How Upper Body Strength Exercises Improve Your Running

man running outdoor

Usually, runners don’t spend much time thinking about the size of their biceps. And why should they? In the end, it’s their legs that count. So runners don’t need to work out their upper body, right?

But when you look at the athletes in the 100m final at the Olympics, things appear quite different. It almost seems as if the bigger your arms, the faster you can run.

So you might be wondering…

Do strong arms really make you faster?

How arm strength and size contribute to your running performance depends on the type of the run:

Arm strength & sprints

For sprints, this is true to a certain degree. Sprinting is about generating maximum forward propulsion in the shortest period of time. The arms provide additional thrust, catapulting the runner forward. Strong shoulders are particularly important for this. While arm strength plays a minor role compared to arm technique, in competitive sports, where races are decided by hundredths of a second, it can make the difference between victory and defeat.

Exercises for strengthening your arms and core can be found at the bottom of the article.

man running outdoors

Arm strength & distance running:

In the case of distance running, bulky arms are actually a disadvantage: as arm strength has practically no impact on performance, big bulging arms are just extra weight. What matters is the right technique. Your arm swing influences every movement from your hips down. If you swing your arms faster, this automatically increases your step frequency. Slow and long swings produce the opposite effect: this is due to the fact that our arm and leg movements are coordinated by our brain.

Here’s how you can use arm swing to improve your running…

The proper way to hold your arms when running:

  • Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle or less
  • Let your arms swing loosely in the direction in which you are running (your arms should not cross the centerline)
  • Keep your hands relaxed with your palms facing inward. Your thumb and index finger should be touching lightly
  • Focus on pushing your elbows back rather than pulling them forward

The right arm technique makes your running form efficient. However, you can’t run with optimal form until you build up your upper body (especially your core muscles).

Benefits of upper body strength for runners

Naturally, strong leg muscles are crucial for running fast, but many runners underestimate the importance of upper body strength for good running performance:

  • The abdominal and back muscles play an important role in stabilizing your upper body. A weak core leads to compensatory movements, thus decreasing your forward propulsion.
  • A strong upper body is essential for guaranteeing an efficient transfer of energy from your body to your legs. Without this, the proper arm technique cannot provide optimal support to your legs. An efficient running form helps you run faster and expend less energy.
  • An additional benefit: well-developed abs and back muscles help protect your spine from the impact of running. Thus, a strong core is essential for minimizing the risk of injury.

guy running outdoors

Upper body exercises for runners:

Here is a list of exercises you can do to build upper body strength at home, without weights:

Good to know:

The best exercises for building up your stabilizing muscles (pelvic, abdominal, and back muscles) are complex total body exercises like Planks, Push-ups, and Burpees. So make sure to include those in your workouts, too!

Have you already tried our bodyweight training app? Runtastic Results can help you strengthen your entire body and improve your running performance.

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Herwig Natmessnig As a former professional athlete (whitewater slalom), Herwig lives for fitness. Whether in competition or just for fun, he can never turn down a challenge. View all posts by Herwig Natmessnig »

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