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EP005 The Truth About Marathon Strength Training: Do You Really Need It?

The Truth About Marathon Strength Training

Marathon Strength Training

On The Smart Runner Podcast this week I’m taking a closer look at marathon strength training. Should we incorporate marathon strength training in our weekly routine and how much strength training is enough?

Many athletes and coaches believe it’s necessary (me included) but all athletes are not the same. Maybe you’re just starting out or you’ve been away from running for a long time. Or maybe you’re an experienced marathon runner.

Let’s take a look at some anecdotal evidence and also what science has to say.

Reader Bonus: Download your free copy of the Strength Training For Runners Weekly Workout PDF

Links From The Show

Show Notes

In this episode we’ll be looking at;

  • Is marathon strength training important?
  • Should beginners do strength training before starting to run?
  • Does marathon strength training apply to experienced and elite marathon runners?
  • Does strength training help prevent injury?
  • Can strength training help you lose excess body fat?
  • What’s the case against strength training for marathon?

I think everyone recognises that strength and flexibility work is an important element of training, but on inspection I see many runners don’t do it. Or, at best do very little.

Maybe it’s down to a simple lack of understanding of what constitutes “enough”, or maybe marathon strength training is just not afforded enough weight in its potential contribution towards achieving our goals.

Now, I’m a strong advocate of strength training for marathon, however I’m not going to start beating you guys over the head for not doing enough. After all, you are all adults and you make your own decisions about how you train.

Although if I were working with you on a one to one basis then maybe I’d take a slightly stronger position. For me the bottom line is very straight forward; consistent and focused strength training makes you a better athlete, regardless of your perceived ability.

The Scientific Evidence

But rather than simply taking my word, I want to offer you some scientific data to support my claims and hopefully convince you to begin building core strength on a consistent basis.

A simple Google search of scholarly publications will give you plenty of reading material to wrap your head around.

Instead of you spending hours researching the data, here’s a couple summarised for your convenience;

The Norwegian University of Science & Technology Study

Scientists at The Norwegian University of Science & Technology investigated the effect of maximal strength training on running economy (RE) at 70% of maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) and time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed (MAS).

The researchers examined responses in one repetition maximum (1RM) and rate of force development (RFD) in half-squats, maximal oxygen consumption, RE, and time to exhaustion at MAS.

Yeah blah blah blah, I know… keep reading…

The scientists selected 9 male and 8 female well trained runners and randomly assigned them to one of two groups – either an intervention or a control group.

The intervention group (4 males and 4 females) performed half-squats, four sets of 4 rep max, three times per week for 8 weeks as a supplement to their normal endurance training. The control group continued their normal endurance training during the same period.

The Results

The intervention group saw significant improvements in 1RM (33.2%), RFD (26.0%), RE (5.0%), and time to exhaustion at MAS (21.3%). No changes in VO2max or body weight were found. The control group showed no change in any of the parameters measured.

The study saw that maximal strength training performed for 8 weeks improved Running Economy. Time to exhaustion at MAS increases among well trained, long-distance runners, without change in maximal oxygen uptake or body weight.

National Strength and Conditioning Association Study

The National Strength and Conditioning Association performed a study to examine the effects of a 10-week strength training program on running economy in 12 female distance runners. The female subjects were randomly assigned to either an endurance and strength training program (ES) or endurance training only (E).

Training for both groups consisted of steady-state endurance running 4 to 5 days a week, 20 to 30 miles per week. The ES group added weight training 3 days per week to their existing training.

The subjects were tested pre and post for VO2 max, treadmill running economy, body composition, and strength. The endurance and strength training program resulted in significant increases in strength for the ES in both upper body (24.4%) and lower body (33.8%) lifts.

The Results

There were no differences in treadmill VO2 max and body composition in either group. The ES group saw a significant increase in running economy. The Endurance group saw no changes. The findings suggest that strength training, when added to an endurance training, improves running economy.

What We Can Take From These Studies

The above studies were carried out on well trained male and female runners and as such I think it’s fair to say that these athletes were of a reasonably high standard. They were unlikely to be the recreational runner like you or me.

However, I believe the same principles can be applied to most of us. In addition, strength, conditioning and flexibility work can help us runners in the following areas;

Strength & Conditioning Prevents Injury

I think you’ll agree when I suggest that a stronger, more flexible body helps prevent injury. Focus on training your entire unit by incorporating a wide range of strength drills. Rather than concentrating only on lunge, squat and calf drills, try adding a more dynamic range of drills to test the entire unit.

Check out these daily workout videos on The Smart Runner Facebook Page for how to perform dynamic strength drills in the correct way

When you go off road either on mountain trails or even just park trails, you’ll be presented with all kinds of potential trip and fall hazards. If you’ve spent time building a strong body you’ll be better prepared.

Strength & Conditioning Helps You Burn Fat

If you’ve been running for a while and you can’t understand why you still have the spare tyre, I’ve got an answer for you. Well 2 answers really…

  1. Your diet needs an adjustment
  2. You need to make your workouts more intensive

In fact when you combine both of these factors and practice them regularly and consistently you’ll see the fat fall off you. You’ll also increase your overall muscle mass too.

Additional reading: Find out how to clean up your diet

Strength & Conditioning For New Runners

It’s my contention that if you are new to running or you’ve spent considerable time away from running, then you need to begin with strength work. If you simply put on your runners and head out it’s likely you’ll pick up and injury early on.

Taking a couple of weeks to build your strength and work on flexibility will aid your transition from couch to road significantly. Certainly you can get out and od some light jogging or run-walk stuff, but neglecting strength work is not worth doing.

Stay on the grass too, concrete can be very hard on unconditioned bodies.

Strength & Conditioning Builds Higher Output Capacity

Marathon runners with good Running Economy use less energy and therefore less oxygen than marathon runners with poor Running Economy.

Running Economy is basically a measure of how much output you can get from your tank. It has been found (as indicated in the above studies) than adding strength work to your training increases Running Economy.

My own simplistic take on why strength training has a positive effect on endurance is that when we incorporate it consistently, we are asking our bodies to to a greater capacity than would be otherwise needed for running.

That greater capacity to perform is then available to us when we run. Higher muscle mass also leads to potentially higher levels of glycogen to be stored.

A Marathon Strength Training System

Marathon Strength Training doesn’t need to be complex or take very long to complete and it offers you so many benefits it’s hard to ignore.

That main barrier to carrying out a regular strength training routine is that for many runners it’s just not important enough. That is, until you develop an injury or you become tired of not breaking your PB and begin to look for ways to do it.

I’ve put together a simple daily strength training routine that takes only 15 to 20 mins to complete. Perform this daily, or even once every two days and after 30 days you’ll notice considerable results.

  • No equipment needed
  • You can perform this on your living room floor
  • It takes only 20 mins to complete
  • Use this in conjunction with your existing running training
  • You’ll burn excess fat
  • You’ll get faster

As far as any case against strength training for marathon running goes, there is none. The only thing you can get wrong here is to fire full tilt into a program without be adequately assessed.

If you don’t have the flexibility and range of motion to perform the drills, you can’t shift your own body weight sufficiently, then you’ll likely get injured. So engaging a coach with the necessary experience is important here.

Strength and conditioning for marathon runners is a no-brainer and you should be doing it if you’re serious about hitting your goals. If you follow what I show you you’ll get the results you’re after, I guarantee it.

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