Upper body strength exercises to boost your running - Women's Running

Upper body strength exercises to boost your running

Author: Women's Running Magazine

Read Time:   |  October 16, 2020

Triceps, biceps, deltoids and rhomboids. Slow, controlled, repetitive strength work will have you filling up your medal cabinet in no time

Upper body strength is essential for runners; a strong arm swing helps to generate forward momentum, and it also transfers energy from your upper body to your legs to help you to run faster.

Warm up: Stand with your feet comfortably apart and extend your arms sideways. Rotate your arms in small rotations forward. Slowly increase the size of your rotations. Repeat the rotations backwards.

Sets and reps: Perform two sets of 15 to 20 repetitions of each exercise.

Cool down: The last exercise is a tricep stretch. Hold the position for 30 seconds on each arm and repeat twice.

Go pro! The best way to increase the intensity for this workout is to increase the weight you’re lifting, or to use a stronger resistance band. You can also add a third set of 20 repetitions.

You’ll need resistance bands for some of these exercises. You can pick them up here. You’ll also need some dumbbells, which you can find here.

Looking for more tips? Here’s our advice for improving your 5K PB.

Resistance band overhead triceps extension

Areas trained: Back part of your upper arms (triceps)

Why do it? This exercise works the long head of your triceps, the bit where your arm meets your shoulder. By strengthening this part, it will prevent your shoulders from rolling forward.


  • Hold a resistance band behind your back with your left hand
  • Hold the other end of the band with your right hand behind your head
  • Extend your right arm against the resistance of the band
  • Slowly lower with control

Be safe: Adjust the resistance by lengthening and shortening the resistance band.

Resistance band lateral raises

Areas trained: Shoulders (deltoids)

Why do it?This exercise trains the middle and strongest part of your shoulders. It helps to keep your shoulders aligned in your shoulder joints.


  • Stand with your left foot on a resistance band and hold on to the edges
  • Keep a slight bend in your elbows
  • Lift your arms sideways until your hands, elbows and shoulders are level
  • Slowly lower your arms with control

Be safe: Ensure that your movement comes from your shoulders and not your elbows.

Triceps kick back

Areas trained: Back part of your upper arms (triceps)

Why do it? This will help to increase the explosiveness of your arm swing; in other words, the power with which you drive your arm backwards.


  • Kneel on the floor on all fours
  • Hold a weight in your left hand
  • Lift your elbow up until it is a bit higher than your body
  • Extend your left arm back until your arm is straight
  • Slowly bend your elbow to return to the starting position

Be safe: Keep your elbow higher than your body to ensure you isolate your triceps muscle.

Dumbell biceps curl

Areas trained: Front arm (biceps)

Why do it? Strong arms help to improve the efficiency of your arm drive and help to transfer more power to your legs.


  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hold a weight in each hand with your palms facing forward
  • Keep your elbows tucked into your sides
  • Curl the weights up towards your shoulders
  • Slowly lower with control

Be safe: If you swing your body or your back hurts, stand with one foot in front of the other.

Weighted running arms

Areas trained: Front and back arm, shoulders (biceps, triceps, deltoids)

Why do it? The easiest thing to change in order to improve your running technique and speed is your arm swing.


  • Stand with your left leg in front of your right leg
  • Hold a weight in each hand
  • Bend your elbows to 90 degrees
  • Keep your right arm in front of your body with your right hand holding the weight at shoulder height
  • Keep your left hand with the weight next to your left hip
  • Swing your arms and alternate them

Be safe: Use a light weight so that you can focus on performing a full range of motion on each repetition.

Shoulder blade squeezes

Areas trained: Muscles between your spine and your shoulder blades (rhomboids)

Why do it? This will improve your posture which will help you make your running style more effi cient and increase your speed.


  • Hold on to a resistance band
  • Keep your hands shoulder width apart
  • Lift your arms up until they are level with your shoulders
  • Pull your hands away from each other while squeezing your shoulder blades together

Be safe: Don’t arch your lower back.

Shoulder press

Areas trained: Shoulders (deltoids)

Why do it? Strengthening your shoulders will give you more power in your upper body. This will increase the power of your arm drive which will increase your speed and help you run uphill.


  • Hold a weight in each hand on your shoulders with your palms facing forward
  • Extend your arms up until your arms are straight
  • Slowly lower with control

Be safe: Don’t lock your elbows in the extended position.

Triceps stretch

Areas trained: Back part of your upper arms (triceps)

Why do it? By stretching your triceps, you’ll improve your shoulder mobility which will lead to a better arm swing as well as reduce the risk of neck and upper back pain while you run.


  • Extend your right arm up to the ceiling
  • Bend your elbow and lower your hand to your shoulder blade
  • Use your left hand to pull your elbow back
  • You should feel a stretch down your arm

Be safe: Don’t over stretch as this can lead to injuries.

Women's Running Magazine

NMA’s 2020 Lifestyle Magazine of the Year, Women’s Running provides expert advice on gear and training, motivation from your favourite runners and the latest running news.

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