Why Strength Training Matters for Marathon Runners

You’ve been pounding the pavement for months, preparing for your first marathon. Your weekly long runs are getting longer, and your legs feel stronger. But if you’re not incorporating strength training into your routine, you could be missing out on huge performance and injury prevention benefits.

Sure, marathon training is mostly about the miles. But adding some squats, lunges, and core work will take your running to the next level. Strength training builds power and endurance in your legs, so they can keep churning when the going gets tough. It also corrects muscle imbalances that lead to injuries.

Don’t skip your next weight session if you want to cross that finish line strong. Just two or three 30-minute strength workouts per week will give you the edge you need to PR that 26.2.

Why Strength Training Matters for Marathon Runners

Strength training is crucial for marathon runners. It helps build stronger muscles and connective tissues that will endure the high-impact nature of long distance running.

Improved Endurance

Strength training improves your endurance by making your muscles work more efficiently. Stronger muscles do not fatigue as easily, allowing you to run longer without slowing down. Leg exercises like squats, lunges, and calf raises will strengthen the muscles you depend on the most for running.

Injury Prevention

The repetitive pounding during a marathon can easily lead to injuries like stress fractures, tendinitis and muscle strains. Strength training helps prevent injuries by building stronger bones and connective tissue. It also improves joint stability and flexibility. Hip and core exercises are especially important for preventing running injuries.

Better Form

Strong muscles help you maintain proper running form longer into a marathon. As you become fatigued, your body starts to break down, which can slow you down and cause injuries. Exercises that strengthen your core, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings will help you keep good form during those final miles.

Improved Power

Building power through exercises like plyometrics—jumper squats, box jumps, and lunge jumps—will make you a stronger, faster runner. More power means you can push off more forcefully with each stride, covering more ground with less effort. This can significantly improve your running efficiency and speed.

Strength training for marathon runners does not have to be complicated. Focus on bodyweight exercises, dumbbells, and resistance bands 2-3 times a week. Start slowly and build up as your muscles strengthen. The benefits to your endurance, form, and injury prevention will be well worth the effort.

How Much Strength Training Do Marathon Runners Need to Do?

As a marathon runner, strength training is essential to improving your performance and avoiding injuries. But not until you are sure how much it would take you. The good news is that marathon runners don’t need to spend hours pumping iron. Two to three strength training sessions a week, with each lasting 30 to 60 minutes, can provide huge benefits.

Focus on Compound Exercises

The most elite or optimal strength training for runners includes compound exercises that work more than one muscle group at a time. Exercises like squats, lunges, pushups, rows, and shoulder presses are ideal. These exercises strengthen your core and major running muscles like glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.

Use Moderate Weights

You don’t need heavy weights to see results as a runner. In fact, heavy weights can lead to bulky muscles and injuries. Aim for 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps of each exercise using moderate weights. For most people, that means starting with 3 to 8-pound dumbbells for upper-body exercises and a lighter barbell (e.g., 35 to 65 pounds) for lower-body exercises like squats. Gradually increase the weight as your strength begins to grow.

Include Plyometrics

In addition to strength training, include plyometric exercises like box jumps, lunge jumps, and squat jumps in your routine. Plyometrics involves explosive movements that improve your power and endurance. Start with 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps of one or two plyometric exercises in your workout. Build up gradually to minimize injury risk.

Rest and Recover

Rest days are important as workout is important. As a marathon runner, aim for one to two strength training sessions per week, with at least one rest day between workouts. Keep one or two days each week completely free of any exercise. Your muscles need time to recover in order to get stronger and build endurance. Lack of rest can lead to fatigue, injury, and burnout.

In summary, for most marathon runners, two 30–60 minute full-body strength training workouts per week using moderate weights and including plyometrics will provide huge benefits. Be sure to start light, build up gradually, and schedule in plenty of rest days. Consistency over the long run will make you a stronger, faster, and healthier runner.

Strength Training Exercises for Marathon Runners

Strength training is essential for marathon runners. By incorporating strength training into your routine, you’ll become a stronger, faster, and less injury-prone runner.

