I still remember my high school track coach yelling at me “use your arms” as I raced the 400 meters. He always stressed that our arms were just as important as our legs for speed and that we should use them to drive our runs.
It turns out he knew what he was talking about. Running with your shoulders relaxed can help save energy and reduce muscle stiffness. Pumping your arms back and forth in a straight line (be careful not to move your arms across your body) with your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle will help propel you forward. In fact, proper upper body mechanics are a must for good running form.
Not only is good form important, but upper body strength can improve your running, too. If you can drive harder with your arms, your legs will follow suit and speed up. Plus, a strong upper body will take longer to fatigue and help you maintain proper form through the long run (pun intended).
Try these exercises to boost your upper body strength:
- Any type of plank. It’s true, the plank has a reputation for sculpting your core. But if you do a plank with your palms on the floor and arms extended, you’re bound to feel it in your forearms, chest, and shoulder-area, too. Even side planks and planks on your elbows work your upper body.
- Push-ups. Push-ups are known for targeting your chest muscles. To take the basic move up a notch, get in a basic push-up position, but stagger your arms. Move one hand about a foot out in front of the other. Do regular – or modified push-ups on your knees – in that position to challenge your muscles. After doing one set, move the opposite arm out in front and do another set. You can also target your triceps (the large muscle on the back of your upper arm) by doing triceps push-ups. Get into a push-up position. Instead of keeping your hands wider than shoulder-width apart, bring them in so that they’re directly underneath your shoulders. Lower down, by shooting your elbows back directly behind you rather than out to the sides. Then push back up using your triceps. You’ll be sure to feel the burn.
- Arm raises with dumbbells. Grab a light set of dumbbells and get ready to work your shoulders. First, do lateral raises. To do this, stand up, hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms resting at your sides. Keeping your abs tight and arms straight (be careful not to lock your elbows), raise your arms straight out to your sides until they’re parallel with your shoulders. Then gently bring them back down to your sides. Aim for 10–15 repetitions. Then move into front raises. Keep your weights in your hands and arms at your sides and bring them slightly forward, turning your palms in to face your body. Next, raise your arms directly in front of you up to shoulder height, and slowly bring them back down. Shoot for 10–15 repetitions of this exercise, too. Do 2–3 sets of each move, without taking a break between your lateral and front raises.
Written by Jen Matz.