The 8 Best Marathon Strength Training Exercises For Performance

Get stronger, run faster, and stay injury-free with our strength training workouts!

You have undoubtedly heard that when training for a marathon, half-marathon, or any short or long distance for that matter, it is imperative to strength train if you want to achieve great results, build strength, run faster, stay healthy, and aid in injury prevention. 

As a certified running coach, I am a huge advocate for strength training and prescribe it to all of my athletes.

Marathon training in and of itself is time-consuming as many experienced runners will be running six days a week to get in their running workouts of easy runs, long runs, and speed sessions.

In addition to your marathon training plan, your weeks will most likely include cross-training, sports massage, warm-ups, cool-downs, and foam rolling, along with getting adequate sleep and sufficient healthy calories to maintain your body’s demands.

No matter how busy your training schedule is, a strength training program twice a week should work its way into your schedule. 

In this guide, we will detail the eight best marathon strength training exercises you should include in your weekly strength workouts. They will be helpful for those with limited time who can only squeeze in short yet efficient workouts.

Ready? Let’s jump in!

Three people doing kettlebell squats.

The Benefits of Strength Training For Marathon Runners

Strength training has endless benefits for marathon runners, including increasing overall strength and decreasing the risk of overuse injuries by correcting muscle imbalances, improving running economy1Blagrove, R. C., Howatson, G., & Hayes, P. R. (2017). Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine48(5), 1117–1149. and running form, boosting running performance,2Yamamoto, L. M., Lopez, R. M., Klau, J. F., Casa, D. J., Kraemer, W. J., & Maresh, C. M. (2008). The Effects of Resistance Training on Endurance Distance Running Performance Among Highly Trained Runners: A Systematic Review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research22(6), 2036–2044. and increasing speed and power.

How To Program Your Strength Sessions Into Your Training

Adding total body strength training workouts to your training plan twice a week will be sufficient to reap these benefits without tiring you out too much for your runs. 

If you are going to have a run workout and a strength workout on the same day, I suggest you run first, as running is the priority, and then perform your strength session later on, ideally with at least four hours in between each session.

This is so you feel at your very best for your run, instead of running on tired muscles after your weight session.

What Equipment Do I Need To Get Started?

If you plan on performing your strength training routine at home, which is a great time saver, you will benefit from acquiring some equipment to make your workouts more effective. 

If you want to start immediately and don’t have any equipment, you can perform these marathon strength training exercises below with just your body weight. 

However, as you advance, you will want to add resistance to the marathon strength training exercises with equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells, and resistance bands. Also, a TRX suspension device comes in handy when doing exercise variations.

Ready to get into our 8 best marathon strength training exercises that must be included in your strength workouts? 

The 8 Best Marathon Strength Training Exercises 

#1: Squats

A person doing a squat.

The squat is a compound functional exercise that targets your glutes, hamstrings, quads, adductors, hip flexors, calves, and core. All of these muscles are called upon when running, making this a very complete marathon strength training exercise. 

The following are instructions for a basic squat.

  1. Stand tall with your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart, and your toes slightly turned out.
  2. Hold a weight to your chest, keeping your elbows together, shoulders back, chest up, and looking straight ahead.  
  3. Engage your core, and bend at the knees and hips as you sit back until your thighs are parallel to the floor. 
  4. Using your glutes, push yourself back up into your initial standing position. 
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

A variety of squats will slightly modify which muscles you are working the most, and unilateral squats (one leg at a time) will be excellent in correcting muscle imbalances. 

Squat variations: Resistance band squats, wall-sits, single-leg squats, Bulgarian split squats, jump squats (which will really get that heart rate up), isometric squats, lateral squat walks with a resistance band, and sumo squats. 

These squat variations can be done using bodyweight or resistance, such as dumbbells or kettlebells. 

#2: Lunges

A person doing a dumbbell lunge, a marathon strength training exercise.

The lunge is a unilateral exercise, which, as we have mentioned, is excellent for correcting muscle imbalances and reducing the risk of injury. As running uses a unilateral movement pattern, lunges are a great addition to your weight-lifting routines.

Lunges work your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and core. Let’s look at how to perform a basic reverse lunge:

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, chest up and proud, core engaged, and shoulders back, looking straight ahead. 
  2. Take a big step back with your right foot, placing the ball of your foot on the floor behind you. 
  3. As you take this step, bend both knees until they reach 90 degrees. Your right knee will be just above the ground, and your left thigh will be parallel to the floor. 
  4. Push off your back foot and return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

As for lunges, there are a significant number of variations that can help you get a complete lower-body workout.

Variations: Side lunges, jumping lunges, forward lunges, walking lunges (forward and backward), and curtsey lunges. 

Not only can you add weight to these exercises, but you can also add in some upper body work as you lunge to make it a full-body exercise. For example, you can add in some overhead presses or lateral raises. 

#3: Deadlifts

A person doing a deadlift.

Deadlifts are key in strengthening your hamstrings and glutes. 

A Romanian deadlift is a good one to start with, as deadlifts are complicated exercises because of their tricky technique. Before adding weight, practice your deadlift technique in the mirror. 

Ensure your back is straight and you are not hunching over. Doing so will put unnecessary pressure on your back. Remember, we want to feel the work in our hamstrings, not our lower back. 

