Upper Body Exercises for Runners


upper body exercise for runners

I used to think that if I run then I need to work on my legs and definitely not on my core and upper body. I was grossly mistaken.

I wrote earlier in articles on importance of core and lower body and various exercises to do in order to strengthen them. This article is in series to complete the whole body strengthening for runners.

What comprises upper body?

Upper body comprises of the following major regions which play a role in running.

1.  Biceps and triceps(you should know what they are).

2.  Pectorals or chest.

3.  Trapezius or upper back with extension to neck.

4.  Rotator cuff or the muscles used in shoulder.

5.  Deltoids or shoulder muscles.

Why runners need a strong upper body?

Have you ever seen that guy or a gal crossing the finish line tilted to one side or with a slouch? I have and I bet you too have seen that kind. It is because they avoided the weights room or upper body exercises in fear of bulking up.

A strong upper body does not mean bulking up here like body builders or sprinters. The following reasons will show why runners require upper body workout.

1.  Improve efficiency

Read this article to understand the nuances of a proper running form. Now, a strong upper body will help reduce the lateral crossing of arms with the imaginary center line running down south from the middle of the eyes.

And also it will keep the body upright throughout the distance. It will  prevent that classical runners tilt at the finish line. These small improvements are big enough when the distance increases and resultant loss of energy.

2.  Reduce injuries

A weak upper body can result in injuries. You know that poor running posture leads to injuries as the biomechanics of the runners body is not suitable to handle the stresses of repeated pounding.

When the body posture is upright, shoulders square, head held high, proper to and fro motion of arms etc will ensure that you will not get hurt. A strong upper body will achieve this picture perfect form.

3.  Reduce fatigue

The continuous to and fro motion of the arms is bound to cause fatigue. The slumped posture is going to slow you down. And now consider this that if your biceps and shoulders and strong, then the to and fro motion is not going to tire you out.

4.  Speed

Good upper body strength corresponds to your running speed especially at the end of the race. If your hands and shoulders are tired then you will lose your pace.

Try this once you are running uphill. Start pumping your elbows behind while running uphill. You will get a stimulus and strength to run up without tiring your legs.

Exercises for upper body

The exercises given below are the one I do regularly as part of my strengthening routine. An ideal frequency for performing these exercises would be 2-3 times a week. The exercises are a combo of push and pull nature.

A point to mention here is that strength training 2-3 times a week is generally on the easy days or after an easy run. So you may have to cram in workouts for your core and lower body too. Runners, generally, don’t have a luxury of time unless you are an elite athlete.

1.  Push upspush ups

It is one of the best exercise for upper body strengthening. It targets all of your upper body muscles and builds endurance to fatigue.

Aim to do 2-3 sets of 10-15 each with a 30 second break. Try and keep you body in a straight line throughout the movement which will also help activate your core.

Push ups is one exercises in which there are hundreds of variations to make it interesting and target different muscle groups. I found this excellent post on 82 different variations of push ups. It is a must read.

2.  Dumbbell bench pressdumbbell benchpress

I purposefully wrote dumbbell instead of barbell because dumbbells being independent in each hand helps activate the core as well.

Perform 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps with a 30 second break. As per latest researches, using heavy weights have been found to be more beneficial than light weights. And no, don’t worry, you won’t bulk up. So, you can do much lesser reps than 6-8.

However, best bet would be to do both the kinds, i.e with light and heavy weights.

3.  Chin upschin ups

Dean Karnazes, writer of the Ultramarathon Man, swears by this exercise to develop upper body strength. I do this  exercise after my runs. I try to do as many as I can in one go i.e 8-10 of them. I am lazy to do any sets.

Again you can play with this exercise by holding the bar differently to make it interesting and target different muscle groups.

4.  Tricep dip

tricep dip

Triceps are the most neglected part of the upper body because working them out takes hard work. Though this muscle group will help you power up those mighty hills.

You can do on a dip station or between two chairs or on the edge of the bed or on a wall. Do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps with 30 seconds break. A word of caution : triceps are going to hurt like hell for the first couple of days.


5.  Standing dumbell arm swing

I saw this exercise done by Deena Kastor in the documentary ‘Spirit of the Marathon’. This exercise involves standing with feet shoulder width apart. Holding light dumbbells, swing your arms to and fro, mimicking running motion. It is best done when standing in front of the mirror to check whether the arms are crossing the center of the body or not.

It is an excellent exercise to feed the muscle memory about correct arm movement and develop fatigue resistance with tired arms.

Upper body exercises mentioned above can be a game changer, prevent injuries and help enjoy running. Strength training of the whole body will help make you a better runner and take you to your new PRs.

Till then stay fit and keep running.

What exercises do you do for upper body?

When do you do them?

Do you lift weights? If yes, then is it light or heavy?

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014-2017 Neel banerjee

Author: Neel

I am Neel and the creator of borN. I am an ultra marathoner, scuba diver, adventurer, writer and father of an extremely active child.

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  1. Yup, my upper body strength has always been my weakness, even before I started running. Once all my workouts became running sessions, it got worse. Finally, I forced myself into the gym for better overall conditioning. Good, but slightly boring for me. Unless I had someone pushing me, I dreaded weights. Eventually, I found boxing, which I started back in earnest a little over a year ago. Boxing is a great upper-body workout and incredibly cardio-intensive at the same time. Highly recommended!
    Leslie Farnsworth recently posted…Life’s Color Hides beyond Your AssumptionsMy Profile

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    • Hi Leslie, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Upper body workouts are indispensable for runners and training partners comes into to play here to give you that extra push. And yes, boxing is a superb way to get the upper body muscles activated. I too boxed when I was a young lad and absolutely loved it.

      Post a Reply
    • Hi James,
      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Glad you liked the article. Yeah, the body weight exercises are easy to do and don’t require going to gym. Saves time if busy.

      Post a Reply
  2. Hi Neel,

    awesome article. I think there must be a real high in running since people who run seem to love it so much. Unfortunately for me I have knee issues and probably should not run. I heard that human being in top shape can outrun any animal in terms of exhaustion. While many animals can definitely run faster they cannot last as long as people can. Amazing!

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Elena, glad that you liked the article. So sorry to hear about your knee. What’s the matter with it? Hope you are keeping yourself active otherwise.
      Yeah, you are right about human outrunning animals like deer. Tribal of Kalahari desert seem to have displayed this amazing abilities. It is because of our cooling mechanism through sweating and aerobic capability is far superior than them.
      Thanks for dropping by.

      Post a Reply
      • In my understanding I have arthritis. It is very light and only in my knees. For most part I don’t feel anything but sometimes my knees swell a little. When I did an x-Ray they found that cushioning between joints (or whatever it is) is shrinking. I do Body Combat classes, jump on trampoline and try to walk at least 10 km (6 miles) on days when I don’t have any classes in gym. Thanks for asking!

        I will research more on tribes in Kalahari desert. I like this subject :))

        Post a Reply
        • My MIL also has Rheumatoid Arthritis and it’s pretty painful. Glad to know that yours in control and yes, that’s quite an active lifestyle.
          You can google ‘Persistence hunting’ by Kalahari tribal. It is indeed an interesting manner of hunting.

          Post a Reply
    • Hey John, glad that you liked it.
      Yes, you should exercise your upper body to loose weight. Remember one thing that losing weight is an all round effort i.e exercise all body parts to increase calorie expenditure and improving muscle tone. Also take care of the nutrition aspect.
      Hope you best. Take care.

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