A 16-week strength training plan for marathon runners

Many of us neglect the basics of strength and conditioning, but it’s vital to keep us injury-free, strong, and ready to smash that marathon PB.

When you’ve committed to a marathon training plan, it can feel time-consuming – and sometimes even tiring enough – without adding in other training. And even if you want to, it can be hard to figure out what strength training you should be doing alongside your run training, and what exercises you should be focusing on.

In other words, it’s very easy to just prioritise the runs and neglect the important strength work. But heading to the gym – or the getting out the weights at home – and strengthening your legscore and those all-important stabiliser muscles is vital when it comes to marathon training, as it is for all running. Perhaps even more so, given the distance demands more respect and takes more out of you.

But unless you have the luxury of an on-call PT, it’s also easy to get stuck into a rut and just do the same old familiar exercises, without progressing them over time, and without necessarily targeting the key running muscle groups.

So to help you prepare for that 42.2 – whether it’s your first, or you are aiming for your fastest – we asked Marvin Burton, head of fitness at the Anytime Fitness franchise to develop this 16-week strength training plan for runners.

How to use the marathon strength-training plan:

The plan is split into four parts or phases, outlined below.

To be clear, this is a strength training plan to be used in conjunction with a running plan.

An overview of the 16-week strength training plan for marathon runners:

Weeks 1-5: Strength building phase

The clue is in the title: in this first phase, you are striving to make those muscles strong so that they can cope with the rigours of marathon training and support you as you increase your mileage through this period.


To add a bit more of a sting to the workout, you can add in the tip at the end of each set/the workout. This coverts some sets into supersets (ie sets with no rest between exercises) and also helps work muscles to fatigue for longer – something that you’ll be doing on race day.

Drop set – On completion of your final set reduce the weight by one weight setting / 10% of the weight and work until failure at a slightly faster tempo. Perform three drops, each time reducing the weight by the same amount.

20 reps after set 3 – On completion of the last set rest for 10 seconds. Perform 20 reps at a faster pace. Each time you stop, rest for a complete 10 seconds – even if you can only do 1 rep at a time. Complete the 20 reps and always take the 10 second rest.

Weeks 6-10: Hypertrophy and volume phase

What does this mean? Well muscle hypertrophy basically means growth: growth of the muscle fibres through contraction, damage and repair, which will increase muscle glycogen storage. And improved glycogen storage means more fuel for your muscles, which is exactly what you need when running 42.2 kilometres.

Weeks 11-14: High volume and functional strength phase

This is a 20-rep circuit that you should complete five times.

You should have a 60 second rest at the end of each round (once you’ve completed all six exercises with no rest).

Weeks 14 – 16: Taper

Time to ease down with your running – and this also means your strength and conditioning work is largely done. However, it’s good to keep moving in the taper.

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