Exercise physiologist Todd Buckingham and research shows that a strong upper body can help runners perform better. One study found that that a weakness or lack of sufficient coordination in the upper body can lead to “less efficient movements, compensatory movement patterns, strain, overuse, and injury.” Get stronger with these arm workouts for runners!
Something strange has happened…people keep commenting on my arms and asking what arm exercises I do. The truth is, I am injured and can’t do much of anything weight-bearing or on my lower body, so I’ve doubled down on upper body strength. My focus has been on specific arm workouts for runners, plus a goal of 100 pull-ups a day, 200 push-ups a day, plus core.
While I feel like I am losing most of my cardiovascular fitness and leg strength, I do feel productive strengthening my upper body because it’s important for running. VERY important.
Without a strong upper body in running, your running form will break down. And when your form breaks down, you run less efficiently. This slows you down and puts you at risk for injury. None of these are good things!
So, for this article, I got with exercise physiologist Todd Buckingham to share the best arm workouts for runners.
Table of contents
- Do runners need arm strength?
- Benefits of Upper-Body Strength for Runners
- 16 Best Arm Workouts for Runners (4 Different Routines!)
Let’s get going!
Do runners need arm strength?
Yes, runners need arm strength because running is a full body activity, explains Buckingham.
“The arms and upper body aren’t just along for the ride; they play an important role in stabilizing the entire body,” he explains. “The stabilization of the head and neck allow you to see while you’re running and the stabilization of the rest of your body helps to conserve energy so that all the movement you’re producing sends you in a forward direction instead of side-to-side.”
Consider this research:
- One study found that that a weakness or lack of sufficient coordination in the upper body can lead to “less efficient movements, compensatory movement patterns, strain, overuse, and injury.”
- Another study found a connection and neuromuscular coordination between arm muscles during running (biceps and superior trapezius) and the head, with the arm muscle movements helping keep the head steady.
Related: How to Lift for the Marathon
A strong upper body is crucial for proper running form
Proper running form is rooted in standing tall with a strong posture. This allows us to move in an equal and balanced way and keeps our lungs open so we can take in more oxygen. If we have a weak upper body, we tend to slouch or move our arms in an uncontrolled way when running. This can hurt the efficiency of our movement and increase risk of injury.
Therefore, having a strong upper body including strong arms, back, shoulders, and core will keep runners upright, even when tired.
Furthermore, your arms play a key role in propelling you forward. The linkage the previous study found means that when you swing your arms, your legs follow. The faster you swing your arms, the faster your legs will move.
Strong shoulders especially help thrust the runner forward, increasing your running speed.
Benefits of Upper-Body Strength for Runners
Strength training has been shown to improve running economy by as much as 8 percent! Running economy is a key indicator for running performance. Think about how much an 8 percent increase could help you in your running goals! Take that carbon fiber shoes!
5 benefits of lifting for runners:
- A strong upper body keeps your lungs open so you can take in more oxygen.
How should my arms move when I run?
So, how should you move your arms when you run?
You want your arms to:
- Be bent at a 90-degree angle at the elbows.
- Swing lightly by your sides with your elbows moving backward.
- Your arms should not cross in front of your body.
- Your shoulders and hands should be relaxed. Fingers can be lightly clenching like you are holding a potato chip.
Related: How to Fix Running Form
Are arm workouts good for runners?
Yes, arm workouts are good for runners because strong arms are crucial for proper running form. If your upper body is weak, your running form will break down as soon as you get tired on a long run, running workout or race. This will lead to slower times (wasted energy and less oxygen intake) and eventual running injuries.
A strong arm swing has been found to enhance running economy as it plays a crucial role in transferring energy from your upper body to your legs to help them move faster.
Related: 8 Best Plyometric Moves for Runners
How do I tone my arms when running?
An upper body workout routine plus running will help you have toned arms. Runners work their arms while running but lifting weights to supplement your training will help tone your arms AND help your running performance.
Below are arm workouts for runners to help you run your best.
The Best Arm Workouts for Runners
Below are the best arm workouts for runners to increase your upper body and core strength and make you an overall stronger, better runner! I broke 16 upper body exercises into four different routines. Feel free to switch up routines, try the variations, or tack onto your already scheduled fitness routine.
I recommend starting with body weight for most of these and progressing to weights. Focus on proper form and do not rush!
Aim to do 10-12 reps, 2-3 sets of each routine, 2-3 times per week. You can:
- add heavier weights and do less reps,
- a resistance band around your legs or arms,
- an isometric hold (pause at top with muscle contraction),
- and eccentric movement (slow on the way down) to work muscles differently.
