Runners sometimes cheat themselves from doing upper body strength because of the notion that running is all leg. Strength training for runners is important for a lot of reasons, injury prevention and good form included, so we need to make sure we aren’t ignoring our upper body.
Dr. Josh Kollman from Carolina Sports Clinic and an avid athlete explains, “Strength training helps to improve muscle activation which can assist in preventing posture-related injuries as well as increase performance by maintaining an ideal run form.”
When we get tired, our bodies recruit muscles from everywhere, so it’s important to strengthen muscles that are everywhere. How many of us have seen pictures of ourselves at the end of a race and thought “geez, do I really run like that?” At the end of a long and/or hard effort, when we’re tired, our form just goes – our arms get all wonky and tend to move less efficiently, our core destabilizes and we get that sloppy feeling. The stronger we are all over, the less this happens. “Strength training allows for a faster pace to be maintained especially late in the run/race when a kick is desired to pass a runner or finish strong at the line”, says Dr. Kollman.
Core and upper body work can have a positive effect on form. Even solely doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups helps. Consider the arm swing. Energy being thrown side to side during a run doesn’t do any of us any favors when we’re doing our best to move forward. If we are able to use our shoulder and chest muscles to maintain that rhythmic, forward arm swing, we’re better off. A simple exercise like the row can help with the arm movement behind the body, which typically could be improved.
As Dr. Kollman explains, “The lats and back muscles are also part of the “core”. Strengthening this tissue will result in the body’s ability to transfer force as well as improve the efficiency of the upper extremity arm swing during running. Research correlates arm swing influences every movement from our hips down. Our upper body arm swing can dictate cadence which our body’s neurology syncs with the lower body while running. This increase in cadence can help reduce the impact forces the body is exposed to during the run.”
When form is good, efficiency follows – our gait is inherently connected to our arms. If you’ve ever heard a coach yelling “use those arms!”, it’s because driving those arms through the whole range of motion with proper form, especially at faster paces, makes a huge difference in our cadence and gait cycle.
Our core strength is important because sometimes when running, we get off balance. To put it simply, if our core is strong, we’re more solid and balanced. Planks, side planks, and back planks (google them) work great in strengthening our stabilizers, particularly important in trail running.
It doesn’t have to be a ton, but it does have to be something. The body, of course, is all connected. If we’re off-balance, so is our running. Let’s get balanced!
Dr. Josh Kollmann’s philosophy is to utilize treatment plans founded on science and care of patients compassionately utilizing a variety of chiropractic, soft tissue mobilization, and Rehabilitative techniques which will eliminate symptoms and improve the overall function of the human body. He is an avid triathlete and competitor. He and his team of professionals can be found at Carolina Sports Clinic.
Lisa Landrum is a USATF and NFS coach and the founder of Forward Motion which offers run and sports conditioning for all ages.