Boost Your Run: The Essential Upper Body Strength Training Guide for Runners

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Looking to take your running performance to the next level? Then you shouldn’t neglect upper body strength training as a runner.

Today, we’re diving deep into a territory often overlooked in the running world – the upper body. Yes, you heard it right.

While our legs undoubtedly do the heavy lifting, it’s time to dispel a common myth: runners don’t rely solely on powerful legs; a strong upper body plays an equally vital role.

In this article, we’ll explore the importance of upper-body strength training for runners. You might be wondering, “Why focus on arm strength when my legs do most of the work?” Well, I cannot emphasize the importance of a strong upper body. In fact, it provides balance, stability, and efficiency to every stride you take.

Sounds like a good idea?

Let’s dive in.

The Importance of Upper Body Strength for Runners

When we typically think of running, our focus narrows to legs, lungs, and the expanse of miles ahead. However, let’s shed some light on the often-overlooked heroes of the narrative – our upper bodies.

Here are the many ways that a strong upper body can level up your running game:

  1. Power and Momentum: Enhanced arm and shoulder strength contribute to forceful arm swings, thereby aiding forward momentum. Picture your arms as oars on a boat; the mightier they are, the more effectively they can paddle through the air, especially during extended runs or sprints.
  2. Coordination and Rhythm: A well-conditioned upper body helps maintain a harmonious running rhythm. This coordination minimizes energy wastage, making your runs more efficient and less fatiguing.
  3. Stability in Motion: While your legs are the wheels in motion, your upper body serves as the anchor, keeping you upright and steady. A robust core and back aid in sustaining an optimal running posture, reducing the likelihood of slouching and the accompanying strain.
  4. Control during Varied Terrain: On rugged trails or during sharp turns, your upper body helps you keep stable and in control over the course. Robust shoulders and arms empower you to navigate these challenges seamlessly.
  5. Shock Absorption: With each foot strike, a shockwave travels up your body. A robust upper body acts as a shock absorbers, mitigating the impact on your joints and spine. This absorption is pivotal in limiting the risk of overuse injuries stemming from repetitive impacts.
  6. Overall Muscular Balance: Just as a balanced diet encompasses various nutrients, your fitness regimen necessitates a blend of upper and lower-body workouts to maintain equilibrium. By fortifying your upper body, you thwart the likelihood of one part overcompensating, thereby reducing the risk of strains and injuries.

Anatomy of the Upper Body: Key Muscles for Runners

Now that you know a thing or two about the importance of a strong upper body, let’s shed light on the pivotal muscle groups essential for runners and uncovering their intricate roles in the art of running.

Shoulders (Deltoids)

Robust deltoids contribute significantly to the precision of your arm swings, a critical factor for maintaining equilibrium and rhythm in your stride.

Chest (Pectorals)

The chest muscles help propel your body onward. They collaborate with your shoulders and arms, especially during those vigorous arm thrusts in sprints or uphill climbs.

Back (Latissimus Dorsi, Trapezius)

Your back muscles help you maintain proper running posture. A robust back aids in counteracting the inclination to lean forward, a common occurrence during extended runs, warding off undue strain and fatigue.

Arms (Biceps and Triceps)

Biceps and triceps form a dynamic duo, creating the fluid motion of your arms and lending crucial assistance in maintaining balance and pacing, particularly during lengthier running escapades.

Core (Abdominals, Obliques, Lower Back)

The core assumes the mantle of a central hub within your body, establishing a vital link between the upper and lower body movements. A robust core acts as an foundation, ensuring stability, curtailing undue lateral motion, and sustaining a consistent and efficient running form.

Workout Instructions

Alright, let’s get down to business. To make this upper body workout effective for you, here’s the plan:

Aim to tackle this routine one to two times a week. These workouts are a fantastic addition to your cross-training or easy running days. So, if you’ve ever wondered what to do when you’re not hitting the pavement, here’s your answer!

