in action. He is incredibly lean but equally strong in the muscle groups essential to his craft. He has an incredible power-to-weight ratio.

Having more muscular strength also allows you to put and transfer more power through the ground, resulting in a longer stride and a faster pace. Racing over hills? No problem; strong muscles carry you over hills with poise and delay the rate at which you fatigue.

2. Running Efficiency

A strong core, legs and butt contribute to greater stability and endurance, bolstering your form and enabling you to run more economically.

The less energy you waste on unnecessary movements such as excessive torso twisting, bouncing up and down, or running with a short stride length – often resulting in an excessively high and inefficient running cadence – the better.

More powerful muscles can improve your stride efficiency, whilst a strong core and upper body prevent your form from deteriorating and slowing you down as fatigue sets in.

3. Injury Prevention

Runners suffer a high rate of injury. That’s usually the result of structural (leg length discrepancies) and biomechanical imbalances (tight muscles working against weak muscles) or poor training structure. Often both.

Strength training helps make you a more resilient runner by correcting muscular imbalances.


Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

How To Do Strength Training

When you picture strength training, you may conjure up images of a jacked-up Arnold Schwarzenegger pumping iron in the gym. While that’s certainly one way to do it, it’s not what I am talking about here.

Like all training, the best results come from being specific and addressing the demands of your sport. In running, that means correcting muscle imbalances, increasing your power-to-weight ratio, and burning fat.

Strength training comes in many forms, such as weight training, resistance bands, hill running, and body weight (callisthenics) exercises. The methods you choose will depend on your background, goals, injury history, and current imbalances.

With our athletes, we use volume through frequency, running drills, and hill running in our programmes as a way to develop running-specific strength during runs. We also prescribe specific strength training exercises to build general strength and address muscle imbalances.

Here are five simple bodyweight exercises to get you started.

If you’d like help structuring your training, we’d love to work with you.

Sign up for a 14-day free trial of our online coaching. We’ll set up a training plan for you and arrange a 15-minute Zoom Call to meet and discuss your goals and the plan.


4 Training Runs You Should Do To Prepare For Your Next Marathon

If you want to run a fast marathon and recover quickly afterwards, you must do a certain amount of preparation.

A marathon is a long way. While you could likely finish a marathon run tomorrow with some grit, you probably wouldn’t run to your potential, enjoy the experience, or recover quickly afterwards.

Training is the bridge to your goal.

To effectively prepare for a marathon, you must do a focused preparation of 12 – 16 weeks. The more experienced and fitter you are today, the shorter the timeline you can get away with.

Because a marathon is a long event that significantly stresses your bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissues, you must structure your training to prepare your body and mind for the distance.

I recommend marathoners run at least four days per week with one to two strength training sessions added for injury prevention and strength development.

Run 1: Long Run

As the name suggests, the long run is the longest weekly session. Depending on your ability and timeline, long runs will vary between 80 minutes early in the plan and up to 3 hours in your peak week.

Long runs help you to develop your endurance base. When run at low intensity, as they should be, long runs train your aerobic metabolism, increasing the number of mitochondria in your muscles and providing a place for fats and glucose to produce the energy needed for muscular contractions. The more mitochondria you produce, the better.

In short, these long runs are the bedrock of a marathon training programme.

Many runners concern themselves with the distance and pace of a long run, but I believe the time and heart rate are more beneficial in these runs.

Pace and distance are fixed outputs that don’t factor in external conditions like the terrain or conditions or how you feel. 10km is 10km whether you run it uphill or down, and 5:00 /km is 5:00 /km whether it’s hot or cold, windy or calm.

Time and heart rate help to balance the stress of training and the stress of life. When stress is low, your heart rate stays low and your pace high. When stress is high, you’ll see an elevation in heart rate and a slowing of pace. That’s fine.

Run 2: Speed Run

While the long run is all about the aerobic system, the speed run focuses on anaerobic development.

You best develop your anaerobic system using high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which comprises short, intense intervals followed by low-intensity recovery intervals.

The key to interval training is polarising your intensities. You must run the recovery intervals significantly slower than the work interval. Many runners make the mistake of running at a more moderate pace throughout their intervals, running slightly faster, then running slightly slower to recover.

That’s not what you should do, and this is why knowing your lactate threshold output (heart rate and pace) and using training zones is critical. Zones give you an objective way to define intensity.

Unlike the long run, where I recommend you train according to your heart rate, you should run the main set of a speed run according to pace or perceived effort.

While it’s easy to think that a speed run is all about the anaerobic system, there is still a significant aerobic component since warm-up, main set recovery, and cool-down is run at low intensity.


Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

Run 3: Tempo Run

A tempo run is run at or below your lactate threshold, the pace at which you produce the maximum amount of lactate that your body can clear from your muscles and bloodstream.

It’s the fastest pace you can run aerobically.

Run any quicker, and you’ll produce lactate faster than you can clear it. Your muscles will become acidic, and your pace will have to slow.

The primary benefit of tempo running is to raise your lactate threshold. Your lactate threshold pace is an excellent indicator of performance, so it’s something we strive to increase in all our athletes.

The faster you can run while clearing lactate, the quicker you will run.

Like the speed run, I recommend you run tempo runs by pace or perceived effort after warming up according to your heart rate.

You can run tempo runs in two ways. 1. As a sustained tempo run where you run 20 – 40 minutes at your tempo pace, or 2. as intervals where you may run 5 x 8 minutes at your tempo pace with a 90-second easy recovery jog between intervals.

Run 4: Recovery Run

As the name suggests, a recovery run promotes active recovery and helps to flush the body of byproducts produced during your weekly training session. Recovery runs should be run at low intensity, slower than your long run.

Run these runs according to your heart rate, regardless of the pace.

Other Performance Enhancers

Running Drills
Running drills should be practised by runners of all abilities. All elite runners practice drills, but few amateur runners I have met include them in their preparation. That’s a mistake.

Running drills have many benefits; you can easily incorporate them into your runs as part of your warm-up.

Run Over Hills
You can use hills in any run to make a session more challenging. Hills provide sport-specific resistance and, over time, make you a stronger, more fatigue-resistant runner.

We use hills during long, speed, and tempo runs in our programme depending on the athlete’s ability and where they are in the training cycle. If you’re well-conditioned, you can also run an easy recovery run over mild hills.

Include these four runs while preparing for the next marathon, and you’ll be well on your way to running at your best.

If you need help structuring these runs within your week, why not try a 14-day free trial of Coached? We’ll set up a training plan for you and arrange a 15-minute coach call.