Why Marathon Runners Should Strength Train

I often have runners tell me, “I’ll see you after my next marathon” or “I’ll start taking classes next season when I’m taking a break from the marathon” or “I’m running a lot of miles and I don’t have time for strength training.” If you’ve had any of these thoughts cross your mind, THIS BLOG IS FOR YOU!  I’m here to release you from the hesitation to start a proper strength training program, even if you are a month away from your next marathon, and explain why it’ so important:


Reason #1: It Improves Recovery

When we strength train, it sets off a chain of positive hormonal responses in the body that build muscle, increase metabolism, and enhance recovery. As we age, we start to produce less of the miracle hormone Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH plays a role in bone density, fat mass, muscle mass, and exercise capacity; and guess what stimulates the production of HGH? You know it… strength training!  

Runners should be careful to stick to functional movements and be careful of adding a lot of high impact plyometrics that add too much additional stress on the body. However, do not be afraid to lift heavy! Lifting heavy puts muscles under tension that they normally wouldn’t be under with submaximal exercise (running) or with bodyweight exercises. Muscles respond to the tension of heavy lifting by releasing hormones (like HGH) that start the recovery and rebuilding process.


Reason #2: It Reduces the Risk of Overtraining

Overtraining can have a plethora of negative consequences for the hard-working runner including mood disturbances, an impaired immune response (more sickness), and overuse injuries. The increased mileage that goes along with marathon training will increase the body’s cortisol (a stress hormone) levels. One common measure of Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) is a high cortisol:testosterone ratio. Strength training increases testosterone levels in the body, helping the body keep balance.


Reason #3: It Reduces the Risk of Injuries

When the most powerful muscles in our body are strong and activated (hello glutes and core) we put less stress on parts of our body that should be playing a secondary role during running. This can reduce the risk of overuse injuries (plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, IT band syndrome, etc.) and also allows the body to better absorb force (reducing impact). Strength training makes our body more resilient and able to handle the increased training load for marathons.


Reason #4: It Counteracts the Repetitive Movement of Running

Soft tissue, or fascia, is finally starting to get the credit it is due, but many people haven’t heard the word or don’t understand its importance in performance and overall functioning. Soft tissue connects muscle and bone and is found everywhere throughout the body. Runners can benefit tremendously by moving the body in a variety of other directions, planes, and amplitudes to counterbalance the repetitive movement of running. Contrasting movements to running rework the tissue and improve function and durability. 


Reason #5: It Makes You Faster

Strength training improves Running Economy (RE). Improving a runner’s RE means they can run faster while using the same or less energy (example: someone can run a 7 minute mile with the same effort it used to take them to run an 8 minute mile). A major influence in improving RE is the ability of a runner to apply force off the ground. Some of the best ways to improve force production is with low level plyometrics, short sprinting, speed and mechanics drills, general strength, and traditional Olympic lifts.

Why isn’t getting fast reason #1? In reality, I am listing this reason last because many times, the stress of training for a marathon can outweigh training adaptations. If a runner is always fighting residual fatigue, experiencing consequences from overtraining, or disfunction from repetitive movements, they might not see an improvement in performance. Incorporating proper functional strength training will help you find balance and only ENHANCE your marathon training.


hear it from a marathoner

First and foremost, strength training is making me enjoy running more. 

More specifically, strength training (along with running intervals in front of a mirror during Equilibrium) has been a great reminder that there are a lot more muscles available to use when running than I often do. It’s easy to get in the mindset of just “getting through the miles” when marathon training. What that sometimes leads to for me is sloppy form. Strength training has made me more aware of the muscles I’m using when I’m running and has reminded me to use muscles that I wasn’t. Because of this I simply feel stronger and have more fun. 

I’ve also noticed that I recover faster from long runs when strength training is part of my routine.

The most surprising thing to me about strength training has been how little of it you have to do to feel a big difference. Even adding in one or two Equilibrium classes a week to my training schedule has made a huge difference and provided a really nice balance to the outdoor miles. 


Ashley Twiggs, currently training for her 2nd marathon.