Upper Body Strength For Runners

Random start to this post but I had a good idea for a post I wanted to write the other day, and now I can’t remember what it was for the life of me! So this one will have to do ;)

I’ve noticed that gaining upper body strength has really helped my running. We all know how important core strength is, but upper body strength is just as important. Your arms are what propel you as you’re running, especially during accelerations and/or sprinting to that finish line.

For me, lifting for biceps and triceps isn’t my favorite thing to do. I much prefer exercises like pull-ups, bench press, etc. which hit those bigger muscles. And I believe those are key exercises to help you with your running as well.

Upper Body Strength For Runners

Here are a few exercises to incorporate into your strength routine:


My favorite type of row is a supported bent over dumbbell row.

Bent Over Row
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Single arm (and leg for that matter) exercises utilize more core strength which is obviously a plus. A few cues I’d give for this exercises are:

  • Keep your back flat throughout, don’t let it sag when you lower the weight.
  • As you lower the weight, don’t use momentum to row it back up. I see people lower and let there shoulder and back go down with the weight in order to almost swing it back up. Keep your torso steady as you lower the weight, then before you row up focus on squeezing your shoulder blade/the muscles in that area to row up. Those are the muscles you want to recruit. Try to keep them “flexed” throughout the exercise.

If you have a cable machine, this exercise will really help your running, since it mimics arm strength. I was doing this one about 2-3 times per week:


A video posted by pattyrivas13 (@pattyrivas13) on

You want to pick a challenging weight but not one that will cause your torso to move as you pull or let the weight go. Once again, focus on using your back muscles as you pull in (think “squeeze your shoulder blades”)Pull in with force, then let it go slowly (count 3 seconds). That explosive movement will help your arm swing during that last sprint of a track workout or race. Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps to start, and each week try to add more weight.

Those are my 2 favorite exercises for upper body strength relating to running, but here are a few others to incorporate into your routine:

  • Pull-ups (assisted or unassisted)
  • Negative pull-ups
  • TRX rows
  • Barbell or dumbbell overhead press
  • Push-ups (great for core strength too)
  • Bent-over barbell row
  • Inverted row
  • Lying barbell tricep extension (video) –> much more effective than tricep kickbacks and other tricep exercises.
  • Single arm dumbbell overhead press
  • Tricep rope extension

I forget what video I was watching but it was one of Mary Cain doing a track workout, and her coach (Alberto Salazar) was yelling, “Use your arms! Use your arms!” Next time you feel you’re getting tired during a run, workout or race, pump your arms harder. You’ll find that it will help you maintain your pace.

Do you incorporate these exercises into your strength routine? 

What’s your mental tip for when you are really fatigued at the end of a track workout or race but want to finish strong?


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  1. I do like to work my upper body. I think it is funny when I see runners with no upper body muscles at all!
    Elle recently posted…Let’s Get Caught UpMy Profile

  2. People don’t realize just how much your arms come into play when running! So important not to neglect upper body strength!
    Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine recently posted…A Passion For Power And StrengthMy Profile

  3. I NEVER used to work my upper body and now I’m all about it. It’s so important! I’m hoping to be able to do an unassisted pull-up by the end of the year!
    Nicole @ Fitful Focus recently posted…10 Healthy Food SwapsMy Profile

  4. Upper body strength is super important, especially when it comes to how we run and how we hold our arms when we do run. Thanks for sharing these simple exercises!
    Kathryn @ Dancing to Running recently posted…Slow Cooker Chicken Marinara with Roasted VegetablesMy Profile

  5. I was just making a lifting routine the other day to supplement my running and was trying to jot down all the essential upper body moves. Now I can be lazy and just use your list! LoL, thanks!

  6. I agree with you a thousand percent.. The lager muscle groups plays much more of a role when it comes to sports requiring functional strength
    Cavakia Therlonge recently posted…3 Moves For Attention Grabbing Abs [video]My Profile

  7. Runners tend to forgot everything else but running, myself included. Having good upper body strength helps with running and makes an overall balanced body! Thanks for sharing!
    Toni @runninglovingliving recently posted…Staying Calm, Cool & Connected with Stayfree & My Yoga on Gaiam TVMy Profile

  8. Upper body training is definitely my favorite – probably because I see results the quickest up there! ;)
    GiGi Eats recently posted…Meghan Trainor, HP and I #BendTheRulesMy Profile

  9. Love this! I just did a bunch of these in my upper body workout this morning…some of my favorite exercises! :)
    Annmarie recently posted…Meatless Monday: Breakfast Wafflewich + Nicole’s Naturals GiveawayMy Profile

  10. I most certainly incorporate upper body workouts especially push ups in my training b/c I believe we women should be strong so we can lift heavy things. It helps with my running too.
    Diatta @ Femme Fitale Fit Club recently posted…Urban Remedy One-Day Juice Cleanse ReviewMy Profile

  11. we do pushups, planks and lots of arm work at pure barre and it’s really making a difference. i also believe in functional fitness (i.e. being able to lift your luggage into the overhead bin on a plane :)).
    Courtney @ Eat Pray Run DC recently posted…The Amazon Affiliate ProgramMy Profile

  12. I incorporate a lot of those move when I’m working out. I actually enjoy strength training, and am doing much more of it now that it’s too cold to run and bike a lot outside!
    AJ @ NutriFitMama recently posted…Snowed In and Fried Tofu for Meat LoversMy Profile

  13. Great workout! We need to keep it all balanced.
    jill conyers recently posted…What I Ate WednesdayMy Profile

  14. Your gym rocks the Eagles, haha! I love it! I do upper body strength training AT LEAST 4 times a week. I’m such a stronger athlete now that full body ST is incorporated into my training routine. It pains me to see runners who can’t do a single pushup…eek!
    RFC recently posted…Movement for the Body & Soul – 30 Days of YogaMy Profile

  15. Great tips! I have neglected strength training of any sort (other than Pilates) for a while now -and am finally getting into a routine with my TRX, resistance bands and a Fit Bar Flex that I love.
    Elena recently posted…Everyday Wellness Breakfast: Almond Butter Cacao Overnight OatsMy Profile

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