Our bodies interact as one integrated system. When emphasizing proper running form, we must look at the performance of how the entire kinetic chain is moving, from the toes all the way up. While running, your arms counterbalance the motion of your legs, resulting in saved energy. The swing of the arms helps drive the body forward so the lower body is not doing all the work. Having a strong upper body bolsters a runner’s form when fatigue sets in.
Incorporate the following exercises to build upper body strength in the weight room as to improve running performance. Many of the exercises below focus on unilateral or single limb exercises to replicate proper running form. They also emphasize balance at the shoulder joint, counteracting pronation of the shoulders from the blunders of a sedentary work environment.
1: Single Arm Body-weight Row
How to do it: Use a TRX or barbells set at sternum height. Grab the bar/ handle with one hand using a neutral (palm facing in) grip. Walk your feet forward so that your body comes closer to parallel with the ground. Pull your shoulder back and be sure to keep your body in a straight line throughout the movement. Pull your chest to the bar keep your shoulders square the entire time.
How this helps: Rounded shoulders prevent proper running form by limiting the ability of the chest to expand. Incorporating more pulling exercises in your strength training program is one way to even out the chest by retracting and depressing the shoulders. This pulling exercise forces your core and upper body to maintain a square posture similar to the running motion.
2: Torso Rotation with Resistance Band
How to do it: Secure a cable or resistance band at waist height on your right side. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hold the cable in front of you with straight arms—there should be tension in the cable. Brace your core. Maintaining an erect torso and without moving your legs, rotate your torso so that your hands (and the cable) move to the left while maintaining your original head position. Rotate back to the start and all the way to the right. Switch positions so the cable is on your left side, and repeat.
How this helps: Arm swinging requires movement and a level of rotation in your upper spine. Your body rotates like a pivot.” To ward off fatigue, “we need to make sure the thoracic (upper) spine is nice and loose.” – (Ali Gelani, M.S., CPT)
3) Alternating High Knees
How to do it: Stand in place with your feet hip-width apart. Drive your right knee toward your chest while keeping your left arm at a 90 degree bend as to connect the two sides and quickly place the leg and arm back to their starting positions. Follow immediately by driving your left knee toward your chest with your right arm bent at a 90 degree angle. Continue to alternate knees with the corresponding arms.
How this helps: The action of running is a fluid forward progression with minimal trunk rotation. Incorporating the motion of high knees drives the hip forward contracting the quads while emphasizing a counterbalanced motion of the hands. This translates over to the pavement.
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Jeremey DuVall, M.S., CPT
NIKKI KIMBALL, M.S.P.T.
Ali Gelani, M.S., CPT