How to fit strength training into your marathon training plan

Celebrating our fastest half marathon times!

As runners, we all know we should be doing it. It should be as much a part of our training as speed drills and the long, slow run.

No, I’m not talking about stretching (even though we should do that, too).

I’m talking about strength training.

A few weeks ago, Lululemon reposted this article on their blog from Jason Fitzgerald, a running coach at StrengthRunning.com, which promotes the benefits of strength training for runners. While Fitzgerald does a pretty good job of explaining why runners should incorporate strength training into their training plans and what they should be doing, he doesn’t really explain how.

I’ve known about the benefits of incorporating strength training into marathon training even before I studied it in my Essentials of Strength and Conditioning text book: For my last half marathon, I only ran two or three days a week, but lifted weights and did plyometrics three to four days a week in the months leading up to the race. I ended up running my fastest half marathon ever at that race with a 5-minute personal best. Leading up to my last marathon, I hardly did any running (save for my 50 km ultra two month prior), but stuck to a three-day-a-week full body strength training circuit and got a 25-minute personal best. Not only did my times improve, but also — and most importantly — I stayed healthy and injury free.

I know what you’re thinking: Marathon training eats up a lot of my time already… so how do you expect me to fit in strength training on top of speed drills, long runs, tempo runs and stretching?

Well, I won’t lie; it takes some planning and dedication, but it can be done.

Here’s the 17-week plan I made for myself, based on my current fitness level, training goals and social life for the next few months. I will be tweaking it a bit based on my progress (faster tempo paces and longer easy runs), but it’s a good general plan to get me started.

For the full plan, click here.

For the full plan, click here.

A few things to note:

  • You need at least one rest day a week, which means you will have one double workout day. I flex every second Friday, so I do my strength training in the morning and easy run later in the afternoon or the evening after work.
  • Have your rest day the day before your long run.
  • Do a full-body circuit twice a week to save time, and use one day to work on upper body strength, flexibility and core (day after your long run works best).
  • You only need about 45 minutes for strength training per session, including a 7-minute warm up and 3-minute cool down.

Though they recruit different muscle fibre types, resistance training and aerobic training can work together as long as you follow these guidelines (as recommended by Essentials of Strength and Conditioning):

  1. Do your strength workouts on separate days from run workouts.
  2. If you have to strength train on the same day as a run day, choose a day with lower-intensity and lower-volume run workout (e.g. your easy 10 km run day).
  3. Do your lower-intensity, higher-volume resistance training (aka low to moderate weights lifted with 10-15 reps) during your “pre-season” (in this case, the first two months of a 17-week marathon training plan). In the five weeks leading up to your marathon, drop the volume of your strength training (the number of reps) and focus on power workouts (like plyometrics) and muscular strength (moderate to heavy weights with fewer sets repetitions).
  4. If you have to run and strength train on the same day, do your strength training first. It’s better to run on tired legs than to lift heavy objects over your head when you’re feeling fatigued.

Questions? Comments? Curious about what strength training workouts I’m doing? Let me know in the comment section below.