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Strength Training to Improve Your Marathon Time

Becca Capell

READ TIME:4 min.

If you’re wanting to improve your performance through strength training, but feel a little lost in the madness, here are a few of my favorite lifts, as well as some tips and tricks to help take your speed and endurance to the next level. Because a strong runner is a fast runner.


Posterior-chain Exercises

Whether you want a stronger kick or the ability to pass your competition uphill, these exercises can help your climbing and acceleration game.

  1. Deadlift
    The deadlift is the king of hip-extensor exercises. Every time you push off, you rely on your hip extensors. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes facing forward (or flared out slightly). With a kettlebell or barbell in your hands, hinge at your hip, sticking your booty back. Then drive your hips forward as you squeeze your glutes and tuck your chin.
  2. Hip Raises/Thrusts
    Hip raises or hip thrusts are another great hip-extensor exercise. For a simple variation, start with your back on the floor, knees bent so your feet are firmly planted on the floor. Then press through your heels, lifting your hips up. Keep your chin tucked to avoid overly extending your lower back. For an added level of difficulty, try single-leg variations or add a mini band just above your knee.
  3. Hamstring Curls
    Hamstring curls are the perfect bodyweight burner to increase hamstring strength and endurance. Lay on your back, with your hips off the ground, then place your feet on a suspension trainer, gliders, or a stability ball, pulling your heels in toward your glutes. Keep this motion controlled, and increase repetitions as your endurance improves.
  4. Lunges
    Lunges are basically just an exaggerated form of running. Because of this, I prefer walking lunges over other variations for runners. On a track or in an open space, drop into a lunge, then lift your back foot, and take a giant step forward as you drop into another lunge. Doing this, instead of bringing your feet together in between lunges, will increase the similarity of running and increase your active hip mobility.

Core Exercises

Every good runner needs a strong core, especially for marathons, since you need a core that can hang with you for all 26.2 miles. Beyond just muscular endurance, I’d recommend focusing on core exercises that encourage a good range of dynamic hip flexion. Dynamic hip mobility is a huge differentiator between elite runners and amateurs, so these exercises focus on maintaining that mobility.

  1. Pikes
    From a plank position, place your feet on either an exercise ball, gliders, or a suspension trainer. Once in the plank position, hinge at your hips, lifting your booty high while maintaining a flat back and straight legs. For an easier modification, add a bend in your knees for a tuck.
  2. V-sit
    A v-sit is one of the best isometric exercises to improve core endurance. From a seated position, lift your feet off the ground to balance on your sit bones. As you become stronger, work on straightening your legs more and more, as well as lowering your upper body to bring yourself to a hollow hold position.
  3. Knee-to-elbow Plank
    Knee-to-elbow plank is one of my favorite core exercises because it assists in hip flexion and dynamic hip mobility. Start in a high-plank position, then pull one knee up to the same-side elbow, while keeping your foot off the ground. Hold for 10–30 seconds, then switch sides.

Shoulder and Postural Exercises

Arm swing is a part of running that’s sometimes overlooked, but as I always tell my clients, your legs will follow where your arms lead. Good posture and strong arm drive can improve your running efficiency and greatly improve your overall performance.

  1. Back Extensions
    Your erector spinae muscles do exactly as they sound. They keep your spine erect. Back extensions are a great no-equipment way to work these small, yet important muscles. Start by laying on your stomach, then lift your upper and lower body off the ground, so as little of your body is touching the ground as possible. For an added challenge, take your hands behind your head, add in flutters, or try a variation by making a snow angel motion.
  2. Reverse Flyes
    Reverse flyes are a great way to work your rear deltoids and help open up your posture. Start in a hinged position with your back flat, then with a moderate to light dumbbell in each hand, lift your arms wide to form one straight line.
  3. Side Plank
    Side planks are a great way to work on shoulder endurance, as well as get a little core work in. Try forearm and straight-arm variations to see what challenges you more. Work on steadily improving how long you can hold it for.


    1. Lift heavier in the off-season, and lighter during race season.
      You’ll want to build a strong base, but when you’re racing and upping your mileage, you don’t need more breakdown in your muscles. After all, a sore racer isn’t a fast racer.
    2. Move in multiple planes of motion.
      Running takes place predominantly in the sagittal plane. To improve your overall fitness, be sure to incorporate movements in different planes of motion, primarily the frontal and transverse planes. Think jumping jacks or any rotational movements.
    3. Listen to your body.
      If you are overly sore, you won’t be able to push as hard during your running workouts, so you might want to adjust your routine to allow for an easy run after a heavy strength-training session. That way, your body has time to recover. As you add another stressor on your body, you’ll want to be sure to not overdo it.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to incorporate a few of these movements into your next strength-training workout. We’d love to hear how your training is going, so let us know your favorite movements from this list or if your runs improve.

Stay strong and best of luck!

Becca Capell
iFit Head Trainer
Runner and Marathoner

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