A typical progression from a new runner to a seasoned runner often looks something like this:
- Start running- only run.
- Possibly get injured and start doing some sort of core work
- Add in strength training to focus on stronger legs to power through run
One thing that is often missing from a well-rounded workout routine for runners is upper body strength. A common misconception is that runners don’t need upper body strength to run, but that is far from the truth! Here are some reasons why it’s import for runners to have a strong upper body.
Our arm swing should be in sync with our lower body to promote a rhythmic gait cycle
Have you ever tried to run with your arms on your head? Give it a try sometime. You will see that it becomes harder to balance and you may even feel like you have to focus much more on your hips to avoid swaying all over the place. If our arms are strong they will be able to continue supporting good form even when we start to get tired.
A strong upper body supports good posture as we run and allows for efficient breathing
Running with good posture allows for your lungs to take in enough oxygen and helps improve form by allowing our glutes to engage and minimizing hip drop. How do we get strong enough to run with good posture? Start by focusing on posture during other activities (something I have been working on) and also do strength training exercises to support a strong torso and stable spine, with shoulders in their proper position (down and back versus rounded and hunched over).
Prevents excess rotation while running that can lead to wasted energy and possible injuries
A strong and stable upper body with help us to maintain that proper position while we are running rather than swaying all over the place. The more our upper body moves while we run, the more we waste energy and risk improper form of the lower body. Too much movement in the upper body can lead to low back injuries as well as other issues related to unstable hips. A strong upper body also helps to counterbalance the movement of the lower body.
What are some good upper body exercises for runner?
I like to do strength training exercises that incorporate more than one body part or improve balance by standing on one leg or an unstable surface. Here are a few ideas:
Shoulder presses while standing on balance board or one leg
I like to do all my arm exercises like this (bicep curls, tricep extensions, shoulder raises, etc)
TRX rows on one leg
No access to a TRX? Try bent over rows
Reverse Lunge Rotations
I think push-ups are one of the best bang-for-your-buck exercises. They upper body and core strength, and if you do them correctly you are using the posture you are looking to obtain while running. For me, the most challenging part of doing a proper push-up is using one fluid movement (rather than push hard with my hands and then my core follows). It’s no coincidence that during my running assessment it was described to me that it looks like my upper body moves separately from my lower body. So hopefully push-ups with good form will improve that!
Here is a sample workout putting all of these exercises together!
You can see more exercises that I learned last summer to work on my stability in this post.
You may also like: 5 Minute Arms Add on Running Workout
Do you include upper body exercises in your strength training regime?
Did you always do core work/strength training or was there a time when you just ran?
What are your favorite upper body exercises?
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meredith @ Cookie ChRUNicles says
it’s funny – way back in the day one of the group fitness classes I took taught us to do upper body weights while standing on one leg for balance purposes and I still do that today when I am in the gym! thank gd for pure barre which helps me get my upper body strength workouts in at least 3 times a week. otherwise, it would be more like once. I hate push ups but I do them (only because of pure barre lol).
I really don’t think push-ups ever get easier! I have been doing them consistently for 3 months and they are still hard and I can’t do any more than I could when I started.
Susie @ SuzLyfe says
I went from training my whole body for running, to ONLY training my upper body, to getting super excited about cardio (but still doing upper body), to working hard on PT and cardio, and now I need to find a balance of all of them. Luckily, we have so much cool stuff at the new gym that I have no excuse! Thanks for linking up!
You will figure out a good balance! And you seriously have the best work environment for getting back to running.
I was just thinking about this during yesterday’s run! SO many of my coaching clients will complain of sore upper body after a long run or race. It’s because they don’t strength train the upper body.
I was into strength training before I started running so it’s one issue I’ve not had, thankfully.
Even though Ive always done some sort of upper body work it took me a while to realize how useful it is for running!
Sarah @ BucketListTummy says
I was actually just thinking about arm and upper body strength during yesterday’s run. I was conscious of my arm swings yesterday, which I guess is a good thing! Thanks for sharing, looks like a great array of exercises.
I know I have a bit of an unbalanced arm swing- it can sometimes tell you alot about your running!
Julie @ Running in a Skirt says
This is something I def need to do! I’ll go through bursts where I’ll work on it, but then not for a long time. I need to make it a routine!
For me it was harder to be consistent when I stopped going to a gym! But now I just set aside a strength training day each week and try to get in a full body workout!
Megan @ Meg Go Run says
My *favorites* are pull ups and push ups. If you just do those, you hit every major upper body muscle and your core! (seriously, try doing push ups and pull ups without engaging your abs and glutes!)
You are so right! (Unless you break your pull up bar:))
Megan @ Meg Go Run says
I think of you EVERY time I do pull ups now. I even thought of writing a post called “Fitness Fears” with that being at the top of the list!
I can’t speak for other runners but I know I neglect my upper body alot when I am always focusing on my runs during a training cycle. This is a great quick upper body workout. I’ll have to try it.
I think lot of runners do the same thing!
