Upper Body Workout For Runners: Benefits + 11 effective Exercises

Strengthening The Upper Body To Improve Performance And Safeguard Against Injuries

So, you’ve got your squats, lunges, planks, and glute bridges scheduled in your strength training program, but what about upper body exercises?

Runners tend to do the opposite of the usual gym goers’ “skip leg day” approach. Instead, we tend to focus on our lower body and sometimes core and neglect our upper body, which we also need to be strong.

Incorporating an upper body workout for runners is key to being a well-rounded, strong athlete.

Have you ever run a marathon and had back or neck pain afterward? This could be due to a weak upper body. Runners, who often carry packs full of gear and fuel, will also benefit significantly from strengthening their upper bodies. 

Upper body workout for runners: Suspension row.

Why Weight Train If I’m A Runner? Benefits Of An Upper Body Workout

Working Your Upper Body:

As you can see, an upper body workout for runners is crucial to making you work towards top performance.

Sure, we don’t need bulging biceps, but we need to be strong to run faster, healthier, and, in the end, happier. 

11 Exercises for a Great Upper Body Workout For Runners 

How often should runners lift their upper body? As runners, we should aim for 2 full-body strength training sessions per week. You can do more if you’d like, but two is sufficient to improve your upper body strength.

You can add the following upper body exercises to your weight training program. Cover each upper body muscle group, such as the back, chest, shoulders, and arms, in your full-body workouts. 

Each runner’s level will vary, but depending on your strength training experience, you can do anywhere from 8-12 reps of each exercise you choose for 2-3 sets. Be sure to rest a minute or two between sets to give your body time to recuperate.

Let’s start our upper body workout for runners with some back-strengthening exercises: 

#1: Superman 

A person doing a superman exercise.

All you need for this exercise is a mat for comfort, the rest is just bodyweight. 

  1. Lie on your stomach, arms and legs extended behind you.
  2. Simultaneously lift your arms, legs, and body off the ground, creating a slight arch with your entire body.
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds.
  4. Lower yourself back to the floor to your starting position. 
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.  

Note: You can also perform this exercise with your arms extended out in front of you, following the line of your neck and head when lifting.

#2: Pull Apart

A person doing a pull apart.

For this exercise, you will need a resistance band. 

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a resistance band between your two hands.
  3. Extend your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height. 
  4. Pull the band apart as you bring your hands out to the sides, keeping them in a straight line, feeling the tension build on the resistance band. Retract your shoulder blades. 
  5. Pause for a few moments in the open position and then return to your starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Note: If this exercise doesn’t feel challenging enough, you need to position your hands closer together toward the center of the resistance band to create more tension.

#3: Suspension Inverted Row

A person doing a suspension row.
  1. Grab the suspension device with your arms extended, feet out in front of you, and body completely extended, parallel to the floor. 
  2. Engage your core and pull yourself up by bending your elbows until you have brought your chest to the handles. Open your chest and retract your shoulder blades. 
  3. Hold for a few moments, and with control, lower yourself down to your starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Note: If this position is too difficult for you, you can walk your feet back until your body is diagonal to the ground, not parallel, and perform the exercise from there. Find your sweet spot, and as you advance, lower yourself down each time to increase difficulty.

#4: Bent Over Row with Dumbbells

A person doing a bent over row.
  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in, and hands by your sides. 
  2. Bend at the waist, keeping your back completely straight. 
  3. Pull the dumbbells up to your chest, your elbows bending behind you.
  4. Hold this position for a few moments and lower the dumbbells with control back to your starting position. 
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Note: You can also do this in a unilateral fashion by working one arm at a time and then switching sides. 

Let’s switch over to the other side now and work that chest: 

#5: Push-Up

A person doing a push-up.

In this version of the push-up, we will keep our hands right next to our chest, and our elbows will bend straight back instead of out to the sides. This is a challenging exercise!

  1. Lie on your stomach, palms on the ground lined up on either side of your chest, and your feet hip-width apart as you balance your weight between your hands and your toes.
  2. Push through your hands, extending your elbows as you raise yourself up, keeping your body as straight as a board.
  3. Lower yourself back down in a controlled manner, bending your elbows until your body is barely above the ground. 
  4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps. 

Note: To work up to this exercise, you may begin by performing push-ups against a wall, on your knees, or on a bench for extra help. 