As a marathon runner, you likely already spend a lot of time pounding the pavement and focusing on cardio endurance. However, to become a stronger and less injury-prone runner, it’s critical to incorporate strength training into your routine. Strength training exercises can increase muscle power, improve your running form and efficiency, and help prevent common overuse injuries.

Some of the best strength training exercises for marathon runners include:


Squats are perhaps the best exercise to help increase lower-limb strength. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and bend your knees to lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Push back up to the starting position. Aim for 2-3 sets of 10–20 reps, increasing weight over time as your legs get stronger. Squats will strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and hips.


Lunges are a great way to strengthen your hips, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Step one leg forward, aligning your feet with your body, and lower yourself until both knees are bent at approximately 90 degrees with your back knee touching the ground. Push back to the starting position. Alternate legs and aim for 2-3 sets of 10–20 reps on each leg. For added challenge, hold dumbbells at your sides.

Calf Raises

Calf raises target your gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. Pose upright with your feet apart by a shoulder-width or more. Lift your heels so you’re at your peak. Wait for a second before coming down with your palm again. Aim for 2-3 sets of 10–20 reps. For added resistance, hold dumbbells. Strong, flexible calves will help prevent injuries and improve your running performance.

Core Work

A strong core is essential for marathon runners. Exercises like planks, crunches, and sit-ups will build strength in your abs and lower back. Aim for 2-3 sets of 10–20 reps of each exercise, increasing the hold time or adding weight over time as your core gets stronger. A stable core will improve your balance, posture, and efficiency.

Strength training for marathon runners does not have to be complicated or time-consuming. Focusing on just 2-3 exercises that target your legs, glutes, and core 2-3 times a week can go a long way toward making you a stronger, less injury-prone runner. Be sure to start light, focus on proper form, and build up your strength over time.

Should Marathon Runners Lift Heavy or Light?

When it comes to strength training for marathon runners, the debate rages on about whether lifting heavy or light weights is better. The truth is, incorporating a mix of both heavy and light strength training into your routine can provide the most benefits.

Go Heavy for Power

Lifting heavier weights in the 5 to 8 rep range for 2 to 3 sets helps build power and strength. For marathon runners, exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and rows are ideal for building strength in your legs, core, and upper body. Stronger muscles will make you a more powerful runner and help prevent injuries. Plus, more muscle means a higher metabolism, which is great for endurance athletes.

Go Light for Endurance

While heavy lifting is important, lighter weight training also has a place in a runner’s routine. Using weights that fatigue your muscles in the 12 to 15 rep range, 2 to 3 sets, helps build muscular endurance. This is especially useful for marathon runners, as your muscles need endurance to carry you through 26.2 miles! Lightweight exercises like lunges, step ups, shoulder presses, and lat pulldowns are great for improving endurance.

Mix It Up

The ideal marathon runner’s weight training program incorporates both heavy and light days. You might do 2 to 3 days a week of strength training, with one day focused on heavier lifts and the other on lighter, higher-rep exercises. Be sure to rest in between strength training days to allow your muscles to recover. Mixing up heavy and light weight days will provide the perfect balance of power, strength, and endurance benefits for marathon runners.

In summary, marathon runners should incorporate a mix of both heavy and light weight training to build a solid strength and endurance foundation. Combining power and endurance focused exercises a few times a week will yield the best results and turn you into a stronger, faster runner. The mix of both is the perfect recipe for marathon success.

My Thoughts

So there you have it! Strength training is super important for marathon runners. By incorporating strength training into your routine a few times a week, you’ll build muscle, prevent injury, improve your running form, and boost your performance.

Don’t skip it; even 30 minutes twice a week can make a big difference. Remember that strength training complements your running training. It won’t bulk you up or slow you down. Instead, it will make you a stronger, faster, and more resilient runner. So embrace strength training as an integral part of your marathon training plan. Your body and your race times will thank you!

Muhammad Qasim

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