A message to all long distance runners, do not forget to train your upper body as well as your lower body. I see it quite often, whereby endurance athletes, especially runners will concentrate solely on their lower body and not on their upper body. Why is this so? In my professional opinion I believe most running athletes will neglect training the upper body due to a fear of gaining too much bulk that could result in possibly slower running times. Let me tell you how this isn't the case, and from finishing reading this article, you are going to want to train your upper body for stronger and faster running performance.
How many of you saw the World Athletic Championships in Moscow recently? It was a great championship that lead Mo Farah winning gold again in his long distance running. There is no doubt about it, Mo is a great runner, has a huge engine with a will to succeed and it isn't by accident he wins gold, he is a true athlete! What makes him so great? Well, his coach Salazar said this when he met Mo for the first time. '' When Mo came to me, he was a skinny distance runner with a great engine but no upper body. At the end of races, he would tire and his head would bob around and his arms would flail. He was the weakest athlete I'd ever trained - in terms of core strength and being able to do push-ups, sit ups and single leg squats. He was a 90lb weakling. The number 1 thing that has helped Mo is not the 110 miles a week he puts in on the road, but the hours he spends in the gym''. Coach Salazar also went on to say '' Mo was weak with a lot of muscle imbalances. The improvement in that area is the number one reason for Mo's Kick (at the end of his races). Instead of Mo flailing with his arms and a lot of excessive bobbing movement with his head, losing upper body posture at the end of his races, he's so much stronger that he's able to finish very strongly''.
Let's just recap on that above statement from his Coach, Salazar. Mo was a weakling with no upper body strength? He had muscle imbalances? And it wasn't until Mo got himself in the gym and used weight training that he saw a difference in his running performance. So what does this tell you? It's another reason why free weights and functional training is great for your running performance. I have seen various pictures of Mo including him performing different functional core exercises into his weight programme, boxing and sparring and using free weights for his upper body. The upper body plays an important part in endurance athletes in their performance. The arms are responsible for maintaining a rhythmic motion with the legs and your torso should be strong enough to prevent any unnecessary twisting.
So you know the importance of how using free weights for your upper body will help in your performance when running. What exercises can you do? Well, here are a list of 5 exercises that will improve your upper body strength and are fun to do.
Renegade Rows - Place two dumbbells or two kettlebells on the press up position apart. Place your hands on the equipment you choose and set yourself into a press up. Perform one press up and as you straighten the arms lift one of the dumbbells or kettlebells so you perform a row. Place the weight on the floor and go into another press up and then row with the other arm. This exercise will work your chest, back and shoulder muscles, also focusing on your mid section (core) for stability.
Double Arm Row on Bosu - Use a Bosu (the half balls with a squidgy top and flat base). Use two dumbbells or kettlebells. Step on the bosu with your feet hip width apart. Squat slightly and keep your back flat. Whilst in this position, lenghten your arms so that the weights are now level with your knees. Lift the weights towards your waist drawing your elbows back. This exercise will work your back muscles and your core again.
Squat into Shoulder Press - Perform this exercise on the floor or on a Bosu to incorporate more work for your core. This is a dual exercise which focuses on your lower body and then transfers the blood towards your upper body when you perform the shoulder press. Use two dumbbells or kettlebells. Squat with the weights and then as you rise push the weights above your head. To make it harder, perform this exercise on a bosu to improve your balance and work your core muscles.
Lunge into Side Raise - Again, this exercise can be performed on the floor or on a bosu. You want to build up so you work on the bosu to build a stronger core, better balance that will help with performance. With this exercise, hold onto a pair of weights, again either dumbbells or kettlebells is fine. Lunge forward with the weights by your side, as soon as you lunge forward and you foot plants the floor, bend the leg and then shoot the arms out to the side to perform a side raise which will work your shoulders. Use a bosu to make the exercise harder, instead of lunging on the floor, lunge forward onto the bosu.
Swissball Ab Curl - Use a Swissball, sit on the swissball and walk down it until your lower back touches it. From here keep your legs bent and lean back. Perform abdominal curls with or without a weight to increase core strength.
Remember, these 5 exercises are going to improve your upper body strength just like it did with Mo Farah who is now an Olympic Gold Champion. You will be stronger and be able to push harder through your running. Don't forget to mix up the exercises and include your whey protein at the end of the session. Just like any session, when you push the body and work the muscles they breakdown and so they need repair. Give the body what it needs by using a whey protein shake to maximise recovery and become a stronger runner!!