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October 26th, 2022

How to Taper Your Strength Training

By Jimmy Williams PT, DPT

You’ve seen plenty of posts on how to taper your mileage for a marathon; maintain intensity while slowly cutting back total weekly mileage over 3-4 weeks prior to the race. For some reason, when I ask runners, we tend to cut out all strength training a month or more before our big race. Some common reasons are: “I’m scared that my soreness from strength will affect my runs”, “Strength training won’t help me this close to a marathon”, or “I don’t have the time to do my lifts in addition to my runs”. Well, here is your blog telling you to continue to strength train during your taper and how to appropriately do it.


First of all, let’s set the scene for how your strength training should be set up for the marathon cycle. Ideally, in the off-season (yes, runners should have an off-season) you would be lifting weights 2-3 times a week while you are building up your base mileage (4-6 weeks) and not doing workouts. This sets the scene to build muscle strength and decrease the occurrence of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) after your lifts. 


Once you get into the race specific phase of training (2-3 months prior to your A race) you would cut back your strength training days to ideally 2x per week and focus them to be after hard workouts. This concept of “stacking” your strength training after a track workout, tempo session or long run is to compound fatigue to make sure you don’t interfere with these important workouts and MAKE SURE YOUR LONG RUNS ARE EASY since it is hard to run too fast for an easy run when your legs feel like bricks. 


Now, in that final month of training, I recommend keeping consistent with the 1-2x a week of your normal routine without increasing your weights. If you take off a full month of strength training prior to a marathon, you are losing that specific stimulus to the muscles that running does not provide and will lose out on all of your “Gainz”. But honestly, cutting out strength work the last month of a marathon may lead to performance deficits because the muscle needs that input over time.


The week of the marathon is where I would either cut out strength training or focus on less weight/body-weight/mobility type exercises to still get load into the muscles without causing extensive soreness. This will help give some nervous system input into your joints and may even help decrease your taper tantrum aches & pains.

If you did not lift in your entire marathon build, then yes, the month before a marathon is not the time to start as you will most certainly experience a lot of muscle soreness afterwards, but I highly recommend incorporating it into your next marathon training build and watch how much easier the race feels the next go around.

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