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, bending your knees slightly, dumbbells at your things.
  3. While keeping your back flat, hinge at your hips as you bring the dumbbells to your shins. (This is not a squat; your knees bend just slightly). Your upper body should be parallel to the floor when the dumbbells are in place at your shins.
  4. Engage your core and return to your starting position, following through with your hips and squeezing your glutes.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Variations: Deficit deadlifts and single-leg deadlifts are other options to try out for more advanced versions of this exercise.

#4: Hip Thrusters 

A person doing a hip thrust.

Now it’s time to really work those glutes with hip thrusters. Hip thrusters are similar to glute bridges, the difference being the position. With a hip thruster, your upper body is elevated, challenging you with an increased range of motion and hip flexion.

Be sure to extend those hips fully with each rep.

  1. Place the bench or plyometric box behind you. 
  2. Sit on the floor and place your upper back or the center of your shoulder blades against the bench or plyometric box. 
  3. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor at hip-width apart. 
  4. Squeeze your glutes, engage your core, and lift your hips up toward the ceiling until your hips are fully extended. Make sure your neck is relaxed and does not strain with the movement. Let your gaze move naturally with the hip extension.
  5. Continue to squeeze your glutes and hold this bridge position for a second or two.
  6. Slowly lower your hips down to the starting position. 
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Again, add weight to this exercise to increase difficulty. Place a dumbbell or kettlebell in the center of your hips and hold it with your hands. 

Variations: Any glute bridge or hip thruster is an excellent addition to your training, such as single-legged glute bridges, resistance band bridges or thrusters, and marching glute bridges. 

#5 Calf Raises 

People doing calf raises.

For this exercise, you will need a step or stair so you can extend the range of motion. You can also hold dumbbells in either hand for added resistance. 

  1. Stand with the balls of your feet on the edge of a step.
  2. Lower your heels down as far as you can below the step. 
  3. Then, reverse the movement and push yourself up on your toes as high as you can, pausing at the top.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Variations: To hit all parts of the calf, use variations such as seated calf raises, single-leg calf raises, and farmer’s walk on tiptoes. 

#6: Push Ups 

A person doing a push up.

Now, even though we have focused mostly on our lower-body muscle groups, it is important to include upper-body and core exercises in our strength training routine.

Push-ups are excellent for upper body strength and a great bodyweight exercise you can do anywhere.

  1. Lie on your stomach, palms on the ground lined up on either side of your chest, and your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Push through your hands, extending your elbows as you raise yourself up and keeping your body as straight as a board.
  3. Lower yourself back down in a controlled manner, bending your elbows until your body is barely above the ground. 
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Variations: To work up to this exercise, you may begin by performing push-ups against a wall, on your knees, or with your hands on a bench for extra help. Then, when you are more advanced and have mastered basic push-ups you can try Spiderman push-ups, clapping push-ups, and even single-arm push-ups! 

#7: Rows

Bent over row.

Now that we’ve worked out our chest, we must even it out by working our back. Rows are a great exercise to strengthen your back which will help with your running posture.

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in, and hands by your sides. 
  2. Bend at the waist keeping your back completely straight and torso almost parallel to the floor. 
  3. Pull the dumbbells up to your chest, your elbows bending behind you.
  4. Hold this position briefly and lower the dumbbells with control back to your starting position. 
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Variations: You can also do these rows unilaterally by working one arm at a time and then switching sides. Other variations include gorilla rows, suspension rows, and isometric rows.

#8: Planks

A person doing a full plank.

This wouldn’t be a complete workout if we didn’t work our core strength. 

A plank is essentially a total-body exercise because it works your core, upper body, and even your lower body! 

The following instructions are for a full plank.

  1. Lie face down on the floor, hands on either side next to your chest, elbows back, and palms facing down as if you were going to do a push-up.
  2. Engaging your core, push yourself into the full plank position, body in a straight line from head to toe.
  3. Your hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders should be in a straight line, shoulder-width apart, and your weight distributed between your arms and toes.
  4. The closer together your feet are, the more difficult the plank becomes. If you need more stability, separate your feet so they are further apart. 
  5. Hold this position for the desired amount of time.

Variations: The number of plank variations is endless, but to name a few, try the: elbow plank, side plank, body saw plank, suspension plank, up-down plank, and resistance band leg raise plank.

There you have it, eight of the very best marathon strength training exercises to include in your strength training sessions to help get you to race day injury-free.

Whether you decide to work with a personal trainer or own your own, add strength training into your program so you can enjoy optimal performance and success!

For even more of our strength training guides to add variety to your workouts, check out the following:

Total Body Gym Workout For Runners

Bodyweight Workout For Runners

A person doing a star plank.


  • 1
    Blagrove, R. C., Howatson, G., & Hayes, P. R. (2017). Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine48(5), 1117–1149.
  • 2
    Yamamoto, L. M., Lopez, R. M., Klau, J. F., Casa, D. J., Kraemer, W. J., & Maresh, C. M. (2008). The Effects of Resistance Training on Endurance Distance Running Performance Among Highly Trained Runners: A Systematic Review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research22(6), 2036–2044.
Photo of author
Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

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