The following exercises:
- work the entire body or major arm muscle groups to help your running including core muscles and upper back and lower back muscles,
- help with running form by training you to keep your arms next to your sides,
- stabilize your back muscles to stabilize your neck and head while running,
- and train for trunk stabilization will running.
Get more strength training tips here!
Let’s get to the moves!
16 Best Arm Workouts for Runners (4 Different Routines!)
#1 Arm Workout for Runners Routine
Overhead Triceps Extension
- Start position is standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, dumbbell with both hands wrapped around near the base of one.
- Lift your arms up and bend elbows so weight is behind your head.
- Slowly lower the weight back behind your head, keeping your elbows in.
- Keep upper arms in same place.
- When the weight is in between your shoulder blades, return to starting position.
Arnold Press to Push (Single Arm) (Variation: Shoulder Press DA or SA)
- Stand with a set of dumbbells in each hand and feet shoulder width apart.
Seated Biceps Curl (Variation: Wide curls and Hammer curls)
- Sit a sturdy chair with your feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
- Engage your core and slowly bend your elbows so that the weight moves up so that it
nears your bicep. Keep elbows tucked.
Plank Arm Taps (Variation: Around the world plank taps)
- Starting position is straight arm plank with your feet about shoulder width apart.
#2 Arm Workout for Runners Routine
Diamond Tricep Push-ups
- Get on your hands and knees and position your hands into a diamond below your chest.
Hand Release Pushups
- Get in a plank position and slowly lower so that your hands are below your shoulders and your shoulders are rotated outward to engage your lats. Legs should be hip-width apart.
- Engage your core, quads, glutes, and shoulders and upper arms. Tuck chin. Ensure body is in a straight line.
- Push down into the ground and straighten your arms, pushing your body up. Wrists should be under
Anterior Raise (Variation: isometric hold for 2-3 seconds at top)
- Hold weight plates or dumbbells down at your sides with your palms facing in.
Suitcase Carry (Variation: Farmer’s Carry)
- Holding one weight at your side, engage your core and stand tall.
- Walk around for about 30 steps.
- Repeat on other side.
- Do hold a dumbbell or weight in both hands for a Farmer’s Carry.
#3 Arm Workout for Runners Routine
Plank March (aka Commando)
- Get into a forearm plank position with your forearms parallel to each other under your shoulders. Make sure your glutes and core are engaged and your body is in a straight line (no sinking or sticking up bottom, and no major recruiting of hip flexors).
- Straighten one arm, then he other so that you are in a straight arm plank.
- Then bend one arm to go down on your forearm, then the other.
Side-Lying Tricep Pushups
- Lie down on one side with your shoulders, hips, and feet stacked.
- Bring your top hand to the mat directly in front of your bottom shoulder. Your bottom hand will be wrapped around your waist below your chest.
- Use the top arm to press yourself up off the ground.
- Lower to starting positions.
Renegade Row to Push-ups (Variation: Upright Dumbbell Row SA/DA)
- Start in a straight arm plank position with dumbbells under each hand. Hands are under shoulders. Body is in a strong, straight line. Legs are slightly wider than your hips to keep you from rotating.
- Pull one dumbbell back with a bent elbow towards your hip. Keep arm close to your side.
- Return to floor. Repeat on the other side.
- Then for bonus points, do a push-up then repeat.
- Other option: Standing with a slight lip at the waist, pull arms back with elbows bent and close to your sides. Repeat. (Single or double arm, it’s your choice!)
Bridged Chest Press
- Lie on your back with knees bent. Dumbbells near your hands.
#4 Arm Workout for Runners Routine
Basic Push-up (Variation: Do kneeling with knees on ground)
- Start in a straight arm plank position with your body aligned. Hands are below shoulders. Core is engaged.
- Slowly lower your chest to the ground without craning your neck. Keep it straight, gaze is down.
- Bend your elbows so that they are at a 90-degree angle as you lower your chest to the ground.
- When your chest is near the ground, return to starting position and repeat.
Seated Anterior Raise (Variation: isometric hold for 2-3 seconds at top)
- Seated in a chair, hold weight plates or dumbbells down at your sides with your palms facing in.
- With a slight bend in your arms, slowly raise the dumbbells straight out from your body until they are shoulder height.
- Return to starting position and switch.
- Get a pull-up bar like this one for your doorway.
- Hang from the bar with legs bent. Arms shoulder width apart.
Side-lying Rotation Press
- Get into a side plank position either with straight legs or knees bent. Feet or knees are slightly in front of your body.
Core is engaged and in a straight line.
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