Training for your first marathon or triathlon? Make sure you don’t skip the weight room. Wait, what? Isn’t weight training all about bulking up, and isn’t that kind of the last thing a runner or triathlete would want? It may seem counter intuitive, but weightlifting can actually help you get faster. It’ll also give you more power and help you avoid injury. So, if you want to know how to train for a marathon or triathlon (or even how to train for a half marathon if that’s where you’re at), get ready to pick up some dumbbells.
Why Weightlifting Will Make You a Better Runner
Distance runners are known for their long, lean physiques, but today’s top athletes are increasingly adding weightlifting into their training regimen. There are several important reasons for this.
1. Weightlifting can help you run faster
Dr. Kenji Doma, a senior lecturer at James Cook University in Australia has found that weightlifting alters your brain’s neural recruitment pattern, allowing your brain to tap more fatigue-resistant muscle fibers. In plain English, that means your brain learns to do more with less energy, and it can transfer this handy new ability to your running. Runners who perform strength training regularly use less energy when they run, meaning you can go longer and faster just by adding some barbells into your marathon training.
2. Weightlifting helps prevent injuries
Training for a marathon or triathlon requires putting your body through a lot of miles on the road, on the bike, and in the water. It’s easy for a nagging injury to appear and put you on the sidelines come race day. Weightlifting keeps you fit and injury-free by strengthening your muscles and connective tissue. This can help prevent painful muscle pulls and tears, inflamed tendons, and more.
3. Weightlifting improves posture and coordination
Even small increases in efficiency can add up over a multi-hour race. Just imagine how much you could improve over the course of 26.2 miles if every one of your strides was just one percent more efficient. Weightlifting helps you improve your coordination and strengthens your stabilizer muscles, which can help you maintain good posture during multi-plane movements.
How to Add Weightlifting to Your Marathon or Triathlon Training
You want to try some marathon weightlifting, but how do you start? After all, training for a marathon or a triathlon takes a lot of effort, focus, and, most of all, time. Fortunately, you don’t have to hit the weights every single day or sacrifice all your run time. Keep in mind that you aren’t looking to bulk up. Instead, you just want to preserve your lean muscle mass, which can easily disappear if you only focus on cardio. (Learn why too much cardio can be a bad thing.)
Scheduling your weight training
Ideally, you want to try and fit two strength training days into your schedule each week. Most runners already program cross-training into their schedule to help prevent overuse injuries. Add strength training to your existing cross-training days, and you’ll be golden. If you perform compound movements, like squats, lunges, and deadlifts, you can easily get through a full-body strength training workout each time you visit the gym. (Here are five things you need to know to gain lean muscle mass.)
As your race nears and you ramp up your mileage, you can drop your weightlifting to one day per week. Make sure to add that second day back in after you triumphantly finish your race. All that cardio can quickly diminish your muscle mass, which can leave you susceptible to injuries in the future.
Performing the right volume
When you get into the gym, what exactly should you do? Resist the urge to pick up those tiny pink dumbbells and do approximately 500 bicep curls; just because you don’t want to bulk up doesn’t mean you should lift the lightest weights possible or go for agonizingly long sets.
Instead, focus on fewer sets and fewer reps at a moderately heavy weight. A good lifting scheme to shoot for is 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps each. The last one or two reps of each set should feel difficult. Fewer reps at a heavier weight will allow you to move through your workout in a timely fashion, especially if you already ran earlier in the day.
Doing the Right Movements
What strength training movements should a runner or triathlete actually do? The list is nearly endless. As we’ve already mentioned, compound movements are a great option, as they will allow you to target multiple muscles during a single movement. (Learn why it’s essential to do reps correctly in your workout.)
If you’re brand new to weightlifting, you may want to consider performing body weight movements. Exercises like push ups, sit-ups, planks, air squats, lunges, and back extensions are all great starting exercises. As you become more comfortable with your strength-training routine, try out some resistance machines at the gym. Eventually, you’ll want to transition to free weights, which will help you improve your coordination and form.
Many runners make the mistake of assuming they only need to work on their leg muscles. While working out your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes are very important, so are the rest of the muscles in your body. Building a strong core (that’s your abs and back muscles) can help you maintain good posture even during those last difficult miles.
You also want to work your upper body. Triathletes need strong shoulder and chest muscles to power through the swim and to stay balanced on the bike. Runners also want toned arms to help them maintain a good cadence through the miles. If your arms start to fatigue at mile 20, it can be hard to focus on anything else or keep up a strong pace.
For specific marathon training weightlifting guides or a half marathon training guide with weightlifting schedule, take a look at this helpful article from Runner’s World and this great article from BodyBuilding.com. Scroll to the bottom of both articles to get some sample workouts.
Looking for a welcoming, state-of-the-art gym to help you start a weightlifting routine? At EōS Fitness, we offer a huge selection of resistance machines as well as all the dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells and other free weights that you could ever want. If you feel unsure about weight training, try one of our strength training classes or even consider hiring a personal trainer. We’ve also got great treadmills and stationary bikes, so you can keep your training on schedule no matter what the weather does. Find an EōS Fitness near you today.