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Gotta’ Run: Upper body strength, what you can do?

One of my favorite things to do each year is returning! The dragonboat festival is set for July 24. Our running club members look forward to competing each year, even though runners aren’t the stereotype for the fastest dragonboat participants. You might wonder why, since runners usually have the best cardiovascular systems and can push their lungs and heart for long stints.

The reason that some runners might be lacking is that many don’t worry much about core and upper body strength. Runners have strong legs and big lungs, but the best dragonboat teams have some upper body strength too. Men and women.

Each race in the competition only lasts about 80 seconds, which doesn’t seem too long unless you are in the boat trying to keep rowing strongly during that time. That 80 seconds is really hard work, likely to have you feeling and looking like a worn-out Olympic rower at the finish line.

As a running coach, the first thing I assess is the arm involvement and perceived momentum generated. Having a certain strength in the arms is a goal. I’m known to yell, “Arms, arms, arms!” as a runner does track workouts. A stronger arm carriage makes for faster times, meaning that the arms don’t weaken and gradually drop during an intense interval.

What is especially interesting to me is the similarity of strength building workouts for dragonboat paddlers and runners too. All of these are simple, and everyone can do them. I can guarantee that you will improve in balance, strength and confidence too. The only equipment needed are two dumbbells or a set of resistance bands.

Here are some things that all of us can do to help strengthen our upper bodies, all doable at home or a gym. Nearly every morning, I go upstairs for some additional exercise. I always start with planks, my favorite strength exercise. The core, and especially the lower back benefit as well as the arms and shoulders. Check out the proper form online and start small. I dread them and love them too, but planks work to build physical and mental strength. I do a certain number of minutes after having worked on it at least 5 days a week for the last couple years.

I follow that with pushups, something that I have done for most of my adult life. I follow the planks with pushups after waiting 2-3 minutes for recovery. Just start with as many as you can do and work up. Remember to breathe. One set minimum. With any of these, increase sets as desired.

Then I move to sit-ups, doing as many as I can. One set. These three exercises don’t require any additional equipment.

If interested, you can add some more dumbbell workouts. I prefer simple.

Start with lateral side raises. Start at your sides with a dumbbell in each hand, raise them to shoulder height with arms straight out, and then return to your side. Sort of like a bird flapping its wings.

Then bicep curls, holding the dumbbells with palms out and raising them to your shoulders, using just the forearms. Then lower back to in front of thighs.

The triceps raise extension comes next. Most people start by holding the dumbbell behind your head with elbows at the ears, both hands on the same dumbbell. Raise it over your head and then lower back down.

And finally, the shoulder press has you standing with a dumbbell in each hand at ear height and pushing both straight up to maximum height, almost touching at the top of the extension, then lowering back to ear height.

No matter what your intent, these exercises will increase your upper body strength. Then join us at one of our upcoming activities, found at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org

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