Why does a runner need strong arms? Isn’t running all about the legs? In a word, no. (Actually, the butt may be even more important than the legs, but that’s a subject for a different blog post. This is about arms.) Running blogs and magazines routinely run stories about how arm strength can help a runner with everything from posture and balance to weight loss and faster race times. Efficient, effective running really is a full-body exercise.
While I have no doubt that powerful arms contribute to powerful running, I have a different reason to want stronger arms. Every runner is more than just a runner. We are sons and daughters, parents, friends and spouses, employees and employers, pet lovers, travelers, and a whole host of other things as well. And whether you’re lifting a heavy pan one-handed off the stove, hauling a box of books up a flight of stairs, or helping your friend move a table for a picnic, strong arms will serve you better than weaker ones in an active daily life.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m pretty minimalist when it comes to strength training. My Bare Minimum Strength Training routine for my arms consists of just two exercises, one each for the two most important upper-arm muscles: biceps and triceps.
For the biceps, I do plain old-fashioned dumbbell curls. Like all weight training, doing curls right means doing them slowly, focusing on form more than on the amount of weight you shift. (I see so many young men—invariably young, and invariably men—in the gym heaving and throwing too-large weights around, using the momentum of swinging arms and arching backs, inviting torn shoulder cartilage and herniated disks while failing to target the muscles they think they’re working.) If I can keep my back, shoulders, and elbows stable while raising and lowering the weights (slowly!) 8-12 times, feeling just a bit of wobble and/or burn on the final couple of repetitions, I know I’ve got the right amount of weight. I do two sets, with a rest of about a minute in between.
There are lots of exercises that target the triceps, and they can be done standing, sitting, kneeling, or lying down. I happen to like the one type where you’re lying down, mostly because lying down is comfortable. (Stop judging me!) Start with the dumbbell-holding arm raised straight towards the ceiling at a 90 degree angle from your supine body. Then, keeping the upper arm and elbow as still and stable as possible, lower the weight (slowly!) until it rests beside your ear, then raise it (slowly!) back up. You should feel the resistance in your triceps. Again, I do two sets of 8-12 reps.
And that’s it. My Bare Minimum Arm Workout takes 10 minutes or less and barely makes a dent in my day. I do it two mornings a week. There’s so much more I could, and probably should, do to strengthen my upper body. It would do me good to add exercises for my deltoids, pectorals, and upper back. Maybe someday, I’ll do that. But for now, I’m happy to have slightly stronger, firmer arms in less than 20 minutes a week.