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Basic upper body strengthening routine for runners

While some runners ignore strength training completely, there’s a bigger tendency to ignore strengthening the upper body even among those who regularly perform exercises to strengthen their legs and core. Aside from the fact that it’s just a good idea to maintain a strong, balanced body overall, upper body strength training actually does specifically help runners.

Your arms are part of your overall running motion, so a good base of upper body strength helps keep your arms, shoulders, neck and upper back from getting fatigued when running. A strong upper body improves your running economy and helps you maintain proper form even as your lower body begins to get tired. Furthermore, upper body strength is essential for hilly courses. Your upper body will help drive your legs up difficult inclines.

You may just find that it’s your upper body that carries you to the finish line in those agonizing last few miles of a race. So, here’s a basic upper body strengthening routine to get you started. Like the basic leg strengthening routine and the basic core routine, these exercises use only you body weight as resistance. This routine will provide you with a basic level of strength that will allow you to progress to more advanced routines I’ll present later.

As with the other routines, perform this routine 2-3 times per week on nonconsecutive days.

Decline Push-up
Compared to classic push-ups, decline push-ups place greater emphasis on the upper chest and the front of the shoulders. You can alternate between classic push-ups and decline push-ups each time you do this routine. For instance, you might do the routine with classic push-ups on Monday and then do the routine with decline push-ups on Wednesday.


Wide Grip Push-up
A wide grip push-up removes some of the leverage you get from your arms and shoulders in a classic push-up, and therefore places more emphasis on your pectoralis (chest) muscles.


Overhead Press Push-up
The overhead press push-up emphasizes your shoulders by shifting your body weight forward. As you advance in strength, you can make this exercise more difficult by raising your feet higher and higher off the ground until you’re actually doing a hand stand push-up.


Close Grip Push-up
The close grip push-up is the opposite of the wide grip push-up in both form and function. The tight placement of your hands in this exercise forces your triceps to do most of the work.


This exercise will require the use of a pull-up bar of some type. If you don’t have access to one at the gym or a local park, you can often improvise with something around the house. Failing that, a quality doorway pull-up bar is actually fairly inexpensive.


Written by

Brian Darrow is a running coach in St. Petersburg, FL who specializes in online coaching for beginners. Follow him at

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