5 Surprising Upper-Body Strength Exercises Runners Need
Build a stronger foundation by sprinkling these moves into your regular strength training routine.
Glutes. Core. Legs. Those are the muscles you think of strengthening when it comes to fortifying your running body. But if you’re not considering everything above the abs, you’re missing out. “Incorporating upper body moves for your chest, back, arms, and shoulders first and foremost is important for holistic, well-rounded training,” says Mike Simone, certified trainer and founder of HumanFitProject.com.
Think of it like this: If you have a wheelbarrow with brand-new wheels and bucket but the handles are worn-out, it’s not going to get the job done very well. “The same is true for your body, you want the whole kinetic chain to be strong and functional in order to maximize your running performance,” says Simone.
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And the upper body is more involved in your stride than you might think. In fact, studies show that efficient arm swinging can help you run longer and with less fatigue, while promoting good form overall.
To bolster your upper body, Simone suggests incorporating the below moves into your total-body strength training routines. For example, if you work out three days a week, you could do two moves on Monday, one on Wednesday, and two on Friday.
While they primarily work the muscles of the chest, back, shoulders, and arms, all of these exercises will also task the ever-important core. That’s why Simone selected an alternating chest press versus a regular chest press, for example.
“Think of this move like an exaggerated, slowed-down arm swing,” says Simone. “It will build strength in your lats and shoulders which is good for overall posture on the run.”
Try it: Place a dumbbell vertically on a bench. Get in a reverse table top position with the backs of your shoulder blades resting on a bench. Reach over to grab the dumbbell, holding it at one end with both hands. Slowly lower the dumbbell over your head with a slight bend in your elbows. Engage your lats throughout the full decent, then pull it back overhead to start. Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
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Overhead Ball Slam
“This helps build total-body power so when you’re trying to eek out the energy to sprint to the finish, you can swing your arms more powerfully,” says Simone.
Try it: Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, reach as high in the air as you can, holding a medicine ball with both hands. Come up onto your tippy toes, and with as much power and force as possible, slam the ball into the ground using your shoulders, lats, and legs. Catch it on the rebound, or pick it up off the ground and immediately repeat. Do 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps.
Alternating Chest Press
“While it works your chest muscles nicely, I like doing the press with alternating arms because it makes your core work harder,” says Simone. Plus it’s also more of a direct translation to the arm swing, where one arm pumps forward while the other goes backwards.
Try it: Lie on a bench or on the ground with two dumbbells, one in each hand. Press both dumbbells up overhead, lower one slowly, then raise back up to the top. Lower the other one slowly, then raise back up to the top. That’s one rep. Continue, alternating, for 10 to 12 reps. Do 3 sets.
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“This move works the chest, shoulders, and stabilizes the shoulder girdle and scapula,” says Simone.
Try it: Get into a push-up position to start. Brace your core, pull your shoulder blades down and back, and let your chest lower a few inches. Your shoulder blades and core should remain stable throughout the micro-movement. Complete 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
“The pull-up is one of the best basic strength training exercises you could possibly do,” says Simone. “It works all of the muscles of your back including your lats and rhomboids as well as all of the muscles that make up the shoulders.”
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Try it: Grab onto a pull-up bar with your palms facing away from you, shoulder-width apart. Retract your shoulder blades down and back, brace your core, engage your lats, and pull yourself up until your chin reaches the bar. Lower back to start and repeat. Do as many reps as possible for 3 sets. If you can’t yet do a full pull-up, do an assisted pull-up using a machine or band, or do suspension trainer or inverted rows.