Marathons: Training for a Stronger Performance

muscular man lifting weights

Myth: Strength training increases bulk and hinders performance.
Fact: Strength training helps improve your running economy, decrease your risk of injury and make your running more effective.

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Want to run a marathon? Include strength training in your workout plans, says Cleveland Clinic Sports Health exercise physiologist Heather Nettle, MA. Strength training helps you build muscles and stay powerful during race season. Don’t worry about it tiring you out — strength training teaches your body to use its energy more effectively.

Before you design a training program, consider your training history, the type of race you enjoy competing in, and any injuries or chronic health conditions. If you have any questions, ask a fitness professional for help.

Strengthen your whole body

Don’t forget to target core muscles – abs, back and hips – in workouts. A strong core is crucial for running. And remember that running itself does not translate to strength-training for the lower body.

You don’t need a lot of equipment. Stock up on:

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  • Weight machines or free weights
  • Exercise bands
  • An exercise ball

Resistance exercise can give a runner great benefits but can lead to over-training if not done properly. Strength exercises should not be added to a high-mileage running program.  Your routine should be broken down into cycles, or “periodized,” for optimal results and safety.

If you’re actively training for a running event, incorporate your strength training in three stages to get safely ready to race: 

Stage 1: Lift weights in the off-season

  • Two to three times a week, work out with a combination of machine weights, free weights and core (band and ball) exercises.
  • Keep mileage to baseline number.
  • Cross-train and try to maintain your cardiovascular fitness without increasing the impact on the joints. Biking and swimming are good alternatives. 

Stage 2: Lighten your load when you start your training for a race.

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  • Twice a week, use the same equipment but increase repetitions and decrease weights loads.
  • Gradually increase your mileage and start incorporating interval training into your workout plan.

Stage 3: Concentrate on endurance training as your race approaches.

  • Eliminate weights, and concentrate on core exercises.
  • Significantly increase your mileage. 

Begin slowly, and don’t overdo it. Strength training too often will hurt your performance and may lead to injury. So listen to your body.

Meanwhile, back off if you develop symptoms of overtraining, says Ms. Nettle. Chronic muscle soreness, chronic fatigue and susceptibility to cold and flu are just a few of the many symptoms of taking on too much.   

Seek out an athletic trainer for help setting up your program if you need assistance.

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