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How would you like to PR your next marathon? If you’re registered for a fall race, you’re probably already pounding the pavement and logging the miles. But are you strength training as well? According to top experts in the sport, strength conditioning may be your key to success.
“Two benefits of strength training are to decrease the risk of injury and to improve efficiency, thus making you faster,” says Jason Lakritz, PT, DPT. Jason is a licensed physical therapist and USATF certified running coach. He explains that when you run, the muscles of the core, hips, knees, ankles, and feet are put under extreme stress. Those muscles have to be recruited very quickly to control the body against gravity. “The weaker the muscles are, the more stress that is put on the tendons, ligaments, and joints.” He says that strengthening the muscles will help your body manage the constant “load and explode” of each stride.
Fraser Quelch, the director of training and development for Fitness Anywhere and the creator of the TRX training program, agrees. In a recent lecture about the importance of strength training for runners, he said that improving mobility and strength with proper muscle training is the equivalent of getting “free speed.” In fact, he says that a three-inch increase in stride length can improve your 10K time by a minute and a half.
So how do you set up an efficient program to boost speed and run your fastest marathon ever? Both experts recommend full body exercises that promote mobility, stability, and postural efficiency.
As with any strength training program, it’s important to start with the most basic version of each exercise. Add variations and weight as your fitness level improves. And remember, good form is essential. This strength-training program isn’t about building big muscles. It’s about promoting the muscular habits that will support strong posture and faster movement on the racecourse.
The extra gym time required for this program doesn’t need to take over your current workout schedule. Jason recommends strength training just 2-3 times per week. And Fraser says that the training should be completed on your speed interval days to allow for a proper recovery period on the day after your hard sessions. Lastly, be sure to taper your strength-training program just like you taper your runs. “It is not possible to gain any fitness from running or weight lifting in the last two weeks before the race,” says Jason. He says those last few weeks should focus on recovery.