Don’t forget, you can mix things up. Instead of cramming all these moves into one session, consider spreading them across different days. Why? Well, that way, you’re giving those muscles some quality one-on-one time.

The best part?

You don’t even need to leave your cozy home for this workout. Grab a set of dumbbells (or opt for resistance bands if you prefer), and make sure you’ve got a sturdy pull-up bar. With these in hand, you can get your sweat on in the comfort of your own space. No more excuses about gym memberships or waiting in line for equipment!

1. The Pull-Ups

Set the Stage: Find yourself a sturdy pull-up bar. Stand underneath it with your arms stretched upward, reaching for the bar.

Get a Grip: Grab the bar with your palms facing away from you (an overhand grip), slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. This grip ensures you engage your back and arms effectively

Rise to the Occasion: Start by drawing your chest upward towards the bar. Imagine trying to touch your chest to the bar itself. Keep your core engaged and your body as straight as a board.

Pause and Feel the Burn: Once your chin is level with the bar, pause for a moment. This is the pinnacle of your pull-up.

Downward Spiral: Now, lower your body back down to the starting position with your arms fully extended.

Repeat the Magic: This is where the magic happens. Perform this movement repeatedly without letting your feet touch the ground. Ideally, aim for multiple repetitions, but it’s perfectly okay to start with just a few. Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Assistance Option: If pull-ups feel a bit too ambitious at the moment, there’s no shame in using an assisted option. Many gyms have machines that provide support as you work your way up to unassisted pull-ups. Alternatively, you can use resistance bands to give you a boost.

2. Clean Presses

Gear Up: To get started with clean presses, you’ll need a barbell and some weights. Ensure the barbell is on the floor, and load it with an appropriate weight to challenge yourself without overexerting.

Find Your Grip: Stand in front of the barbell with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and hinge your hips to reach down and grasp the barbell with an overhand grip. Your hands should be just slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

Set Your Stance: Before lifting the bar, make sure your back is in a neutral position, your core is engaged, and your chest is up. This posture will help you maintain proper form throughout the exercise

The Lifting Phase: With your grip secure and your body in the right position, lift the barbell off the floor. Bring it up to the front of your shoulders. Your palms should be facing upward, and your elbows should be pointing out to the sides.

Time to Thrust: Now, it’s time for the thrust. Slightly bend your knees and use the power of your legs to drive the barbell up into the air. This move is called the push press.

Full Extension: During the push press, fully extend your arms overhead. Make sure you maintain control over the barbell throughout the movement.

3. Standing Dumbbell Press

Gear Up: For this exercise, all you need is a pair of dumbbells. Choose a weight that challenges you but allows you to maintain proper form.

Get Ready: Stand up tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold one dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height, your palms facing forward, and your elbows bent.

The Lifting Phase: Begin by slowly raising the dumbbells above your head. Fully extend your arms as you push the weights upward. This is the lifting phase, and it engages your shoulder muscles.

Controlled Descent: Once your arms are fully extended overhead, it’s time to lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Lower them slowly and with control, engaging your shoulder muscles throughout the descent.

Repetitions and Sets: Aim to perform 12-16 repetitions of the standing dumbbell press in each set. For a well-rounded workout, complete three sets.

4. Single-arm dumbbell press

Setup: To perform this exercise, you’ll need a bench and a dumbbell. Lie down on the bench with your back flat against it. Keep your feet planted firmly on the floor for stability. Hold a dumbbell in one hand with your palm facing away from you

Starting Position: Begin with the dumbbell at chest height, your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle, and your upper arm parallel to the floor. This is your starting position.

Pressing Phase: Push the dumbbell upward until your arm is fully extended. Exhale as you perform this phase. Your focus should be on engaging your chest, shoulder, and triceps muscles to lift the weight.

Lowering Phase: Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position while inhaling. Keep your core engaged and your back flat on the bench throughout the exercise.

Repetitions and Sets: Aim to complete 10-12 repetitions for each arm. You can perform this exercise for three sets on each side to achieve a well-rounded workout.

