WHY IS THE UPPER BODY SO IMPORTANT FOR RUNNERS?
We runners sometimes forget that it's not only our legs that run but our whole body. We focus primarily on our lower body’s strength, forgetting that our back, core and arms need some of our attention too. There are many ways to build a strong upper body. It all depends if you’re training at home or at the gym, if you are a newbie or experienced runner, etc.
Reasons upper body strength is so important for running:
- It increases the efficiency of your movement, taking precious seconds or even minutes off your PB. You massively improve your overall running technique if you can rely on strong upper body muscles.
- A strong core and back reduce the risk of injury: yes, even leg injury! Strong muscles protect your joints, bones and spine from the high impact caused by running.
- A strong upper body helps maintain the right balance and energy flow through the whole kinetic chain of your entire body.
Strong Core & Back
- Improve stability and balance while running.
- Reduce the risk of injury, especially ITB or runner's knee.
- Massively help to maintain correct upright posture during long distance running. Possibly you’ve seen runners at the marathon finish line bent over at the waist with the whole chest collapsed. That usually happens when the core and back are not strong enough to keep you going for long time.
Strong Arms & Shoulders
- Maintain the right running technique and increases speed.
- Your leg cadence is correlated with your arm cadence (small tip for improving speed – move your arms a bit faster and your legs will follow!)
- Maintains balance with a strong back. Remember to balance muscles within your body, so if you work on your back strength, include also some exercises for your chest!
- Again, helps maintain an upright position over a longer distance.
You can perform body-weight exercises including your core, chest, back and shoulders at home. It’s a great option for beginners and people who want to maintain a basic level of strength without significant muscle gain.
I always recommend keeping balance in your training routine. It’s up to you if you prefer one day training your back and the other day your chest, or if you want to include back, chest and core exercises within one training session. Here’s a short training session I do for myself at home, so it’s a bodyweight version you can do as well! I’ve included exercises engaging muscles of the whole upper body – so core, chest, back and shoulders. You can repeat them as many times as you want and do a few rounds if one isn’t enough!
Upper Body Workout for Runners at Home
- 5 regular push-ups (knee push-ups if you cannot do full ones)
- 10 dips against a chair*
- 5 wide width push ups
- 10 plank to press
- 5 diamond push ups
- 30 mountain climbers
*Dip exercise: sit on a chair with your legs straight and your hands next to your hips. Lower your body to the floor, keeping your legs straight and bending your arms at the elbows. Then lift yourself up by pushing your hands against the chair, back to the starting position. Remember to keep your elbows close to your body (that engages your triceps more).
Push-Ups / Press-Ups
Push-ups are a perfect body-weight exercise. If you cannot perform even one full push-up, don’t worry! You can start with your knees touching the floor and your feet crossed. Remember that by adjusting the width of your hands you can target different muscle groups – triceps, back or chest. Check out the video below for an inspiration:
Incorporating resistance to your home training is a great idea! A bit of resistance helps to engage more muscle groups, improving your strength even faster. Check out this video using a Theraband.
Thera-Band Resistance Bands
The red band provides medium resistance (5.5 pounds of force when stretched to 200% of its length); green provides a heavier resistance of 6.7 pounds; blue provides heavier resistance (with 8.6 pounds of force). Higher resistance bands are great for people who already work out regularly. Beginners may want to start with a lower one.
Okay, now we’re talking! When you include dumbbells, kettlebells or a barbell in your workout you can expect a fast and significant increase in muscle mass and strength. However, the right technique for your training is very important. Make sure you know how to perform exercises correctly before you add an extra weight to your bar! This is a great option for increasing not only core, back and shoulder strength, but also balance into your training. Try incorporating overhead exercises like thrusters, overhead squats, snatches, jerks, overhead presses, etc.
How can runners work the upper body with dumbbells?
Including weights like dumbbells in your upper body workouts adds more resistance that engages your muscles more than only bodyweight movements. Especially any overhead movements, for example an ‘overhead shoulder press’ wouldn’t give you any benefits without including weights. Also, adding dumbbells to many simple and common lower body exercises like squats or lunges is a great way to build up upper body strength – even holding the weight already engages your muscles and tendons.
Are dumbbells good for beginners?
Absolutely! You don’t need to be a ‘pro’ to start using weights and get benefits from it. Just be careful with the amount of weight you want to include in your workout at the beginning of your journey. Including even as little as 2 – 3 kg dumbbells into your workouts, especially any shoulder and overhead exercises, improves and enhances your upper body strength.
Best upper body dumbbell workout for runners
Check out this super short video with 3 very simple upper body exercises for everyone with weights.
- Overhead shoulder press
- Lateral raises
- Alternate front raises
These exercises strengthen your shoulders, back and biceps. In overhead shoulder press you can add more weights and perform it in a sitting position if you prefer. The lateral and front raises aren’t that easy, so be careful with the dumbbell size! Perform 2-4 rounds of 10-15 repetitions of each exercises. Of course, remember to stretch afterwards. Have fun!
A great idea for increasing your upper body strength is including activities other than running in your life. Some sports like climbing, swimming, tennis or yoga engage your upper body more than just pure running. Cross-training is a fantastic option for people who don’t like going to the gym or training at home. There are many options available out there, just find out what’s the best for you!
It’s good to implement stretching after every workout. It brings tight muscles back to their optimal stretch, reduces soreness the day after, and limits the risk of getting injured. Remember to hold each stretch around 30 seconds.
- Back: gentle and slow ‘cat cow’ pose
- Core: gentle cobra pose
- Chest and shoulders:
- Lift your arm, bend at elbow. Catch the elbow by other hand and gently press downwards along the spine line. Repeat with the other arm.
- Interlace your hands behind your body with the arms straight. Open your chest and gently move your hands away from your back.
These are exercises that we've found very useful and want to share with our customers. But we're not certified instructors. Always consult your specialist before beginning any exercise programme. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.