Run faster with strong arms.
We all know that cross training is key to becoming a faster, stronger runner. No matter how many hours you spend on the road or track, running alone won’t always make you faster. The importance of strengthening your lower body and core is obvious but more often runners avoid building upper body strength. Having weak arms can cause imbalances. Strong arms and upper bodies can definitely make you faster. Swinging your arms back and forth while running allows your lower body to do less work. Pumping your arms (while you move your legs in stride) keeps you upright, counterbalances your legs and help your body transfer power from one side to the other.
Building strength is different than building big muscle mass. As a runner, it is important to remain long and lean while you strengthen your upper body. Yoga is a great way to get a strong and lean upper body because it requires you move through poses supporting the weight of your own body. When running, your deltoids (the muscles located on the outside of the shoulder ) and your triceps (the small muscles in the back of your upper arm) do the most arm muscle work. Try the following yoga poses strengthen your upper body, particularly in your deltoids and triceps. Once you’ve mastered the beginner poses, challenge yourself with the intermediate/advanced poses.
Downward dog (beginner)
Downward dog is a great pose to engage every part of your arm. During this pose you are supporting your own body weight.
To do this pose, it is best to begin in plank pose. (Tip: your hands are the same distance apart from your feet in plank as they are in downward dog). Your hands should be shoulder width apart, pushing the mat away to engage your forearms and protected your wrists. Your wrists should be inline with your shoulders. Your feet should be hip distance apart, with your toes tucked under. Draw your navel in towards your spine, engaging your core. Inhale in plank and as you exhale lift your hips towards the ceiling coming into an upside-down ‘V’ shape. Slide your shoulder blades down your back creating space between your shoulders and ears while trying to close the space between your ribs and hips. Externally rotate your upper arms (rolling the shoulders out and pulling your shoulder blades together on your back) to create more space. Your spine should be long and lengthened and your neck should remain an extension of your spine. If this feels difficult you can bend your knees slightly to help straighten your back. Try holding this pose for 15-30 seconds, rest and repeat.
Single leg plank (beginner)
One leg plank is a bit trickier than plank and will require significant arm and shoulder strength. This pose is a great prep pose to help you build the strength for crow pose (see below). Like plank, this pose is also great for your core.
To do a single leg plank, begin in a plank (as you do in downward dog) ensuring your hands are shoulder distance apart and you are pushing away from the mat. Inhale and engage your core and on the exhale lift your right foot, grounding into your left toes. Flex your right, lifted foot while you bring your shoulder blades together on your back. Hold for 20 seconds and then repeat by lifting your other leg.
Three legged dog (intermediate)
Lifting one of your legs in downward dog puts more of your body weight in your arms, requiring more strength in your triceps and shoulders.
To do this pose, begin in downward dog. Step your feet together so the insides of your feet are touching. While you focus on externally rotating your upper arms, shift your weight into your left foot and raise your right foot up. Keep your spine long as you attempt to lift your right leg higher. Your hips should stay square to the ground, if you notice your right hip is lifting higher, lower your leg until your hips are square. To feel a stretch in the back of your grounded leg (bonus for runners) push your heel towards your mat. Try holding this for 10-15 seconds before repeating with your other leg.
Crow pose (intermediate/advanced)
Crow pose is a challenging balancing pose that requires your arms to hold the entire weight of your body. Practicing crow pose requires you to be very aware of body position and balance. To do this pose, begin in a squat up on your toes, with your feet just wider than hip distance apart. Press your palms and fingers down in front of you, with your hands just wider than shoulder distance apart. Put even weight in your palms and fingertips (to avoid straining your wrist when you move into the pose.) Bend your elbows back and on your next inhale lift your buttock up placing your knees on the highest part of your tricep. Shift your weight forward onto your hands while you ensure your knees stay glued to your triceps. Try lifting one of your feet off the ground, then try the other. Once you feel balanced in your arms, try lifting both feet while you engage your core. Try holding this pose for 5-10 seconds. As you get better in this pose, try touching and pointing your toes together. To make this pose an advanced one, attempt to straighten you arms completely.