Conventional wisdom says an upper body strength program helps runners hold their posture and have a better arm carriage. But if you do it right, the benefits go way beyond that.
There’s a way to do an upper body workout that actually makes your legs work better, giving you a distinct pop of energy from the ground with every armswing so you run faster and more powerfully.
Runner and writer Adharanand Finn recently told me a story of a how group of Kenyan athletes and a group of European athletes had a press-up (a.k.a. push-up) competition after a race. The European athletes beat the Kenyans by a considerable margin… but of course it was the Kenyans who’d won the actual race.
If you’d rather win running races than push-up competitions, you’ll need to train your upper body for strength that activates the kinetic chain through your hips to your legs and into the ground. Push-ups don’t do that–they just load your upper body without any effect on your legs. Furthermore the way they create that load has no relationship to what your upper body actually does in running.
Your arms and legs work together in a whole-body action that moves you over the ground when you run. So to strength train for running it makes sense that you would also use these movement patterns.
A pulling action, such as lat rows, should activate your core and legs similarly to their action when your arm swings back in running.
A pushing action, such as chest presses, should mimic the whole-body activation of your arm swinging forward in running.
A lifting motion, such as an overhead curl and press, should strengthen your whole-body ability to land on one foot and push off again.
And when you do any of these things, the two sides of your body should be working opposite each other, just as they do in running.
Here’s my own quick upper body strength program that follows these principles. I can tell when I’ve been doing it regularly because my speed and endurance improve noticeably.
The result will be a great armswing that supports every other element of your form.
Worried about your elbows sticking out? Fear not.
Looking for a core workout as well? This one will fit in perfectly with the strength moves in the video.
Of course your carryover from this workout to your running performance will partially depend on your running form also working on the same principles. In the video I recommend my free Mind Your Running Challenge. Sign up for it here:
Try the workout and let me know what you think!
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter filled with analysis, information, insights, and tips you can apply to your own running!
Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.