Upper-Body Exercises for Runners

Upper-body strength is crucial to running strong. A powerful upper body can help you run with better form, prevent injuries, run more efficiently, and reduce fatigue. You’ll often find that running hills and sprints becomes easier as you strengthen your upper body as well. Try incorporating these upper-body exercises into your routine two times a week and you’ll soon start to notice a difference in your running.

Triceps Dip

Woman doing triceps dip on a park bench

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The chair dip triceps exercise will strengthen your triceps, the muscles that run on the backside of your upper arm, from your shoulder to your elbow. All you need for this exercise is a sturdy chair or bench and space for your legs to extend.

  1. Sit on the edge of a secured bench or chair, with your knees bent. Position the heels of your hands shoulder-width apart on the chair, with fingers draping over the front edge of the seat. Keep your back straight and your abs pulled in.
  2. Slide your butt off the front of the chair and support your weight with your hands. Your knees should remain bent.
  3. Straighten your arms, but keep your elbows slightly bent.
  4. Slowly bend your elbows back to lower your body toward the floor until your elbows are at about a 90-degree angle. Your body should just clear the chair.
  5. Push down into the chair to straighten your elbows, returning to your starting position.
  6. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps per set.

Aim to do two to three sets.

Advanced version: Rather than keeping your knees bent, extend your legs out in front of you, with your heels resting on the floor. Then do 15-20 reps per set and complete two to three sets.

Standing Dumbell Overhead Shoulder Press

Shoulder press exercise
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The overhead shoulder press will help work your shoulders and triceps. If you’re new to strength training, start with light dumbbells (3 to 5 pounds) and then graduate to heavier ones (5 to 10 pounds).

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Start with dumbbells at shoulder height, with your palms facing forward.
  3. Push the dumbbells overhead until your arms are fully extended. Using a slow, controlled motion, lower the dumbbells to the start positions.
  4. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps for one set. 

Complete two sets.


Woman doing push-ups

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Pushups are an excellent upper-body strengthening exercise for runners.  They'll help you improve your overall strength as well as engage your core. Here’s how to do a basic pushup:

  1. Get into a plank position with your hands planted slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Position your feet however you feel most comfortable—either close together or a bit wider apart. Prop yourself up on your toes, so you’re balancing on your hands and toes.
  3. Slowly lower your body until your chest almost touches the floor.
  4. Don’t let your butt sag or stick up at any point. Keep your body in the plank position—a straight line from head to toe.
  5. Inhale as you slowly bend your elbows and lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle.
  6. While maintaining a tight core, exhale as you push yourself back to the start position. Continue pushing the ground away from you until your arms are almost in a straight position again (but don’t lock your elbows).
  7. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps or as many as you can while maintaining good form.

Complete two sets.

Modified pushup: If you’re not ready for a standard pushup, you can start on bent knees. Begin on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under the shoulders. With your knees on the floor, lower to the ground the same way as a standard pushup, but you can use your knees, rather than your feet, to help stabilize your body.

As you progress, you can start with basic pushups for as many as you can complete and then switch to modified pushups for the remainder of the set.

Triceps Overhead Extension

Rare view of female body, exercising with dumbbell
Alexandr Sherstobitov / Getty Images

Here’s another great exercise to strengthen your triceps. You’ll need a dumbbell for this one. Choose one that you can comfortably lift above your head. As you become stronger, you can use a heavier dumbbell.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Wrap both hands around the dumbbell handle and hold the dumbbell behind your head. Keep your palms facing up.
  2. Keep your shoulders down and your elbows as close to your ears as possible. Keep your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and abs engaged.
  3. Slowly press the dumbbell up by extending your arms straight overhead. Straighten your elbows until your arms are vertical. Your elbows should be pointing forward and be straight but not locked. Try to keep your upper arms vertical to the floor throughout the exercise and your elbows shoulder-width apart. The dumbbell should be directly over your head with your palms facing upwards.
  4. Bend your elbows in a slow and controlled manner, lowering the dumbbell behind your head. Try to keep your upper arms stationary and only move your forearms. Make sure you clear the back of your head. Continue to bend your elbows until they’re at a 90-degree angle.
  5. Slowly raise the dumbbell back up above your head.
  6. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps for one set. 

Complete two sets.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.