Six best strength exercises for marathon runners
Last week we busted five common myths about strength training for marathon runners. Here are the six best exercises elite marathon runners prioritise.
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Note: This isn’t a guide on how to complete each exercise – there’s plenty of videos online - but a guide to the best ones to include in your marathon training schedule.
Best strength exercises for marathon runners: deadlift
I’ve started with deadlifts for a reason. Above all others, the deadlift is king. Deadlifting is great for several reasons:
- It’s run-specific. Strengthen your entire posterior chain - glutes, hamstrings, calves, quads, back and shoulders - to run faster and with better form
- It’s safe. Unlike some complex movements, correct technique is fairly simple meaning fewer injuries
- You can go heavy. It’s easy to lift a heavy weight safety. The weight you can deadlift is generally the greatest weight you can shift in the gym
- Work your core. Your lower back, obliques and abdominals all need to fire
- It sheds fat. Recruiting a lot of big muscle groups means you burn a lot of calories
Deadlifts – the king strength exercise for marathon runners
Best strength exercises for marathon runners: single leg squat
Despite their popularity, I’d leave the traditional squat at the gym turnstile for two reasons:
- Perfect form is difficult to master and lower back and knee injuries are common consequences of poor form
- It’s very easy to go too heavy, compounding injury liklihood
Instead of the standard version, hit single leg squats. They:
- Are more run-specific
- Work more tendons and ligaments, contributing to injury prevention
Also known as the pistol squat, single leg squats activate nearly every muscle below the waist and due to the balance needed also work your core, tendons and ligaments and small stabilising muscles.
Best strength exercises for marathon runners: lunge
Lunges are also very run-specific because working each leg individually mimics running. Lunge variations include:
- Step forward lunge. Focuses the effort on your glutes and hamstrings
- Step backward lunge. Challenges your balance more and hits the quads harder
- Lateral lunge. A sideways lunge drills your glute maximus, hip abductors and groin
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Of all exercises, lunges hit muscles we often neglect. This means the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after your first session may leave you waddling like John Wayne.
Embrace the pain, it shows they’re working.
Best strength exercises for marathon runners: box jumps
Plyometrics are exercises which involve explosive, repeated contractions. Think skipping, jumping, hopping and clap press-ups.
Their value lies in the development of tendon's ability to store energy and reuse it during the foot-strike phase. Storing this kinetic energy means you’re relying less on muscle for propulsion.
Watch elite runners. You’ll notice the bounce with which they run compared to those who appear to ‘muscle through’ a run.
When you consider that running is essentially a series of ballistic single leg jumps, you can see why plyometrics are important.
There’s a myriad of plyometric exercises from skipping to high jumps, but box jumps are the most effective and best place to start.
Any kind of jumping is a plyometric exercise and will improve marathon performance. If you can do it in scenery like this, then you’re winning!
Best strength exercises for marathon runners: dumbbell bench press
One of strength training’s greatest benefits to marathon runners is the reduction in injury occurrence. To maintain achieve this, it’s important to address your upper body.
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When performed correctly, the dumbbell bench press works your pectorals, triceps and abdominals. Strengthening these will stop you slumping in the latter stages of a marathon.
Best strength exercises for marathon runners: seated row
If you’re going to bench press, then you need to work opposing muscles to maintain balance.
It’s easy to spot those who don't: avid bench-pressers who pay little attention to their backs walk around hunched over as their strong but shortened pecs pull their shoulders inwards.
During a marathon, we want to run with a nice open chest. So you also need to work on your upper back. The seated row works your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids and lower back – the perfect accompaniment to a bench press.
Best strength exercises for marathon runners: core
In a gym or at home, focus on these five core exercises to supplement your strength training:
Planking strengthens core muscles key for running form
- Glute bridge. Single and double legged
- Plank. Keep it interesting with variations
- Side plank. Hit your obliques
- Lying hip clam. Your glutes will burn
- Leg raises. Works both core and hip flexors
Best strength exercises for marathon runners: conclusion
This list is not exhaustive and it’s worth introducing new exercises to keep things interesting and your body guessing but these six will ensure you're challenging your body in the right ways for better marathon performance.
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