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Four strength training benefits for marathon runners

Posted by James Eacott on

Despite convincing evidence highlighting the benefits of strength training to marathon runners, many still exclude it. Here are four important reasons why strength training is the ticket to your next marathon PB.

strength training for marathon runners - startline

Evidence shows strength training will boost marathon performance

In part one of this five-part series, discover the four biggest gains you’ll reap from including strength training in your training plan.

1. Improve power, strength and endurance

Across a myriad of endurance sports from swimming and cycling to running and kayaking, weight training has been shown to increase muscular strength, power and endurance.

Old school methods taught that completing exercises with low weight and a high number of reps was the way to gain an endurance advantage. We now know that’s only part of the puzzle.

Even though starting with light weights is needed to develop correct form, you should transition to heavier weights with low reps when possible. As muscles, tendons and ligaments strengthen, you’ll find you’re able to hold better run form for longer and this is crucial to marathon performance.

Those wobbly-legged marathoners you wince at as they shuffle through Mile 22 aren’t running like that because their cardiovascular system is spent. They run like that because they lack the strength to run with decent form, unable to stand straight and pick their legs up.

Lack of strength is one reason marathon runners hit the wall.

Stronger muscles resist fatigue, so the likelihood of cramping in the latter stage of long training runs and marathons also reduces.

strength training for marathon runners - hit the wall

Lift weights and you’ll bust through this no problem

2. Boost fat burning

When you perform exercise, you burn energy - aka calories. Low intensity exercise burns calories at a low rate and high intensity activity burns calories at a higher rate.

Ah yes, but I’ll run for 2-hours whereas HIIT sessions only last 20 to 30-minutes, so I’ll burn more”.

That’s true: if you go for a long, low intensity run then you may burn more calories than 20-minutes of HIIT during the session. That last bit is important.

Because what also comes into play is EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption), which refers to calories burnt once you’ve stopped exercising.

After a low intensity run, you achieve homeostasis quite quickly and thus cease burning calories soon after hitting the couch. After a HIIT or intense strength training session, your body takes hours (even days) to recover from the damage.

This means that by incorporating strength training into your schedule, you’ll burn more calories which will not only develop lean muscle but also trim unnecessary fat.

3. Improve running economy

The three pillars of long distance run performance are often considered to be:

  1. Maximum oxygen uptake and use (VO2 max)
  2. Lactate threshold
  3. Running economy

Develop these and you’ll run faster.

strength training for marathon runners - running economy

Running economy improves with strength training

Running alone will not improve these three factors as much as if you include strength training, because lifting weights improves running economy.

This happens because weight training develops neuromuscular pathways like motor unit recruitment and decreases ground contact time, both of which are key to efficiency.

Elites have this nailed. You don’t need a sports science degree to appreciate the fluidity with which Mo Farah or Eliud Kipchoge glide across the ground. They’re poetry in motion.

And it’s not just beginner runners that benefit. Studies have shown that even well-trained distance runners see an increase in economy by up to 8% when adding strength training into their marathon schedule.

That’s a significant improvement.

It’s also important to note that VO2 and lactate threshold are not compromised when undertaking strength training.

4. Reduce injury occurrence

Last, but by no means least, strength training reduces your likelihood of injury.

Let’s face it, marathon running is hard. Our bodies take a pounding not only from the marathon itself but also the training. Depending on which study you quote, between 35 – 80% of runners will experience an injury every single year.

strength training for marathon runners - reduce injury occurance

You don’t need to go this heavy, but weight lifting will make you less injury prone

If you believe that consistency is important, then you need to address preventative measures because injury and illness are the largest factors resulting in unscheduled time off from training.

Lifting weights strengthens tendons, ligaments and joints and improves bone density, all of which let your body absorb greater training loads.

Nutrition plays a key part in strength training and protein forms the backbone. You should be able to get most protein from your diet but for a convenient hit after an arduous run or gym session, check out our Premium Protein.

Unlike ordinary protein powders which contain a host of wholly unsavoury ingredients, ours is 100% natural, tasty and great value for money!

strength training for marathon runners - protein

Premium Protein – a perfect marathon nutrition companion

In our next article, we tackle the main reasons why marathon runners neglect strength training.

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Don’t forget you can download our epic Marathon Nutrition Guide PDF for free

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