Fitness / Strength Training

6 Upper Body Exercises to Improve Your Running

Build a strong chest, back, and arms for more powerful and efficient movement.

When you run, you use your legs, that’s no secret. But, running’s not only about your legs.

That’s because, as you move through space, your core fires, your arms pump, and your entire body works together to drive you forward. So, while logging miles is still the best way for runners to train, don’t forget to train the top half of your body with upper body exercises.

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“Having a strong upper body makes you a more efficient runner,” says Aaptiv Trainer Kelly Chase. “A strong upper body aids in the forward movement of each stride. And one’s abdominals and arm muscles provide support and coordination. All these elements combine to allow the athlete to run more efficiently.”

Aaptiv Trainer Benjamin Green agrees. “If you only focus on your legs for running strength, you are missing out on the benefits [that] a strong upper body offers,” he says.

“Your back and abdominal muscles play a critical role in the transfer of energy as your body propels forward. These muscles will also help stabilize your torso when your arms are moving back and forth. Add proper form and you’re set up for success.”

Both are quick to note, however, that upper body strength is more important for sprinters than distance runners. While the former can use that extra muscle to get out of the starting blocks quickly, the latter might be weighed down by extra weight.

So, if you’re a marathoner, you need to consider how upper body muscle impacts your pace time. But, Chase adds, “If you’re wanting to run long distance for the sake of being able to, and you’re not necessarily doing it for time, then I recommend conditioning your upper body to simply help you be a more efficient runner.”

Okay, let’s get to it. Below are six trainer-approved upper body exercises to add to your workout regimen. Give them a try, and see how they enhance your running.


“This full body exercise strengthens the legs, core, and upper body all in one, because, when we run, we are using our entire body,” says Chase.

Do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower your body into a squat, place your hands on the floor directly in front of you, and jump back into a plank position.

Jump your feet back in, bringing them outside of your hands for a wider base. Then stand up, reach your arms overhead, and jump into the air. That’s one rep.

To mix things up, and to get some extra upper body work, you can also perform a push-up from the plank position, lowering yourself down and pushing yourself back up before jumping your feet in.

Renegade Rows With Push-Ups

Chase likes this particular combo because it’s a push-and-pull anaerobic exercise that works the shoulders, chest, traps, and upper back.

Do it: Start in push-up position with your hands clutching dumbbells, and the dumbbells aligned parallel to your body. Do a push-up. As you push your body up, row one dumbbell up to your side, lower it, and repeat on the other side. That’s one rep.

Dumbbell Overhead Press to Lat Pulldown

Here’s another push-and-pull combo upper body exercise, but this time you’re moving vertically instead of horizontally as you did with the renegade rows. “It targets different angles of the upper body muscles, including the lats, shoulders, and triceps,” says Chase.

Do it: Start with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing forward, and the weights at shoulder height. Press up in a smooth motion. Once you reach the top, slowly lower back down while squeezing your shoulder blades together, just like you’re using the lat pull machine at the gym.

Push-Ups on Stability Ball

“Here you are engaging your core and other muscles for balance on the ball before even doing the push-up,” says Green.

Do it: Place your hands on a stability ball (like this best seller) with your legs straight behind you, just like a normal push-up position. Slowly lower, and then return to the top.

Bench Dips

Dips work your triceps, chest, and shoulders—all things that can improve your running. Green notes that, for an added challenge, place your feet on a stability ball to engage even more muscles.

Do it: Place your hands behind you on a bench, and place both feet flat on the ground with a 90-degree bend in your knees. Lower your body down and then back up in a controlled motion. Aim for three sets of ten reps.

Benjamin’s Burpees

Another advocate of burpees, Green suggests his own unique version of the exercise. “It targets multiple muscles groups at one time and increases your heart rate to ensure [that] your body is ready to go the distance on race day.”

Do it: Start by standing tall, then squat down, and place your hands on the ground. Kick your legs back, do a push-up, and then hold a high plank for five seconds.

Tap your right hand to your left shoulder, then tap your left hand to your right shoulder. Hop your legs back in, jump up, and repeat. Try to accomplish four sets of eight.

Work these upper body exercises for runners into your strength training routine. Take note of how improved strength in your arms, back, and chest helps improve your speed as a runner.

Looking for more tips to training for the big race? Aaptiv has running workouts to help with all of your running goals.

Fitness Strength Training


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