5 Exercises for Your Marathon Training Plan |

5 Exercises for Your Marathon Training Plan


Marathon season is upon us. For those of you training for the Chicago marathon, we have collected a few exercises to help you prevent common injuries leading up to your longest training runs and the race. As race day approaches and mileage adds up, we see a pattern of injuries—most often patellofemoral pain, Achilles tendinopathy, and plantar fasciitis

During a marathon, the body absorbs 3 times its body weight every step for 26.2 miles. Whether this is your first marathon or you’re a seasoned distance runner, following a marathon training schedule is crucial to staying healthy—from day one of training to race day and beyond. Learn more about the mechanics of the gait cycle and how to craft a customized marathon training plan to protect your muscles and tendons.

What is the Gait Cycle?

The gait cycle begins with the strike of one foot and ends with the following strike of the same foot on the next step. This interval can be broken down into two phases: the stance phase (weight‐bearing) and the swing phase (non‐weight‐bearing). During the stance phase, the stance leg absorbs three times the body weight of the runner. 

When assessing runners, we commonly see what is called a valgus position, where the knee collapses medially during the stance phase of the running gait pattern. This is usually indicative of hip weakness. The valgus position of the knee can easily cause knee pain, but can also lead to breakdown in the ankle and foot.

The following exercises will help to increase hip strength, keep your hips loose, and decrease the likelihood of tendinopathy in the foot.

1. Foam Rolling Exercises

Glutes & Quads

When you foam roll, the goal is to break up the “knots” in your muscles. These knots are taut bands of muscle fiber that are constantly contracted. The contracted muscle fibers cannot further contract when they need to fire as a whole unit, which makes the muscle a fraction weaker. After foam rolling, the taut bands should be looser which will restore some of the lost strength in the affected muscle groups. 

Foam rolling the hips is important for knee control during the strike phase. Foam rolling the quads is important so that the iliotibial band (IT band) stays loose. Perform for 5 to 10min total on quads and glutes.


You should work a variety of foam rolling exercises into your marathon training plan, targeting any muscle group that is developing stiffness and pain.

For the Quadriceps muscle, start by lying face down with a foam roller against the front of your affected thigh. Cross your other leg over the top of your affected leg as shown. Next, using your arms propped on your elbows, roll forward and back across this area.


Start by sitting on a foam roll and cross your affected leg on top of your other knee as shown. Lean slightly towards your affected side. Next, using your arms and unaffected leg, roll forward and back across your buttock area.

Iliotibial Band

Start on your side with a foam roll under your bottom thigh. Next, using your arms and unaffected leg, roll the foam roller up and down along your lateral thigh.

2. Side Planks

Most people think side planks are important for core strength—and they are—but they are also very helpful for building strength in the gluteus medius. A study from JOSPT measured the EMG activity of glute med and glute max in nine different core strengthening exercises. The study found that side planks measured the highest glute med activity compared with single leg bridge, lateral step up, and active hip abduction. Side planks are a good starting point for initiating hip strength, which can then translate to more functional movements.

While lying on your side, lift your body up on your elbow and feet. Focus on maintaining a straight spine. If starting from your feet is too difficult, begin with a modified plank and bridging from your knees instead. Perform three sets of 30 on each side.

3. Single Leg Eccentric Squats

A lot of strengthening exercises focus on the concentric—or shortening—phase of strength. The easiest way to think about it is with a bicep curl: when you bring your hand to your shoulder during a bicep curl, the muscle shortens; performing this motion strengthens the muscle concentrically. When you lower your hand, the muscle is lengthening; this strengthens the muscle eccentrically. 

For a runner, the body is controlling itself from collapsing to the ground under 3x the body weight with each step. Therefore, it is important to strengthen the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves eccentrically. The single leg eccentric squat is a functional exercise that directly translates to running, so it’s a smart addition to any marathon training plan. 

While performing this exercise, focus on keeping the hips level. Keep the knee in line with the toes to prevent the medial knee collapse. Complete three sets of 10.

4. Eccentric Heel Raises

Eccentric strengthening is also beneficial to facilitate tendon remodeling. In the cases of Achilles tendinopathies, a protocol of eccentric heel raises is commonly used. Whether you’re training for the Chicago marathon or more casual about your running, eccentric heel raises are a key tool for preventing the onset of Achilles tendinitis.

Begin by standing with both feet flat on the ground. Roll onto the balls of your feet, and then lift one foot off the ground. Slowly lower yourself back down until you’re standing flat on one foot. When that becomes easy, progress the range of motion with the heels hanging off of a stair or a half foam roller. Perform three sets of 15 reps.

5. Swiss Ball Eccentric Hamstring Curls

Your hamstrings can also benefit from eccentric exercises. Using a Swiss ball, lay on the ground with your feet propped on the ball. Bridge your hips up and bring heels in towards the butt. Raise a leg, and extend the ball away from the hips with one leg. The hamstrings will be on fire after this exercise! Perform three sets of 10 curls on each leg.

Post-Marathon Recovery Tips for Race Day

It’s easy enough to find detailed training plans for the weeks and months leading up to the race, but there are far few resources for race recovery. Marathons are grueling—even for the most experienced runners. The body undergoes significant trauma running this distance, especially in a competitive setting, and needs time to flush out enzymes that built up during the race.

You may notice that if you engage in physical activity in the days following your race that your muscles can’t respond as quickly and take longer to recover. That’s your body telling you to take a rest. Take five to seven days off of running, and keep these post-marathon tips in mind:

  • Hydrate and replenish nutrients
  • Eat a colorful, well-balanced diet
  • Allow your muscles to rebuild for a few days before getting a sports massage
  • Gentle massage in the days following the race is okay
  • Stay active with low-impact activities that get your joints moving without causing stress
  • If you reintroduce weight training in the week after your race, do so carefully and with light weights
  • Schedule a recovery day at Impact Sports Recovery to experience our Three Step Recovery Protocol

Add Physical Therapy to Your Marathon Training Schedule!

Perform these five exercises during your cross-training days, and post easy runs during the week. If you continue to have joint pain or muscle stiffness as you prepare for the Chicago marathon, feel free to stop by one of our Chicagoland clinics for a complimentary injury screening. A licensed physical therapist can work with you on a marathon training schedule and help you minimize running-related injuries in the years to come.