Upper and Lower Body Workouts For Runners

Runners can make big gains in the gym.  Lifting weights can maximize your ability to handle tough workouts, decrease risk of joint or overuse injuries, and help strengthen muscles and connective tissues so that you’re better equipped for the demands of the trail, treadmill, or open road.

Although it might be tempting to raid the gym in an effort to show off how much weight you can hoist around, there should be some rhyme and reason to what you’re doing.  Check out our Principles for Designing an Effective Workout for fundamentals like when and how long you should be working out as a runner.   Also, see our ideal core exercises for runners to round out your upper and body workouts.

While some people pack upper and lower body into one workout, also consider dedicating one workout to upper body and another to lower body in separate days.  Just remember that balance is crucial.  Anyone who has ever been in a gym has seen those heavy hitters with huge arms and toothpicks for legs.  To avoid that kind of lopsidedness, just make sure you work both your upper and lower body equally.  Also, as a runner you should focus on more reps and less weight.

Upper Body Exercises for Runners

A lot of runners neglect their upper body but it’s crucial to maintaining proper running form, especially when it comes to long distances.  Put some time in with the following circuit and you’ll see results in the long run.

It’s recommended that do each of these exercises consecutively.  When you’re through with all of the exercises you can take a three minute break.  Then run through the circuit again until you’ve completed the entire rotation three times.  The whole rotation shouldn’t take any longer than a short run and it will pay off in the end by providing you with more muscle endurance.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

●      Grab a couple free weights and position them on either side of you as you sit up straight.

●      Lift the weights and start with one on each leg.  Then lift them up, starting at your shoulders.

●      Extend your arms upward until your arms are fully extended.

●      Return your arms back to shoulder height and repeat.

Alternating Dumbbell Bicep Curl

●      Take two free weights and rest them comfortably on each side of you body to start.

●      Lift your right arm upward, keeping your elbow steady.  (Most people have a tendency to let their elbow fly out, defeating the purpose of the whole exercise.)

●      Continue to bring your arm up with your palm facing upward and the weight in your hands.

●      Stop  when your arm is up toward your chest, then start lowering the weight again.

●      When your right arm returns to the starting position, repeat the exercise with your left arm and continue to rotate arms until your set is complete.

Standing Dumbbell Tricep Kickback

●      Grab two weights and look straight ahead with a 30-45% bend at the waist.  Keep your back straight and make sure that you have good posture without rounded shoulders.

●      Start with the weights behind you and then bring them up toward your chin in an even, constant motion.

●      Repeat this exercise.  It should feel sort of like a reverse arm pump that mimics the running motion.

Dumbbell Running Swings

●      Use one lightweight dumbbell in each hand and mimic the running arm swing motion with complete fluidity.  Don’t hesitate to exaggerate the motion a little bit (e.g. longer arm swings) but stay loose.


●      This is your tried and true exercise.

○      Beginning runners can make the pushup a little bit easier by working from their knees.

○      Experienced and in shape runners can make pushups more difficult by having a spotter add a weight on the center of your back.

Reverse Dumbbell Fly

●      Grab a couple of dumbbells and start with a 30-45% bend at the waist while making sure that your back stays straight.

●      Start with your weights near your midsection and lift them up in unison in a reverse fly motion.

●      When your arms are extended even with your body you have reached the top.  Move your arms at the same pace back to your starter position and repeat.

Lower Body Exercises for Runners

Pounding the pavement is going to make you strong both physically and mentally, but having a workout routine that targets specific muscles for balance and strength will make you a better runner who lasts longer in the race.  Use these lower body exercises to get stronger and build your muscles in balance.

This particular workout was designed for building the muscles your runs don’t hit.  The result is a more balanced, better you that’s less likely to suffer from injury.  When participating in the following workout do 15 repetitions with each leg.  After all the exercises have been completed, take a short rest and repeat the cycle again for a total of three times.

Knee Extensors

For the vastus medialus, the knee’s shock absorber.

●      Sit in a chair with rolled-up towel under your right knee.  Angle your toes in slightly and extend your right leg straight out in an even motion.

●      Lock your knee and hold it in that position for three counts.

●      Return to your starting position slowly and repeat.

●      After fifteen counts move the towel and repeat the exercise with the opposite leg.

Hip Flexors

●      Lie on the floor with your right leg straight out and your left leg up with your foot on the floor as if you were going to do a sit up.

●      Lift your right leg up from the hip, ending at a 90-degree angle with the bottom of your foot pointed at the ceiling.

●      Slowly lower your leg.

●      Repeat the motion 15 times before moving to the other leg.

●      This exercise is most effective when you rotate where your toe is pointed.  Start with your toes angled in, then out, and also straight up the middle.

Hamstring Curl

●      Lie facedown on the ground with a bend in your right leg at the knee.

●      Bring your right leg up toward your buttocks and then slowly lower the leg back to its starting position.

●      You can make this exercise more effective by turning your foot inwards or outward to work slightly different muscles.

Hip Extensors

●      Lie facedown on a table, bed or other raised but flat surface with your pelvis at the edge and your feet flat on the floor.

●      Relax your left leg to a 90 degree angle at the knee.  This is your stabilizer leg.

●      Keep your right leg straight and lift it up to the point where it is paralell with your back.

●      Slowly lower your leg back to its starting position and repeat.

Hip Abductors

●      Lie on your side on the floor with your exercising leg on top.

●      Bend your bottom (resting) leg to a 90 degree angle at the hip and knee.

●      Rotate the foot of the exercising leg inward to isolate the hip muscle you want to be working.

●      Keep the leg straight (it will feel like it’s behind you) and raise it as high as possible.

●      When you get to the top you can slowly return to your starting position and repeat the exercise again.

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