Run Faster with this Upper Body Strength Program

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.

Upper Body Strength Doesn’t Necessarily Boost Performance

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.

Upper Body Strength Moves that Activate your Legs and Core

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 arm swing 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!

4 thoughts on “Run Faster with this Upper Body Strength Program”

  1. Hi Jae
    I love the suggestions and I’d like to add a thought about the running success and well-being of older runners. They (all of us adults, really!) are slowly, ever so slowly, losing muscle mass and strength as the years go by. Surely, a basic weight-training program to counter this is going to benefit the running of a huge population of athletes over the years, albeit indirectly? And, in my experience, that weight-training program would be comprehensive and balanced, with strength and conditioning for all the body, especially the parts that don’t directly benefit from the act of running.

    • Yes, that’s certainly true, Nigel! This is meant to round out your fitness as a runner, though of course there’s more that could be done, and even lower body strength training that might be useful. But this is a good place to start.

  2. In the second of the strength exercises, your right arm and right leg moved (then the left arm and the left leg) rather than the right arm and your left leg (then your left arm and your right leg) why? If I have understood what you have said in the past, the emphasis should be on connecting movement of the one shoulder to the opposite side hip

    • That exercise was surprisingly hard to see in the video, Clancy, I’m not sure why. Both legs are actually moving: as you press the weight up with your right hand, your left knee comes in (and the right leg straightens). When you do the exercise you’ll feel this does actually connect opposite shoulder and hip. The connection is that the right hand pressing the weight up and allowing your upper body to roll slightly to the left activates your entire upper body to flex slightly towards the left hip. Meanwhile the flexing of the left leg causes the left side of the lower back/abdomen/pelvis to also flex slightly towards the right shoulder. It’s much more difficult to describe than to do.


Leave a Comment