We get it—strength training is hard. And it can be intimidating for those who are relatively new to it. For those reasons, many of us tend to shy away from it, especially when it comes to arm workouts. Why do you even need a strong upper body for running, anyway? Aren’t your legs doing most of the work anyway?
“While arm swing isn’t as important in endurance running as it might be in sprinting, distance runners still rely on a powerful arm swing for counterbalance, especially for that finishing end-of-race kick,” says running and strength coach Mary Johnson, founder of Lift|Run|Perform.
That’s why building strength in your arms and upper body can greatly improve your performance, and benefit your overall health, too. Lifting regularly helps prevent health issues such as osteoporosis, arthritis, obesity, heart disease, depression, and diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
That said, even though you know something is good for you, it can be hard to motivate yourself to do it if it’s out of your comfort zone (let’s be real, we’ve all passed over a kale salad before). That’s why we asked Johnson to create the best arm workout specifically designed for those of us who don’t want to do the same monotonous basic exercises such as biceps curls and triceps extensions over and over again.
Johnson’s workout is an arm circuit that will keep you moving so you don’t get bored. The two major arm-based movement patterns are pushing and pulling, Johnson says, so including both movements in any total-body routine is ideal. Generally speaking, pushing exercises are chest-based, and pulling exercises are back-based. And remember: Every time you lift a weight, you should be bracing your core. That way, you get an abdominal workout in, too.
[The best runners don’t just run, they hit the gym. The Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training will teach you all the fundamentals to get the most out of your weight session.]
How to use this list: The exercises below are demonstrated by a variety of certified trainers and run coaches so you can master the perfect form. Incorporate this arm circuit into your regular training routine once or twice a week to improve your form and boost your power out on the roads and trails. You will need a set of medium-weight dumbbells, a TRX (or similar suspension system), and a bench. An exercise mat is optional.
Perform 3 Rounds of the Following:
1. Dumbbell Floor Press
Lie faceup with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and dumbbells in both hands at chest. Press the weights straight up then lower back down to your chest, elbows touching the floor. Make sure to pinch your shoulder blades together as you come back down. Then immediately press up again. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.
2. TRX Low Row
Shorten the TRX straps so that handles line up with hips. Stand facing the anchor point, grab handles with palms facing each other, and lean backward with arms straight until you feel tension on the straps. To make it easier, walk further away from the anchor point. To make it harder, walk closer to the anchor point. Engage shoulders and back to pull chest up to the handles, then return to start. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.
Start on all fours. Lower onto your forearms with shoulders directly over elbows. Step feet back into a plank position. Draw your shoulders down and back—not hunched. Engage abdominal muscles tight to keep hips in line with shoulders so your body forms a long, straight line. Squeeze legs and glutes for support. Hold this position for 30 to 45 seconds. Gradually add time as your core gets stronger. The more you do planks, the easier it’ll be to work your way up, but there are no additional benefits to holding a plank longer than two minutes.
Then Perform 3 Rounds of the Following:
1. Alternating Bent-Over Row
Start standing with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other. With a micro-bend in your knees, send hips back and lower your torso until it’s nearly parallel to the floor. Keep arms straight as you bend at hips so the dumbbells hang straight down. Bend left elbow to pull the left dumbbell to left rib. Lower and repeat with right arm. That’s one repetition. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.
2. Elevated Push-Up
Place hands on a sturdy box or bench with arms should be straight, shoulders directly over wrists, core engaged so the rest of your body forms a straight line. Bend elbows to lower chest to the surface, then press back up to starting position. Repeat for 8 to 10 reps.
3. Side Plank With Leg Lift
Start in a high plank position with wrists under shoulders and core engaged, then roll to your left forearm. Place right arm on hip. Squeeze your glutes and lock your hips out. Lift your left leg six to eight inches and repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat on other side.
Associate Health & Fitness Editor Danielle specializes in interpreting and reporting the latest health research and also writes and edits in-depth service pieces about fitness, training, and nutrition.