The Runner’s fore engine - The upper body

It’s amazing to realize how our body functions in times of calm and in times of crisis. The astonishing fact is that the body which we possess is auto-regulating and modifiable in its functioning according to the environment. Our physical adaptability is also way higher than any other living creature on this planet. This is the reason why we have out-grown from a planet which was animal dominated into a planet which is human dominated. The dinosaurs have become extinct but we have not. We have overcome all the catastrophes, which this world has experienced and survived while many other species ended up.

But many of our physical capabilities are not utilized due to our current lifestyles and hence these abilities gradually vanish off from our human system. Hence when we start with any activity we need to gradually start conditioning our bodies in terms of building strength, flexibility and endurance in order to evoke our dormant capabilities. Failing to do so invites injuries.

Runners generally have a notion that running is all about our legs. Hence many runners focus on strength building or flexibility building only for the legs. This creates an imbalance between the upper and the lower halves of the body creating an imbalanced running engine.

So how important is our upper body in running? Is it really essential to train it? How? Why?

The upper and the lower halves of the body function like two inter-dependent engines while running. Both compliment each other. The lower body or the ‘rear engine’ of runner has its primary function as ‘PUSH’. Each time one would land on the foot the legs take the impact and push the person off the floor. As I had mentioned in my earlier article, the impact received in our legs is approximately twice our body weight.

This is where the role of our ‘Fore-Engine’, the upper body, is very crucial. The upper body has its primary function as ‘PULL’. When the upper body is properly used in terms of arm swinging along with proper core stabilization this engine not just pulls the body off the ground but also minimizes the impact on the lower body an hence reducing the chances of impact related injuries in the lower body. Hence upper body training is mandatory. It has to start with flexibility training and then with strengthening. I have listed a few exercises below. Get ready to fuel your fore engine and maximize your running efficiency.


Hold each of the below stretches for at least 10 slow breadths or 30 seconds.


This is an arm relaxer, place the hand on the wall with the fingers pointing down.




In stage two, try to turn your body away from your hand to experience a stretch throughout your arm.


This stretch opens the rear shoulder. Place the reverse part of the wrist on the waist.



Then gently pull the elbow inwards to experience the stretch from the shoulder through the arm.


This is a neck relaxer. Gently pull the head to the side to experience a stretch in the side of the neck.


This stretch stretches the entire ‘Lat’ group of muscles. Hold the elbows against each other and bend sideways.

Strengthening exercises


Push-ups strengthen a variety of upper body muscles including in the shoulders, chest, back and core. They build the required strength and stability to efficiently conduct day-to-day activities or undertake athletic pursuits, minimizing the risk of injury. Ensure proper form by keeping your head, back, glutes and legs in a straight line. Build up to about three sets of 15 repetitions each.


Pull-ups and chin-ups can be done at the gym or on a sturdy bar at home or tree trunk in a park. Like the push-up, these are highly effective upper body strength building exercise. For a pull-up, grab the bar with your hands placed slightly wider than shoulder width and palms faced away from you. Pull up till your chin as on par with or above the bar. Pause for a second and lower yourself. Pull-ups work the back and biceps. Chin-ups are very similar, but your palms face towards you. Build up to three sets of 15 repetitions each.

Pull-ups and chin-ups can take some time to master if your upper body is considerably weak to begin with. You can start by standing on a bench, getting into position, and then letting yourself hang and lift. You could also do individual repetitions, taking a break after each, till you build the requisite strength.


Triceps dips work the triceps, the muscles on the back of your arm. Sit in front of a chair, bench or bed with your legs extended in front of you. Lift yourself up with your arms and lower. Make sure, the arms are doing the work. Build up to three sets of 15 repetitions each.

Last modified on Monday, 02 March 2015 12:44

Dr.Gladson Johnson

Dr.Gladson Johnson is a practicing Sports Physiotherapist by profession for the past 16 years and a passionate bare foot runner for the past 10 years. He is the founder of Attitude Prime an organization which caters to Sports Injuries and Lifestyle Management through “Exercises” . Dr.Gladson Johnson believes that “Exercise Is Medicine

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