Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been running forever, it’s easy to feel like it’s all legs. After all, your legs hurt the most during your run and feel the most sore after usually. So, it may be a natural assumption that running form comes from your legs.
It is important to realize that your upper body has a lot to do with your running form. And keeping your upper body strong and in correct running form can reduce the impact and pain your legs feel during or after a run.
In addition, a strong upper body while you run will reduce your risk of injury.
In this article, we’ve got a few different exercise that are going to break down your upper body moves when you run, and how to use that information to improve your running form.
What Does Your Upper Body Need To Do?
Your upper body is responsible for two things when you run. First, your upper body keeps you upright.
The major leg muscles – the glutes, hamstrings and the quads – cannot work properly when you are running hunched over.
And it’s your upper body that will keep you upright and allow those lower body muscles to fire properly and efficiently.
Second, your upper body helps fight the rotation that your body naturally wants to incorporate when you run.
We see this most in our arm swing. The main idea: your arms should never cross your mid-line when you run. How do we fight this natural tendency? We user upper body strength to keep things moving in a forward-backward direction, instead of side-to-side.
Exercise 1: Plank Position
Strength work is helpful in improving run form because it exaggerates the positions we use while running.
To start, find a straight arm plank on your hands. Right away you can feel how much control your core has over your entire upper body.
From there, start to lift up one hand and then the other, and feel how dramatically your body wants to rock back and forth.
You can even try a one-arm plank by extending one of your arms out in front of you.
Notice how easily the torso wants to rotate when you make even the slightest movement. And we can combat this by holding our core tighter.
This principle is going to translate directly into upright run form.
Exercise 2: Breaking Down the Arm Swing
As we said above, your arms should not be crossing your mid-line when you run. Crossing your arms too far over takes power away from your legs and diminishes the effectiveness of otherwise proper run form.
In fact, your arm swing is going to take place largely behind you. To begin this exercise, stand with your feet hips’ width apart, and just practice driving your elbow straight back. Your hand will actually cross behind your pocket line.
Be sure that your elbow is not extending out to the side, and that your should isn’t rounding forward.
From there, bring your arm up in front of you. Notice if you arm wants to cross that center line and adjust it outward if it does.
Next, start running in place and practicing your arm swing with only one arm. Rest the other hand on your stomach and exaggerate your leg movement as you run in place and swing only one arm.
After 30 seconds swinging one arm, switch and swing the other for 30 seconds. Again, be sure your arm isn’t crossing that center line.
Next, try 30 seconds with both arms swinging. Focus on perfecting your arm swing form for 30 seconds and get used to what that feels like.
Exercise 3: Hand-Release Push up
Now we’re going to combine the above two ideas: core strength and arm swing.
To begin, start back in the same plank we did earlier, with your hands right below your shoulders.
From there, rock forward about an inch over your hands, and lower yourself slowly all the way to the ground. As you do this, drive your elbows back just like you did in the arm swing drill.
Once you’re all the way down and laying on your stomach, release your hands off the ground. To do this you’ll need to engage your shoulder blades and back muscles, which is great training to keep you upright when running.
Next, press back up to your starting plank position, lifting your chest up off the ground first, and rolling up from there.
For an added challenge, try to press the whole body up in one piece instead of rolling up chest-first.
To exaggerate the arm swing aspect, lower down slowly taking about 3 seconds or so, and then come up quicly.
Try 3 or 4 rounds of 10 hand-release push ups for this drill.
Exercise 4: Upper Body Mobility
Strength is a huge component of upper body as it relates to run form, but mobility is just as important.
Increasing your range of motion will only improve your arm swing. To do this, add some arm circles to your warm-up.
Start with your arms out to yoru sides, making small backwards circles and gradually increase the size of the circle until they are as big as they can be.
After 10 or 15 of those, switch directions and swing your arms in forward circles.
Next, bend over at your hips just a little bit with your knees bent, keeping your spine straight. Start to swing your arms open and close, crossing them over your torso and then opening them as far as they can go behind you.
Again, try 10-15 of these swings to increase your range of motion.
Work these drills into your half marathon training plan, 10K training plan, 5K training plan or whatever distance goal you may have.
Notice how the plank and strength work translates to your running, and how encouraging proper upright posture and arm swing makes your legs that much more useful.
In addition, increasing your upper body’s range of motion will allow proper arm swing to feel more natural when you run.
Remember, your core strength and arm swing will help your body’s overall run form, so work hard to make them as correct as possible.
Holly Martin is a San Francisco-based running coach and personal trainer. With a 20+ year background in dance, Holly brings a strong focus on technique and mobility to all of her coachings. Currently, she coaches online with The Run Experience, an online training community that specializes in preparing runners for a 30-day running challenge, half marathon running plans, workouts and more. She trains clients at Midline Training and Nfinite Strength. Connect with her to learn more about how to train for long distance running and other advanced training tips.
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