Q: Is a gym session essential if I am training for a marathon?
A: Is a seat belt essential for a Formula One driver?
Neither of the two examples above are 'essential' for success in the sport but I guarantee that every Formula One driver wears a seatbelt. It makes the experience a lot better and needless to say, safer.
You can run a marathon and not go to the gym or do any strength workouts in the comfort of your own home at all. However, if you are going to run a marathon where you are testing the limits of your performance, why would you not want to be as strong as possible?
I never was much of a gym rat. In fact, I was very reluctant to work out in the gym because I thought it would be detrimental to my running performance. After all, if I gain all that muscle from lifting weights, it would make me slower, right? …wrong.
High-reps-low weight vs. Low-reps-high-weight
Why would you go and train cardio in the gym when you are already doing that in your outdoor runs, my former colleague (and official gym-rat) asked me? This was when he saw me doing a set of low-weight-high-reps of the deadlift. What you need is a strength program that actually builds muscular strength. You need low-reps-high-weight (aka lift heavy s***). The absolute opposite of what I had been doing.
If you put in a weekly strength set and incorporate mobility and stability work, you will not only be able to absorb the ‘load’ of a marathon better, you will also reduce the chances of injury. Ask yourself what would give you more marginal gains, an extra run (of which you have already been doing a lot, I presume) or the once-a-week fitness gains from a strength set. I know which one I would choose if I had to.
Here is a strength set that I love doing in the gym and highly recommend for any runner. It even has you working on speed on a treadmill so you may not even think of it as a strength workout!
Warm up for 5 min easy run on the treadmill
20s sprint, Barbell (BB) rows x 5, Barbell Overhead x 5 (3 sets)
2 min Rest Interval (RI)
20s sprint, BB curl x 5, BB tri extensions x 5 (3 sets)
2 min RI
25s sprint, BB clean x 5, BB high pull x 5, (3 sets)
2 min RI
Finisher: 2 sets of 20 burpees
Enjoy and run strong!