Why Runners Need Upper Body Strength

As a personal trainer, I know all too well that the clichés are true-runners avoid ignore or just plain hate strength training. While the thought of a root canal might seem more appealing than pumping the ol’ iron, know this: upper body strength for runners is important for not only increasing your running efficiency but also preventing injury. So, let me lay it out for you. You need some strength in those arms. I have four moves that will help you achieve it—and no, you don’t need tickets to the gun show.

Be More Efficient  
With every foot strike, we not only use our legs to propel us forward, but we also use our chest, arms, back and torso to balance and improve efficiency. As we run, our arms pump, so the stronger our arms are, the stronger our forward movement. 

Before you worry about adding too much muscle and negatively impacting your pace and performance, please understand it takes a lot of time and effort plus a calorie surplus to build muscle. That's not what we're going for here! Increasing strength for runners is going to come from an increase in neuromuscular adaptation (the ability of muscles to work together). By getting your upper body strong, you'll be a more balanced runner--your legs are the main movers, but what's going on above the waist is just as important. 

Related: 8 Essential Strength Moves for Beginning Runners

Prevent Injury

Cramping, aches, soreness, inflammation and strains can all occur in the shoulders, arms and necks from running regularly. The main culprit? Poor form. Even the smallest kink in the kinetic chain can rear its ugly head after miles and miles of pounding the pavement. It could be from shrugging your shoulders near your ears, rounding your shoulders, holding a water bottle or cell phone or swinging your arms too widely. Developing and maintaining a strong upper body will allow you to maintain proper posture and position as you fatigue. Translation: You'll be able to run longer without fatiguing and getting that sloppy, hunched overlook that you see near the marathon finish line. 

Related: 6 Strength Training Exercises for Marathon Runners

If I've convinced you to finally dip your toe in the strength training waters, here's a short circuit that you can do twice a week to start. It should take you around 10 minutes and can be done after a short run when your arms aren't too fatigued. 

Start with two rounds of 10 to 12 reps, depending on your current level of strength, and gradually work your way up to four rounds of 15 to 20 reps. Do all four exercises back to back, and rest one minute between rounds. 

Also: 13 Essential Core Moves for Runners


Discuss This Article