From a year of new normal, we are gradually progressing towards restoring normalcy, a clear sign of which is that marathons are once again being held across the world. In a four-part series by marathoner and coach Tarun Walecha, we will cover how to train for a marathon and the journey between the start and the finish line. Read Part 1 and Part 2 on a marathon training plan.
Running a marathon tests human limits in all possible spheres. While we need to push our physical limits, it tests our mental resilience as well. The discipline needed to physically train for a marathon though can well be defined as the cornerstone of it all, it is much needed in all aspects of training. While on the ringside view, our focus gets restrained to the running schedule, there are a few more aspects about marathon training that holds it all together like a strong thread. Strength training is one such crucial part without which the maze remains unsolved and brings the house down like a pack of cards.
Why do you need Strength Training?
It’s often that we talk about running as the most natural activity one can be engaged in, why would then one think of an independent strength training routine to be such an important aspect of marathon training? Most of our training schedules accommodate for a few strength sessions in a week to work on our body strength comprehensively. There are primarily two reasons for it. The understanding of the first reason comes from the roots of our running history, from the times when there were no CrossFit arenas, boot camps or gymnasiums. As natural as running was to mankind, our daily life was also wrapped around enough physical work which would passively suffice for the much needed workout for our muscles. It is only in modern life where running isn’t practised as a primary mode of movement but as a fitness regime, and in the further absence of enough physical activity, a focused strengthening of our muscles becomes a vital cog. The second aspect of it is competitiveness. We not only wish to run a marathon, but we yearn to get faster, we aspire to improve ourselves and become faster each time. And all this is only possible if we have stronger muscles to support us.
Body parts that need our focus
Upper Body: No, we don’t need to run on our hands, but upper body strength still plays an important part in our running biomechanics. The way we hold our shoulders, swing our arms, and keep the head steady, contributes to how efficiently we can run. Any kind of weakness can not only lead to more load on our lower limbs, it often leads to stiffness, cramps , or aches due to fatigue while running. A strong upper body not only ensures that our legs don’t have to lug extra weight but gives us efficient propulsion.
As part of the upper body regime, we must work on having strong arms, shoulders, upper back, and chest muscles. Other than these, various exercises to work on specifics for latissimus dorsi, trapezius muscle go a long way in bringing in that balance.
Legs: You run with legs, and they should be strong enough. But that’s where the simplicity of it all ends. The complex anatomy of our legs is not only the basic reason for our running gait, but the root cause of most running related injuries too, and hence it requires far more invasive focus and works.
Due to years of reduced or not running at all, our muscles become dormant. Therefore, to be able to strengthen them, we first need to make them active and further enhance their ability. Any good strength training coach would always work on both simultaneously.
Some of the most obvious area we need to work on our calves, quads, and hamstring, but in addition to these, we need to focus on the glute muscles which act as a powerhouse for runners, sartorius, adductor, and abductor group of muscles which enable a balanced and powerful stride.
Core: True to its nomenclature, core is the core of it all. We often focus on the above two as the most obvious areas to work on, a little shift from the vanity takes us to matter where it all rests. Our core plays an important role in our dynamics due to its strategic positioning. It’s the muscle group which brings it all together and is responsible for all load shift from top to bottom and vice versa. With no bones to hold it up, the entire muscle group needs a lot of work to be able to give that strength and much needed push to be able to run faster. A strong core also prevents fatigue to set in and keeps running injuries, both to legs and upper body at bay. For a strong core, we must work on our lower back, obliques, and the entire rectus abdominus region.
It’s not just the crunches that will take us to the other side, one must include exercises that work on the comprehensive development of the entire core group. As we move ahead with our training plan, incorporating our due strength session, not only we realize the true sense of training, but we are able to unleash our underlying potential.