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Faster Running Rebuild: 5 Tips for Returning to Strength Training Post-Marathon

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Can we admit: us runners are a weird breed.

Because that initial lurking thought after finishing a race is:

"I should sign up for another one!"


Hold up. Slow your roll.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

(possibly literally.)


Recovery post-marathon is PARAMOUNT.

  • for the success of future training cycles

  • to heal from any and all injuries sustained (big or small)

  • mental sanity (yes, you need a break!)

  • and these are just a few

The basics of post-marathon recovery and the building blocks of your rebuild include:

  • lots of gentle walking the week after.

  • Give yourself 3 rest days week 1

  • you *may* begin short, 30min easy runs starting week 2 (with rest days between runs!)

BUT runners often forget to re-introduce something MAJOR!

Strength Training.


If you want to rebuild and successfully train for another race, you essentially have to go into rehab mode which involves A TON OF LOAD MANAGEMENT from:

  • how much to run

  • how intense to run

  • how many times a week to lift

  • and how heavy.

And a physical therapist, I can definitley help with that. :)


Let's hop into 5 tips for returning to strength training post-marathon so you can rebuild the right way.



Tip #1: Your "rehab mode" can last 2-4 weeks.

Why the difference?

  • every runner and they're level of experience and time to recover is going to be different.

  • And this is compounded by currently, there's nothing in the literature that spells out exactly when you can resume intense running or strength training or what that looks like.

However a repeated theme has been by 2 weeks, at which time: "maximal force capacities have returned to base line."

This translates to, it's safe to run and lift again.

Tip #2: Just because you *technically* can return to full intensity running and lifting at 2 weeks, doesn't mean you have to.

Or should.

You might still be sore.

Maybe not mentally ready.

Or things might still hurt in general.

(hello blisters and bye-bye toe nails.)

Remember: your body is always living and repairing in order to survive.

So unless you have a standing appointment with a saber tooth tiger that's going to chase you down and eat you….

You do NOT need to begin training aggressively again at that 2 week mark.

However, for your own sanity, you may begin running lightly and lifting again.
  • Return to running again: we talked about at the very beginning of this post.

  • Return to lifting again: can mean anything from body weight to lifting actual weights.

You can see how strength get's a little trickier.

Tip #3: Return to Strength Training Makes your Return to Running Easier.

Of course I have a circuit for you to try!


Circuit:

2-3 sets each // body weight vs light/medium weight

2x a week while in your recovery phase (2-4 weeks)


Exercise #1: Side-Sitting Glute Sit-Ups

  • 12 ea side X body weight only

Exercise #2: Tall Kneeling Halos

  • 6 Clock wise/6 counter clockwise X light weight

Exercise #3: Split Squat

  • 8 Reps ea side X body weight OR light weight (see next tip)

Exercise #4: Single Leg Bridge with OH Pull-Over

  • 8 Reps ea side X body weight OR light weight (see next tip)


Side Sitting Glute Sit-Ups

  • Deliberately chosen because it mobilizes your hips while simultaneously targeting your glutes in an isolated manner.

  • This of this exercise as a litmus test for exactly how your body is feeling and asking "what can it handle today?"

Exercises #2-3:

  • notice how these gradually progress to harder exercises, recruiting more "full body" as you go through the circuit. This is by design so you can gauge your own fatigue levels and your general readiness to return to rebuilding.

  • These can all be performed WITHOUT WEIGHT! (well, the tall halos need some kind of weight). This is also by design because you can repeat this circuit during your "rehab" weeks and gradaully increase the difficulty by increase the weight but by using...

Tip #4: Strength Train using RPE

Allow me to introduce RPE.


RPE is rate of perceived exertion.

You might understand it better in the running context of "easy pace". vs "race pace"

For strength work it means, the weight you use is determined by how hard it feels.


For example:

RPE 5: warm up weights

RPE 6: you could do 4 more reps

RPE 7: you could do 3 more reps

RPE 8: you could do 2 more reps

RPE 9: you could do 1 more rep

RPE 10: you hit failure and cannot do another rep!


THIS is what this strength circuit is based off.

  • That first glute exercise: shouldn't even register. It should so incredibly easy, you don't even notice it

  • As the circuit progresses and you begin to add reps, pick up some weights, and work into more difficult positions, the exercises should become more difficult.

Because you're still in "rehab" mode and probably floating around that 2 week mark, we DON'T want an RPE of 9-10.

My clinical judgement and experience:

  • keep effort around a 7 RPE where you still have "some gas in the tank

Because remember:

You did super hard 26.2 mile workout.

And that broke down muscle fibers that need time to repair and rebuild.

Tip #5: Muscles heal with load. By doing strength work you ARE helping your muscles heal, however…

You need to be mindful of intensity.

Because heavier loads = purposefully damaged muscle fibers to get stronger.

What we don't want: damaged muscles that never get a full chance to heal.


Remember: you are the expert of how your body feels.

If it's not ready for strength around week 2 post marathon, then wait!

WRAPPING UP

You're not behind.

You're recovering,

You will not lost fitness.

You cannot go wrong with:

  • Moving gently

  • Gradually increasing time

  • Slowly increase intensity

You got this!


If you're looking for more strength exercises to get you started in the right direction, I have a full FREE strength guide for runners that I think you'll like! Click HERE!

And be on the look out:

if you're looking to run and finish stronger, feel more confident about keeping lurking or future potential injuries at bay while running even faster for your next marathon, I have a 16 week strength program brewing right now for the busy marathoner.

If you want to be the first know when it formally launches: click HERE To get on the waitlist!

And as always running fit fam,

Dare to Train Differently,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit

 

References:


I. Martínez-Navarro, A. Montoya-Vieco, C. Hernando, B. Hernando, N. Panizo & E. Collado (2021) The week after running a marathon: Effects of running vs elliptical training vs resting on neuromuscular performance and muscle damage recovery, European Journal of Sport Science, 21:12, 1668-1674, DOI: 10.1080/17461391.2020.1857441


Millet, G. Y., Tomazin, K., Verges, S., Vincent, C., Bonnefoy, R., Boisson, R. C., ... & Martin, V. (2011). Neuromuscular consequences of an extreme mountain ultra-marathon. PloS one, 6(2), e17059. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0017059


Wiewelhove, T., Schneider, C., Döweling, A., Hanakam, F., Rasche, C., Meyer, T., ... & Ferrauti, A. (2018). Effects of different recovery strategies following a half-marathon on fatigue markers in recreational runners. PLoS One, 13(11), e0207313. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207313

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