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Friday, January 26, 2007

How much training should a marathon runner do in the gym?

I get many variations on this question and the answer is this: "Very little". About 15-20 minutes, including the warm up and no more than three times a week.
Running a marathon is an extreme activity and the only way to prepare is to get out on the road and the trails and grind out the miles day after day, month after month. The specificity principle of athletic conditioning dictates that the closer you replicate the activity or event that you are aiming for the better prepared you will be. So, if you are going to be running on pavement, then most of your running should be on pavement and certainly not on a stepper, cross-trainer or even a treadmill. If there are hills on the course, then you must train on hills. If there is soft or uneven ground then you should be running on similar surfaces a good deal of the time.

Photocourtesy of: Nobby Hashizume

It is often argued that the gym is used for "core conditioning". Well, you don't neeed a gym and again the specificity principle says that a runner would be better off doing exercises and drills that condition the body's core specifically for running. This can be done by doing running drills like bounding up slopes (refer photo), stride-outs, accelerations and various agility drills. Done right, these drills superbly condition the body without adding unnecessary muscle bulk.
All that you need to add to the training mix is the following in the order given:
  • Chinups off a tree or bar - about 5 reps will do
  • Press-ups - about 10-20 is fine
  • Hanging from a bar and pulling both knees to your chest (for the hips and abdominals) - about 10 will do
  • Lifting a modest weight from the gound to above your head - 10-20 is fine

Move quickly from one to the other and, if you feel enthusiastic, do up to three sets and do this 2-3 times a week. If you feel like doing a fourth set, my advice is to go for a run around the block. You are training to be a marathon runner - not a weight lifter. Believe me, Arnold was never a good runner - it was all special effects.

If you have a gym membership, this is your 10 minute workout. If you worry about all that money you are paying on gym fees and not making much use of the gym then do your runs from the gym and use the showers. Better still, run to the gym and back.

By far the most important thing is you must get outside and run if you want to finish a marathon in reasonable shape.


Wayne said...

maybe one reason african athletes do so well is because they dont train on paved roads very much in their developing years, sparing their legs the extra pounding. at 38 my legs cant take long runs on teh pavement anymore without getting seriously sore.

Gary Moller said...

When a teenager Lorraine ran the long Sunday runs with Dad over the endless network of forestry roads of Tokoroa backing onto the Mamaku (I tagged along now and then). The runs during the week on the road were no more than about 8 miles. The rest was running on grass mostly barefoot.