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20-minute upper body workout for runners

Believe it or not — arms are important for runners, too

At first glance, it appears as though when you’re running, your legs are doing all the work and your arms are just along for the ride. It’s true that your legs take the lion’s share of the load, but your arms have more of an impact on your running performance than you might think, which is why runners shouldn’t neglect their arms when they’re in the gym. Try adding this 20-minute upper body workout to your weekly routine to help you become a stronger runner.

Upper body strength training for runners

How your arms impact your running

Your arms have an impact on everything from your gait to your level of oxygen consumption. A 2019 study published in the journal Sports demonstrated that runners who add upper body training into their program can offset poor running economy and even make it better, which allows them to run faster and farther.

You may have heard a coach tell you or another athlete to drive their arms when they’re trying to speed up or sprint to the finish line, and for good reason. Driving your arms helps add power to your gait and counterbalances the force produced by your legs as you pick up speed. For this reason, the faster you run, the more arm strength plays a role in helping you run. Of course, you don’t want big, bulky arms when you’re trying to run fast, but remember that size and strength are not synonymous, so just because your arms are strong doesn’t mean they’re big.

Running with Arms

A 20-minute upper body workout for runners

This workout is short and simple so it can easily be fit into your already jam-packed schedule. It combines both compound movements and isolation exercises to focus on the muscles responsible for pushing and pulling your arms as they swing, and should be done with light to medium weights. To start, simply do one set of each exercise. As you get stronger, you can build up to two or three sets per exercise, with three minutes of rest between each set.

At-home strength training: weighted backpack exercises for runners

Exercise 1: pushups

  1. Get in a straight-arm plank position with your hands directly below your shoulders and your core engaged.
  2. Bend your elbows so they’re at a 54-degree angle to your body and slowly lower yourself to the ground, keeping the rest of your body straight.
  3. Press yourself back up to the starting position.
  4. If you can’t do a pushup off the ground, place your hands on an elevated platform, like a step or bench, still keeping them directly below your shoulders, and do your pushups from there. As you get stronger, you can gradually lower the platform until you’re doing pushups off the ground.
  5. Aim for 10-15 reps.

Exercise 2: shoulder press

  1. Standing up tall, hold two dumbbells, one over each shoulder, palms facing each other.
  2. With your core engaged, drive the dumbbells up into the air until your arms are straight.
  3. Slowly lower them back down to the starting position.
  4. Aim for 10-15 reps.

Exercise 3: pullovers

  1. Lie down on your back (on a bench or the floor) holding a dumbbell at your chest.
  2. Gripping the dumbbell firmly on both ends, extend your arms straight into the air so the dumbbell is directly above your shoulders (this is the starting position).
  3. Keeping your arms straight, slowly bring the dumbbell over your head until you touch the ground.
  4. Return the dumbbell to the starting position, keeping your core engaged the entire time.
  5. Aim for 10-15 reps.

Exercise 4: bicep curls

  1. Hold one dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing outward and the weights in front of your thighs.
  2. Holding your elbows still and using only your forearms, slowly raise the dumbbells up to your shoulders.
  3. Lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position and repeat.
  4. Aim for 10-15 reps.

At-home strength training: bodyweight exercises for runners

Exercise 5: tricep kickbacks

  1. Hold one light dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Keeping your core tight, bend your knees slightly and hinge at your hips so that your torso is parallel to the floor.
  3. Bring your elbows up so your upper arms are in line with your torso and you’re holding the dumbbells at your chest (this is the starting position).
  4. Keeping your elbows in place, drive the dumbbells backward until your arms are straight.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position.
  6. Aim for 10-15 reps.