#6: Alternating Single-Arm Chest Press

A person doing a chest press.
  1. Lie face-up on a bench with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent at 90 degrees. 
  2. With a dumbbell in each hand, bend your elbows and place the dumbbells on either side of your chest. 
  3. Extend your right elbow, lifting the dumbbell straight up above you. 
  4. Bring the right dumbbell back to its starting position and repeat on the left side. 
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

#7: Up Down Plank

A person doing an up down plank.
  1. Being in a high plank position with your shoulders, elbows, and hands in a straight line. 
  2. Engage your core, lower your left arm into an elbow plank position, and then do the same with your right arm. You should now be in an elbow plank position. 
  3. Take your left arm and place it back into a full plank arm position, extending the elbow. Do the same with your right arm. You should be back in a full plank position. 
  4. Alternate sides while repeating for the desired number of reps. 

#8: Renegade Row

A person doing a renegade row.

Let’s mix up a plank and some rows for a full-body workout! This will work not only for your strength but also for your stability, as you should try and keep your body as stable as possible throughout each movement. 

  1. Being in a full plank position, propped up on a set of dumbbells, one in each hand. 
  2. Keeping your body as stable as possible and engaging your core, lift the left dumbbell off the ground, bringing it into a row, and raise your left elbow above your shoulder blade. 
  3. Return your left dumbbell to the ground to your full plank position and repeat on your right side.
  4. Alternate sides for the desired number of reps. 

#9: Tricep Dip

A person doing a tricep dip.
  1. Place a bench or any other stable surface behind you.
  2. While facing away, grab hold of the bench with your palms, holding yourself up.
  3. Walk your feet out in front of you until your knees are extended. Your weight will now be distributed between your hands and your heels. 
  4. Bend your elbows and lower yourself down until you are just above the floor. 
  5. Extend your elbows and raise yourself back up to your starting position. 
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Now for some shoulder work: 

#10: Lateral Raise

A person doing lateral raises.
  1. Stand tall with your feet at hip-width apart. 
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. 
  3. Depending on your level, either keep your elbows slightly bent (more challenging) or bend them at 90 degrees (less challenging). 
  4. Using your shoulders lift your arms to your sides (45-degree angle), bringing them in line with your shoulders. 
  5. With control, lower them down to your starting position. 
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

#11: Dumbbell Shoulder Press

A person doing a shoulder press.
  1. Stand tall with your feet at hip-width apart. 
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  3. Bend your elbows and bring each dumbbell to shoulder height, palms facing each other. 
  4. Extend your elbows and bring the dumbbells over your head, elbows extended by your ears. 
  5. With control, bring the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

There you go, eleven exercises to add to your upper body workout for runners to help improve running economy and strength and help keep you injury-free! 

A person doing a push-up.

Final Thoughts: Strength Training For Runners

The incorporation of upper body training into a runner’s regimen is a great way to enhance overall performance and minimize the risk of injury.

By focusing on exercises that target the upper back, back muscles, and shoulders, runners can significantly improve their running form and technique.

Strengthening these muscle groups not only promotes proper posture and spinal alignment but also facilitates efficient spinal rotation, helping to improve stride length and minimizing energy expenditure during running.3Drum, S. N., Rappelt, L., & Donath, L. (2019). Trunk and Upper Body Fatigue Adversely Affect Running Economy: A Three-Armed Randomized Controlled Crossover Pilot Trial. Sports7(8), 195. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7080195

Additionally, engaging in upper body training serves as a form of cross-training, keeping you fit on your days off of running as well as complementing the cardiovascular benefits of running with targeted muscle strengthening.

Make sure to include a full range of motion and proper form in upper body exercises, along with a suitable number of repetitions.

If you don’t know where to start, consider working with a personal trainer or coach, you stand to benefit greatly from a well-rounded training program that includes both lower and upper body exercises.

If you are looking for hamstring, lower back, or just general lower body exercises to add to your workouts, check out our:

References

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Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

2 thoughts on “Upper Body Workout For Runners: Benefits + 11 effective Exercises”

  1. Great article! These exercises are straightforward, require minimal equipment, and the explanations (and GIFs) are excellent. I’d love a printer friendly version that I could have in front of me until I’m more comfortable and familiar with the routine!

    Reply

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