5. Barbell push press

Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Position the barbell on your upper chest with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your palms should be facing forward (overhand grip).

Starting Position: The barbell should rest comfortably on your chest. Keep your core engaged, your chest up, and your back in a neutral position.

Pressing Phase: Begin by slightly bending your knees and dropping down into a shallow squat. Keep your back straight throughout this movement.

Explosive Push: As you push up through your heels, use the power generated from your legs and hips to drive the barbell overhead. Extend your arms fully until they are straight and the barbell is directly above your head. Exhale during this phase.

Lowering Phase: Slowly lower the barbell back down to your chest in a controlled manner, inhaling as you do so.

Repetitions and Sets: Aim for 8 to 10 repetitions to complete one set. You can perform multiple sets of this exercise to challenge and strengthen your upper body.

6. Bench press

Setup: Lie on your back on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Your back, head, and buttocks should be in contact with the bench. Position yourself so that your eyes are directly under the barbell. Reach up and grasp the barbell with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

Starting Position: Lift the barbell off the rack and hold it directly above your chest with your arms fully extended. Your elbows should be locked and your core engaged. This is your starting position.

Lowering Phase: Slowly lower the weight in a controlled motion by bending your elbows. Lower the barbell until it almost touches the mid-chest. Maintain control and keep your wrists straight during this phase. Inhale as you lower the weight.

Pressing Phase: Pause briefly when the barbell is close to your chest. Then, exhale and push the weight back up to the starting position by extending your arms. Focus on using your chest muscles to perform the lift. Keep your back, head, and buttocks in contact with the bench throughout the movement.

Repetitions and Sets: Aim to complete 8 to 10 repetitions to finish one set. You can perform multiple sets of bench presses to target and strengthen your chest and upper body.

7. Pullover extension

Setup: Lie face-up on a bench with your head and upper back supported. Your feet should be flat on the floor, and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Hold a dumbbell with both hands directly over your chest, arms extended, and palms facing each other.

Starting Position: Begin with the dumbbell held firmly over your chest. Your arms should be fully extended and your core engaged. This is your starting position.

Lowering Phase: Inhale as you lower the dumbbell in a controlled motion. Bend your elbows slightly and lower the weight until your forearms are parallel to the floor and your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Keep your wrists straight during this phase.

Stretch Phase: Pause for a moment at the bottom of the movement when the dumbbell is behind your head. You should feel a stretch in your chest and the front of your shoulders. Maintain good form and control throughout.

Return to Starting Position: Exhale as you reverse the movement and raise the dumbbell back to the starting position by extending your arms. Focus on using your chest and triceps to perform the lift. Keep your core engaged and maintain stability on the bench.

Repetitions and Sets: Aim to complete 10 to 12 repetitions for each set. You can perform multiple sets of pullover extensions to target and strengthen your upper body muscles effectively.

8. Barbell thruster

Setup: Begin by standing tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your lower back should have a slight arch, and the barbell should be held against your shoulders in the military press position. This is your starting position.

Core Engagement: Engage your core muscles to maintain stability throughout the exercise. Keep your head held high, chest up, and maintain a strong posture.

Squatting Phase: Start the movement by pushing your hips back and bending your knees to initiate a squat. Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground, or go slightly below parallel if your flexibility allows. Ensure that your knees track over your toes and your weight is on your heels.

Explosive Drive: As you reach the bottom of the squat position, use the power generated by your legs to explosively drive upwards. Simultaneously, press the barbell overhead by extending your arms fully.

Fully Extended Position: At the top of the movement, your arms and legs should be fully extended, and the barbell should be positioned directly overhead.

Lowering Phase: Slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position by reversing the movement. Control the descent of the barbell to maintain proper form.

Completing One Rep: After lowering the barbell back to your shoulders, you have completed one rep.

Repetitions and Sets: Aim to complete 8 to 10 repetitions for each set. Perform multiple sets of barbell thrusters to challenge and strengthen your upper body and lower body muscles effectively.

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