It would be easy to think that when you’re training for a marathon, you just need to make sure that you’re running regularly and banking those miles in the run up to race day.
After all, a marathon is just a lot of running.
No assault course, just running.
But… spending some time on conditioning work really will help you towards your marathon goal.
When you’re running, you want to make the most out of the energy you’re using up.
You don’t want to be wasting any precious calories on keeping yourself stable, or powering yourself forward, if you can help it.
Resistance and core training, when done correctly, will give you two very important advantages when you’re running (others too, but we’ll focus on these two): strength & stability.
(Note: this is the second in our series for marathon training. If you’d like to subscribe and start from the beginning, click here to sign up and you’ll get an email every week with a new piece on a different aspect of marathon training.)
Even if you’ve never done any weight training, you know this is true:
The first time you pick up 15, 25, or 50 kilos in, let’s say, a biceps curl, when you start weight training, it is really, really hard.
Then, after a few weeks of training, that weight doesn’t feel so heavy any more.
It feels easy, even.
Your body is a heavy weight (even if you’re only 112 lbs), and your leg muscles are pushing that body around when you’re running.
The stronger your leg muscles are, the lighter your body will feel, and the less effort you’ll be using to push yourself off the ground – over and over and over again.
Thus, conditioning is important for your marathon training because strength matters.
The more powerful your muscles become the easier it will be for them to propel you forward. As you get stronger, running will feel easier.
And that’s something you’ll really appreciate on your 15-mile long runs.
In addition to strength, resistance and core work improves your stability.
Why is stability important?
Well, if you stand on one leg, right now, lifting the opposite knee up to about hip-height, what happens? (try it now – I’ll wait)
If you’re like most people, you wobbled.
Maybe a little, maybe a lot.
Now imagine that every time you lift a foot when you’re running, all your muscles are contracting and holding and working to counteract that wobble.
That’s a lot of unconscious effort, right?
Good conditioning (good conditioning includes pelvic and core stability work with correct form) will reduce your wobble, which means you save energy.
Which would you rather use your precious carb stores for – moving forward, or not wobbling?
Now, there are a few other benefits to conditioning work, but I think these are enough to demonstrate why conditioning is worth 40 minutes a week of your life, no?
How to Structure Your Resistance Training
The next thing to consider is, what should you do during your conditioning workout?
You should include a combination of compound movements that encourage whole-body stability, and exercises that make your muscles stronger.
Choose exercises that work the quads, calves, hamstrings and glutes (especially the glutes), as well as improve core and pelvic stability like your deep abdominals and back. You should include some work on your upper body as well, both for balance and stability.
This can include things like squats, lunges, calf raises, plank, press-ups, pull-ups and bridges.
You can go through a circuit, resting after you do one round, and in our 3m2m Conditioning Guide we recommend using a peripheral heart approach, where you alternate between upper and lower body exercises to get more cardiovascular benefits.
If you work with a personal trainer, you can ask them to include it in your regular sessions, or you can put together a series on your own.
Make sure that whatever combination of exercises you choose, you decide based on your own fitness level and strength in each individual muscle (just because you have strong quads doesn’t mean you have strong glutes).
The Most Important Thing for Strength Work
This is the Most Important Thing for conditioning work.
For every single exercise you do, check your form and make sure you’re recruiting the correct muscles. It is so easy to overuse your quads or hamstrings when you’re supposed to be using your glutes, and that just sets you up for injury.
Prioritise correct form over speed (do it slowly vs doing it wrong) and read any instructions for correct form over and over until you’re sure you’re right, or check it with someone.
Our conditioning guide has very detailed instructions for every exercise to ensure that when you’re doing an exercise, you’re doing it correctly. As part of our Kick-Start marathon package, you can also get a one-off PT session with Thrive Fitness to check your form on any of the exercises, along with a 90-min running MOT where we can do some basic checking as well.
Your Action Step
Now that you know why conditioning is so important, find 2 x 20 minute windows each week that you can allocate for conditioning work.
Choose five strength exercises and two to three core exercises and plan to do 1-2 circuits during those conditioning windows.
Leave a comment below to tell us 1) if you’re now a conditioning convert and understand why it’s so important for marathon training (or if you’re still skeptical) and 2) what your exercises and time slots are for your conditioning workout.
Coming up… in the next post you’ll learn the point of warming up before a run and a simple warm-up routine to get you started.
This post is part of our 3m2m marathon training series. If you’d like to receive these straight to your inbox, click here to sign up and you’ll get an email every week with a new piece on a different aspect of marathon training.
The information in this article is pulled from the 3m2m Conditioning Guide, available on Amazon Kindle or click here to purchase from us directly Leyton Sports Massage.
All articles in this series are all drawn from the 3 Months to Marathon guides, written by Katherine with help from Michel Glendinning of Thrive Fitness. The guides are available to purchase on Amazon Kindle, or go to 3m2m.co.uk to check out the full range of packages.