Sarah @pickyrunner says
I’ve gotten so much stronger since I stopped running with yoga sculpt and barre, but I still have a very weak upper body. Sean at MedStar was actually making fun of me today when we were working with the TRX because I could barely hold my body up haha
The TRX is no joke! I’m sure all the classes you are taking are helping alot with your strength!
Alyssa @ renaissancerunnergirl says
This is an excellent reminder for me. I stretch and do yoga, but have had a sore/stiff neck and upper arm/back thing going on for awhile now and I think upper body work could really help. I just need exercises I can do at home!
I think push-ups are great because there is no equipment needed! And alot of times yoga can be a great upper body workout.
Ha ha ha! Omg I’m so happy you wrote this. I laughed to myself when you said the thing about how typically a new runner will start out only running and then start doing core etc after an injury. It took me nearly TWENTY YEARS to do something other than running. Think I’m a slow learner much? HA!
Haha! But at least you are doing that stuff now!
I include upper body at least once a week at Pure Barre, and other days I’ll be planking, which seems to work everything.
Planks really do seem to work everything!
Laura @ This Runner's Recipes says
I have tried to incorporate more upper body work, especially pushup, KB swings, and rotating lunges, over the past year, and all that upper body work truly does pay off. I really like this workout – all of my favorite strength moves! Now I just need the motivation to strength train again after taking a couple weeks off from it around my race.
It’s definitely good to take a break from it around a race! I also find it difficult to get back into the routine after some time off.
Upper body strengthening for runners is vital not only to help you improve as a runner, but just for your overall health and fitness. Great post and great reminders for sure!
Exactly! I think sometimes runners need to be able to connect this stuff back to running, but it really is important for anyone!
Really great tips. I love/hate pushups. I really hate them mostly. But I know they’re one of the easiest upper body workouts to do ever. I still hate them, though. Lol! Thanks for linking up!
Haha! I love/hate them too, but I really don’t like doing them either. I just know I get alot out of them so it’s worth the few minutes they take to do!
great advice, thanks for sharing. I am trying to up my upper body strength game 😉
Michele @ paleorunningmomma says
I’m definitively lacking in upper body strength, especially when I’m marathon training I think, only because running takes up workout time!
I definitely feel like I have less time to strength train when Im training for a marathon!
Rachael @ Catch Me if You Can says
Great post! I love doing upper body makes me feel like a total bad ass when I increase the weights over time. I never thought to do the exercises on the balance ball that is a fantastic idea!
It’s a great feeling to increase weight and know you’re getting stronger!
My upper body is actually one of my best assets. I wish my lower body takes forever to transform where as my upper body’s muscle recovery is so quick.
Favorite upper body would have to be shoulder press.
I used to primarily weight train before I started running. Once I started running, I threw weight training out the window ;(….back at it now though 😉
Shoulder presses are great! And that’s awesome that you have been able to combine strength training and running!
Thanks for sharing this Lisa. I’ve just started back with upper body stuff over the last few months and it’s always nice to shake things up with some new exercises. I was definitely strongest when I was doing climbing – which is probably the funnest way to train your upper body and I even managed a pull up. Sadly, I’m pretty far from that these days….
Climbing sounds like a great way to strength train the upper body! I can’t do a pull up either…
Coach Henness says
Definitely always have done supplemental body work because our team (Team In Training) coaches always had us do it, but it was a long time before my core strength improved enough to really positively impact my running performance (CrossFit).
I have heard great things about the crossfit for runners, but have never tried it myself. Maybe one day!
Upper body strength days are my favorite because feeling sore a day or two afterwards doesn’t affect running like leg day does haha 🙂
That’s so true!
Sarah (The Fit Niche) says
I love that running quote! Great workout too – balance exercises are so often overlooked but oh so important!
Yes, balance exercises are so great for running!
Laura @ Mommy Run Fast says
Awesome post, Lisa! I used to do push ups all wrong and now that I’m trying to get my chest all the way to the ground and push up evenly I’m amazed at what a tough move they are. And I totally agree that upper body is important for runners, too!
It was so interesting after I had an FMS assessment done to learn about how to do push-ups correctly. It’s been a year and I am still struggling with them!
Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs says
I love workouts that “multi-task!” So functional. This workout sounds great. Thanks for joining us at the Running Coaches Corner!
I love functional exercises that work more than one muscle group! Perfect for runners who don’t have alot of time to do other stuff:)
Janelle @ Wholly Healthy says
This is really interesting! I do train my upper body, but not with running in mind. I definitely need to try that single leg shoulder press and TRX row.
It can definitely help to promote good running form!
Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home says
You know I’m all about the cross training. Running is a total body exercise, and you need to be strong overall! Great post!
Exactly! So many people think running only involves the leg muscles, but that’s far from the truth!
Cori @ She's Going the Distance says
You nailed it. This upper body workout is great and you’re right on with pushups being the best for your time! 🙂
Hello Lisa! I agree, upper body strength is very important not only for running, but also for health and fitness. I like your idea about balancing. Pushups are damn hard. I can’t do even after trying for hundreds of times.