Upper-body work for runners

Upper-body work for runners

by Ashley Tan 07 May 2018

When training for a marathon, the first thing that most runners hone in on is the lower part of the body, namely the glutes and leg muscles. However, because it’s not as instinctive to train the upper-body, these muscle groups often get neglected. But just because it may not seem intuitive to train the upper-body, it doesn’t mean that its importance should be downplayed or disregarded.


According to Danny Mackey, head coach for the Seattle-based Brooks Beasts Track Club, building on the link between the upper and lower body is crucial. “When there’s a weak link in the chain, like powerless arms, your body isn’t going to run as efficiently,” Mackey explains.  


The first step to training for upper-body strength is taking note of the form of your arms and shoulders. As the race progresses, you’ll likely find yourself getting tired, and this causes your form to start loosening. However, maintaining firm arms and shoulders can provide continued support for your forward lean. So, what is the exactly position that you should endeavour to hold? “Your elbows should bend at 90–120 degrees for sprinting and be tucked in by your sides. The angle of your elbows in the front should be less than the angle in the back for perfect form,” Mackey shares.


Additionally, practising swinging your arms from your shoulders instead of your elbows is another upper-body workout tip. This will provide you with the extra push you need to reach that finish line as your body tires. On the contrary, swinging your arms in the incorrect way could result in shorter strides, which are disadvantageous to your speed and overall timing.


To practice for this, you can engage in a range of push, pull, and balance exercises for the arms and shoulders. One workout that might do the trick is the dumbbell push-press – to do this, you’ll need to stand with your feet apart, and bend your knees slightly. Rest one dumbbell on each shoulder as you bend your knees into a demi squat slowly.  Then, push your legs up quickly and with energy as you press the weight above your head. If you’re doing the exercise correctly, then your biceps should be in line with your ears and should not hyperextend at the elbows. Resume your original position, with your dumbbells on your shoulders again, and repeat.


Another exercise that you can engage in is the lat pulldown, though this will require you to head down to a gym because it requires a pull-down machine with a wide bar attached to the pulley. Once you’ve sat on the bench and ensured that the knee pads are adjusted to fit your height, place both hands on the bar such that they are set apart slightly wider than shoulder-distance. Lean back a little as you bring the bar down to chest-level, whilst working your back muscles by pulling your shoulders wide and down. Slowly release and repeat the exercise again.


With enough grit and training, your upper-body should be as sturdy as your lower-body in no time, and you’ll now have an edge over others who haven’t learned to harness their upper-body strength. Here’s to pushing your boundaries, and beating your personal best over and over again!