Upper Body Strength for Runners

A typical progression from a new runner to a seasoned runner often looks something like this:  

  1. Start running- only run.
  2. Possibly get injured and start doing some sort of core work
  3. 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.upper body strength

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. 

But first, focus on your arm swing...

But first, focus on your arm swing…

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

shoulder presses

I like to do all my arm exercises like this (bicep curls, tricep extensions, shoulder raises, etc)

TRX rows on one leg

trx rows

No access to a TRX? Try bent over rows

bent over row

Kettlebell swings

kettle bell swings

Reverse Lunge Rotations

reverse lunge rotation

Push-ups

push-ups

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!

Upper Body Strength Workout For Runners

You can see more exercises that I learned last summer to work on my stability in this post.

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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53 thoughts on “Upper Body Strength for Runners

  1. 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).
    meredith @ Cookie ChRUNicles recently posted…TOL – Hershey Park, Running Shoes & Chocolate Banana PuddingMy Profile

  2. 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.

  3. 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
    Sarah @pickyrunner recently posted…See you laterMy Profile

  4. 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!
    Suzy recently posted…Death MarchMy Profile

  5. 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.
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…Celebrate Your Success: February Goals Check InMy Profile

  6. YES!!!!

    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!

  7. 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 😉

  8. 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….

  9. 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!
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted…I’m in!My Profile

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