Runners often overlook their upper body when it comes to a workout. The leg muscles get all the focus, while the upper body is neglected. Surprisingly, some runners AVOID upper body workouts because they think more muscle slows them down. The thought pattern is that more muscle means more weight to carry during a run. More weight means a slower pace. Well, that’s just not true (in most cases, read on).
Granted, building “massive beach body” muscles in the upper body could impact you negatively as a runner. But, performing an upper body workout once or twice a week like below will not have that outcome (highly unlikely!).
In fact, it’s probably the opposite. Endurance, posture, and form improve with strength gains from a runner’s upper body workout. Translation: potentially faster pace with less effort, even at an increased distance.
HERE’S WHY: while running is vastly dependent upon our legs’ performance, our ENTIRE body gets into the act. “Having a strong upper body makes you a more efficient runner,” says Aaptiv Trainer Kelly Chase. “A strong upper body aids in the forward movement of each stride. And one’s abdominals and arm muscles provide support and coordination. All these elements combine to allow the athlete to run more efficiently.”
A strong upper body and core becomes even more critical once fatigue sets in. As the miles tick by, you’ll begin to feel it, and show it. In the first mile or two? Not likely. After an hour or more? Yes, indeed.
HERE’S PROOF: research shows that as runners fatigue, the greatest change was in their trunk position. The runners bent forward at the waist (about four degrees more), and their lower back became “flatter.” (We typically have a slight curve in our lower back.)
A breakdown in trunk mechanics puts more strain on both the trunk and quadriceps as they work harder to keep you from “falling forward.” Plus, this increased forward bend means your back muscles are underused. This matters because those back muscles help contribute to full hip extension – a key driver of forward propulsion.
Ta add insult to injury, a forward bend/slouched posture impacts your lungs ability to expand. That reduces your oxygen, increases your work of breath – which slows you down!
Yet another tell tale sign of runner fatigue are arms that pump less. Arm movement is tied to leg movement, so when the arms fatigue, the leg turnover reflects that (not good!). Slower arms equals slower feet.
Thankfully, a runner upper body workout can be managed even during a heavy mileage schedule. One or two times per week won’t put undue strain on your lower half. Not only does the upper body workout have a positive impact on your runner form, strength, and posture, it indirectly boosts your legs and running performance.
When, How Often?
The runner upper body workout can be done before or after a run, if convenient, or on a non-run day coupled with some other strengthening or workout. One or two times a week!
- When possible, perform the standing exercises on one leg. That further challenges your balance, and core; thus, more muscles benefit.
- Alternate arm movements when possible, too. That also requires other muscles to stabilize and balance with the exercise.
- Form is more important than number of reps. IF you feel your form is breaking down, fewer reps (and/or lighter weight!)
- Some of these can be done with just body weight. To add more challenge, add weight.
Runner Upper Body Workout Exercises
T Push Up: Start in a pushup position (modification: on knees). Descend to the bottom, and back up. At the top of the exercise lift one arm from the floor and raise towards the ceiling while twisting your torso to the side, and watching the hand with your eyes. Repeat with the other arm. (Reps: 10-12; add dumbbells for more challenge.)
Renegade (Plank) Row: Place two dumbbells about shoulder-width apart on the floor and assume a push-up position with hands on the handles. Push into the ground with one hand (keeping elbow locked) while pulling the weight to your waist with the other hand. Lower the weight back to the starting position with control. Repeat with alternating arm. (Reps: 10-12; to increase difficulty, perform a push up after a lift of both arms)
Tricep Dip: Position your hands shoulder-width apart on a secured bench or stable chair with your legs extended out in front of you (more knee bend = less difficulty.). Straighten your arms, keeping a slight bend in your elbows. Slowly bend your elbows to lower your body toward the floor until your elbows are at ~90˚ angle. Return to starting position. Alternate: overhead tricep press with weight.(Reps: 12-15)
Alternating Plank: Start in a raised plank (on hands, arms straight), with back flat, engaged core. Lower your one arm down so your forearm is resting on the floor and then follow with the other arm. Pause in forearm plank, and then reverse the movement to the raised plank position to complete one rep. (Reps: 10 each side)
< Related Topic: Powerful Glute Strengthening for Runners – How to Avoid Injury! >
Runner Upper Body Workout Exercises
Alternating Overhead Shoulder Press: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand just above shoulder height with your palms facing forward and arms bent. Press one dumbbell up over your head without moving the other dumbbell. Stay tall with your chest up and shoulders back. Return to starting position to perform on the other side. (Reps: 10-12 each side)
Alternating Chest Press (stability ball or bench): Grab a pair of dumbbells, sit on a stability ball, and walk your feet out until your upper back is supported by the ball. Hold the dumbbells over your chest with your arms extended and your feet planted firmly. Lower one dumbbell until it is just above your chest. Pause, and then press it back to the starting position to repeat with the other dumbbell. (Reps: 12 each side)
Stir the Pot: Get into a plank position on a stability ball with forearms on the ball. While keeping your torso still, move your forearms in a circle. Then, switch directions. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and don’t let your lower back sag. (Reps: 8 circles each direction)
Waiter Walk: Grab a heavy kettlebell OR dumbbell in one hand and hold it overhead. Keep your shoulder down-and-back and walk while keeping your hips and shoulders level. Keep your wrists as straight as you can. Repeat with the other arm. (20 yards each side)