Eccentric Training for Marathoners

Marathoners need Eccentric Training


To be a successful marathon runner, you need to do more than just run. Sure, getting in the mileage is important. But how do you ensure your legs have the durability to go the distance? You need to be strong. Strong things are less likely to break, and in a sport where at least half of all runners get injured every year, we’ve clearly got some strengthening to do.

Many runners are wary of hitting the gym and lifting big weights for fear of bulking up and getting less flexible. They imagine having to spend hours in the gym and then being too sore to complete important workouts. But what if I told you there was a style of strength training that allows you to skip the weights altogether and spend less time doing exercises?

Meet eccentric training! Eccentric exercises focus on the downward part of a movement, such as lowering a dumbbell from a bicep curl or the action of the quadricep muscle during downhill running. This type of training not only toughens the connective tissue such as tendons and muscles, but can also increase recruitment of muscle fibers. This means you will have a larger “pool” of muscle to pull from when you get fatigued late in the race. You will feel stronger on the uphills and can say goodbye to trashed quads after long downhills! Eccentric training can also improve your flexibility better than static stretching. Seriously!

Sample video of eccentric step downs in our Marathon Legs program.

Eccentric movements create more muscle damage than the concentric (lifting) portion of the exercise, but they use less energy because the body is stronger in the eccentric phase. Muscle damage sounds like a bad thing, but this is what leads to the rebuilding and strengthening of muscle fibers. So you get higher muscle stress which leads to greater adaptations, but with less overall volume of work and energy. This gives you more time to contemplate what your next meal will be.

Eccentrics need to be performed slowly, taking at least 4-5 seconds for each repetition. But won’t slow reps make you slow, you ask? Nope! In fact, quite the opposite. Power generation comes from muscle, and the more muscle fiber you have available the more power potential you have. Performing eccentrics in combination with plyometric exercises will ensure your body can create large amounts of force with the newly created muscle fibers in your legs.

Sample video of knee drivers with hops in our Marathon Legs program.

While most general strength training programs will be beneficial to a point, runners should tailor their strength routine to complement their run training rather than take away from it. When programmed together correctly, strength training and marathon training are the winning combo you need to get you to the finish line feeling strong and powerful. Keep your hard days hard by scheduling your strength workout on the same days as your harder runs. Runners generally do not need to add more than two strength training workouts to their already busy week, and each session doesn’t have to take any more than 45 minutes. Less than 90 minutes a week to get all the benefits listed above? It’s a no brainer!!

Sample video of single leg hip thrusters in our Marathon Legs program.

If you have an upcoming marathon, trail race, or hilly run on your calendar and are looking for a runner-designed, runner-tested strength training program that focuses on eccentric exercises, look no further than Marathon Legs. The 12 week program includes six progressively challenging routines to get your legs in top race form. It works, and the proof is in the results. Just check out what McMillan athlete Jon had to say: “I followed this routine and had my best Boston ever and more importantly my legs don’t feel overly beat up after. I moved up nearly 8,000 runners from my starting number to my finishing position and that was due to strength through the Newton Hills where I have had issues with my quads in the past but this time they just felt tired rather then on fire.”

As always, let me know if I can be of any help.

Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

Read Greg’s Bio




“I got my first Boston Qualifier today with a 21 personal record!”

– Ramona M.