Why Runners Need Upper Back Strength

Unfortunately most people forget running is a total-body sport. When your legs are working hard, they sometimes draw all your focus and attention. As a runner, you know the importance of strength training but, you may be forgetting a key area: your upper back.


“We often forget, but the body is a unit; everything is connected,” notes Matt Whitehead, owner of Oregon Exercise Therapy.




Matt Whitehead helps runners and non-runners restore their posture, shake the pain and improve performance.

“If our upper back or head is rounded forward, it is not only going to cause upper-back or neck soreness but can lead to lower-back, hip, knee or foot pain and injuries.”


Pain can easily make its way down the body, developing upper-back strength can help reduce your risk of injury thanks to improving your posture.




Why a strong upper back matters:

A strong core is often recommended for runners to support the upper body. This is true for ALL athletes in general. Runners tend to focus more on leg and core strength and neglect working the upper back. In addition to core strength, this helps keep your shoulders from slouching and supports your neck in an upright position which is very important for good running form.


“Proper upper-back strength will allow for an upright and stable torso, relaxed shoulders and a comfortable arm-swing motion,” shares Angie Spencer, RN, a running coach and owner at Marathon Training Academy. “This translates into less wasted motion and more energy.”





If you don’t have enough upper-back strength, other parts of your body will pick up the slack. Because of this, if you are able to identify a weakness in the area, you may be able to alleviate upper-back, neck and shoulder pain.


“When your upper back, neck or shoulders are sore, it is usually because those muscles — the upper trapezius in particular — are overworking,” reveals Whitehead.


“When your head and/or shoulders are rounded forward, it causes your upper trapezius to have to work extra hard to keep your body from falling further forward.”




How to tell if your upper back is weak:


One indicator of upper-back weakness is pain. It would be best to strengthen those muscles before you feel discomfort to prevent injury, but if it is too late, you can take note of your posture to identify corrective and strength training movements to perform.


“Most runners, especially those with pain or injuries, have some upper-back rounding — known as kyphosis — along with rounded shoulders and forward head posture,” explains Whitehead. “We want to make sure any exercises we do for the upper back focus on improving posture along with strengthening the muscles of the upper back.”


Weak upper-back muscles can often be the result of a sedentary lifestyle. The more time we spend in our daily commute or at a computer, the easier it is for our posture to suffer. That’s why improving your upper-back strength and posture is important during training- it should be a priority year-round.


“The levator scapulae and the trapezius muscles of the upper back tend to suffer most when we lead a sedentary lifestyle,” confirms Spencer.


“Many people sit at desks while working or gaze down at devices which can lead to poor posture because their neck and shoulders are slumped forward. Fixing our posture can start to strengthen these muscles which will pay off not only when we run but all the time.”


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