Can you imagine a football player who did no strength training? It’s hard to imagine. But for some reason, many runners think it’s perfectly fine to skip their own strength work.
Kevin enjoying the fruits of his strength training efforts
Both football and running are impact sports. In football, you’re getting slammed into the ground after being tackled by other players.
But in running, you’re hitting yourself. Every footstep sends an impact force about 2-5 times your bodyweight up your legs. It shouldn’t be surprising that running has such a high injury rate.
Strength training toughens the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and connective tissues. It gives you armor that protects you from the stress of running.
And just like in football, strength training gives runners higher levels of athleticism, strength, coordination, speed, and power. Without those skills, a runner’s progress is stunted.
Just the other day a runner told me he was “too tired after his run” for strength training. But lifting weights would give him the strength and power to be less tired after his run!
Some runners also learn the hard way that skipping weight training is a risky choice. A runner told me this just last week:
“I didn’t carve out the time and didn’t know where to start! Finally got injured and had to cut back on running, so I figured it out and now I love it!” – Molly
But once we avoid weightlifting mistakes and recognize strength training’s benefits, we’re ready to start running healthier and far more explosively.
Just like Kevin, a runner who finally made the commitment. And his results are mind-blowing.
“I didn’t know where to start with weightlifting”
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This counts as lifting weights, right?
Kevin was like most of us: he loves running but was skeptical of lifting weights. He knew it would be useful but wasn’t sure where to start. He just didn’t know what to do.
If you’re like me, you need to be repeatedly reminded of the benefits of strength training…
He told me:
I ran a 3:43 marathon followed four months later by a 3:41 marathon. What I had been aiming for was around a 3:30 marathon, or better.
I had been running for about four years but my progression to a faster marathon was moving very slowly. I knew that weight lifting would be a useful tool but didn’t really know where to start.
I’ve found that this is one of the biggest hurdles for runners to clear before they start strength training. There’s always a lot of interest in the high level concept of strength training for marathon runners but knowing where to start can be difficult.
At Strength Running, we’ve made things simple so you can focus on training (not building your training).
“I gained muscle and lost fat. Win-win”
If Kevin has spaghetti arms, Jason must have two-dimensional arms
Kevin decided to invest in a Strength Running weightlifting program. He realized that he’d never commit because he didn’t know how to create a strength training for marathon runners program.
So he offloaded that task to us. And he started to like how he felt!
I really liked what began to happen. My spaghetti arms began to get some muscle. I felt stronger and was happy to see a progression to heavier weights.
I even lost ten pounds, which was a surprise to me. So, I gained muscle and lost some fat. Win, win.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying how you look when you start getting fit. Vanity is a fine motivator, at first.
Kevin agreed, noting that he liked his better muscle tone and weight loss.
But what’s more important are your results. After all, if you look great but run slower, what’s the point?
Let’s see what a strength training program for marathoners could actually do.
“Over the Moon Happy”
The steely-eyed focus of a marathon runner
Soon, Kevin was able to put his strength training program to the test:
The program was easy to follow and I planned it around my marathon in June. The program tapered at the end, which was great. So, twice per week to the gym with a plan. Easy.
My June marathon was 3:31. I dropped about eleven minutes from my previous marathon only four months before. I was over-the-moon happy about my results and attribute this improvement to the strength training program.
Then, I used a modified version to get ready for a half marathon in September and achieved another PB of 1:38. Again, ecstatic with the result.
In just a few months, Kevin set multiple, massive marathon Personal Bests. He also lost ten pounds, gained more definition, and ran a half marathon PR too.
What’s even more exciting is that Kevin now has the confidence to think boldly about the future:
I believe that if I continue with program it will get me a 3:15 or faster next year.
Now Kevin has his sights set on the next goal: a marathon that’s nearly a half hour faster than what he ran last year.
This begs the question: can we all be successful like Kevin?!
I think so.
Kevin on “But This Won’t Work For Me!”
If you don’t raise your hands at a marathon finish, did you even race a marathon?
After Kevin answered some questions for this article, I had a sudden realization. He wrote something profound that can help all of us.
You see, Kevin knows that he’s not a special snowflake – nothing makes him stand out from the crowd as a runner except his burning desire to improve.
And that is the real driver of his success. He knows progress starts from within. Here’s what he wrote:
There is nothing exceptional about me except the determination to get faster. I’m a middle-aged accountant who loves to run and who loves to set personal bests.
I’m going to keep using this program to get stronger and faster. I know that the program works.
Those are wise words. Success can be yours – if you’re determined.
Many runners self-sabotage by thinking that they’re too old, too young, not experienced enough, or different in some other way for a proven training strategy.
Kevin, like other successful runners, understands that strength training works for every runner.
Strength Training for Marathon Runners: What Works?
Many will think that strength training is the reason for Kevin’s success. And that’s partly true! But it’s not the entire story.
See, Kevin improved because of his running. But his strength training program was built for marathon runners – and that extra fitness enabled better running.
Sure, extra strength and power helped him improve. Yes, Kevin ran faster because he was more economical than before he started lifting.
But strength training enabled better training – and that’s what his success can mostly be attributed to.
He reflected on his experience:
When Jason asked me to write something about the strength program, I was happy to oblige. Having used it for a full and a half marathon, I would also recommend the program. I like that I actually have some muscle tone and I like the weight loss. I especially love the PB’s.
The program works and it will work for anyone who is willing to commit the time and energy it takes to complete the program.
Strength training for marathon runners has to enable marathon training.
It should have three main goals. It must…
- Make you more durable and able to better handle marathon long runs and higher mileage
- Improve strength to help you feel better and run faster when you’re running
- Boost running economy/efficiency (which is even more important for longer races)
Bodyweight strength training can accomplish most (but not all) of these goals. And the squat is one of the best:
Perhaps more importantly, marathon strength training should actively avoid some aspects of weightlifting. After all, you don’t have the same goals as a bodybuilder!
At a fundamental level, strength training for marathon runners should avoid:
- Excessive high-intensity lifting with little rest (circuits or AMRAP – as many reps as possible – sessions aren’t the best options for marathoners)
- Lifting for endurance with high reps and low weight (you get a very similar stimulus from running so let’s not waste our time)
- Lifting for hypertrophy with high reps, high weight, and long, frequent workouts (we’re not bodybuilders trying to get the biggest muscles possible)
Sign up here and I’ll send you even more weightlifting mistakes to avoid in the gym.
How to Start Strength Training
If you’re new to lifting weights – or you’ve never lifted specifically to help your running – you’re in the right place!
We’ve built a collection of resources over the years to help you start properly, improve your rate of progress, stay motivated, and learn proper form in the weight room.
Get started here and I’ll send you a video presentation about how to lift for speed.
But you’ll also get a series of coaching lessons designed to make strength training for marathon runners simple:
- The changes that you should expect both in your body and with your running
- Common pitfalls and training errors that can derail your progress
- Case studies and examples from other runners just like you
- Example exercises, form tips, and a lot more
Our goals are to help you train well, reduce your risk of injury, and get as much as possible out of this incredible sport.
Sign up here and let’s see if we can get you to a massive marathon and half marathon PR just like Kevin!