One of the biggest reasons, runners begin to slow down as they get older really has nothing to do with age. Instead, it has more to do with a weak upper-body and core. For this post, I want to focus on the upper-body.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper of the Cooper Institute once said, "We do not stop exercising because we grow old - we grow old because we stop exercising." I think this quote really speaks to why many older runners begin to slow in their 50s and 60s.
Older runners are definitely exercising their legs and their legs aren't the problem. That's why so many are perplexed as to why they're slowing down or fatiguing sooner. In many cases, the "slowdown" has more to do with decreased upper-body strength rather than age. As we get older, our everyday activities require less upper-body muscle. Work has us more sedentary. We're too busy for the softball or bowling league. The kids are grown and we're no longer playing with them in the back yard. We're paying the kid down the street to do the yard work. We gave up that gym membership long ago. As a result, the lack of upper-body and core strength, causes the upper-body to fatigue sooner than it used to. When the upper-body fatigues, you lose good running form. And when that happens, leg fatigue is soon to follow.
So, instead of just accepting that you're getting older, do something about it! Okay, so now your thinking, "I don't have time or the money for a gym membership or to invest in in-home gym equipment." No, problem. You don't need any. Push-ups are one of the best upper-body exercises a runner can do to increase upper-body strength and improve running form.
Push-ups are often thought of as just a chest exercise. Well, push-ups do target the Pec Major muscles, but they also strengthen the Anterior Deltoids (front of the shoulder), Triceps, Biceps, Lats, and Abs. And the great thing is all you need is your body and the floor!
The movement of a push-up is as simple as 1, 2, 3.
Lay face down on the floor. With arms bent, place your hands palm-side down on the floor a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Your hands should be positioned in line with your shoulders.
Think of your entire body from head to toe as one unit. While exhaling, push away from the floor until you've fully extend your arms. From head to toe, your body should be a straight diagonal line. (No bent knees or arched mid-section.)
Inhale as you slowly lower your body, bending your elbows until your chest touching or almost touching the floor. That's one repetition.
That's it! 1, 2, 3! Push ups are one of the simplest exercises, but don't let the simplicity of the movement fool you. They're darn tough, especially if you're new to doing them. Take it slow. If needed, you can do a modified version where you rest on your knees instead of your toes. If you do the modified version, however, you still need to make sure that from your head to your knees is a solid unit (no arched backside). Take it slow. If 10 is max, that's awesome! Stop at 10, take a break, and then do ten more. Over a week try to work yourself up to doing 3 sets of ten. Once you've mastered that. Shoot for 3 sets of 12. Master that, then go for 3 sets of 15. Working up to 3 sets of 20-25 three times a week is awesome.
After you've mastered the basic push-up, there are countless ways to vary the exercise. Below are seven variations on the standard push-up. These exercises are more challenging and place more focus on either the upper, middle, or lower chest. A few of the exercises even use a med ball to throw in a balance element working all the stabilizer muscles in your arms and torso. Enjoy the variety and have fun. Keep at it and before you know it, you'll be running stronger and longer!
Certified running and fitness coach Thad McLaurin hosts and writes the popular RunnerDude's Blog as well as being a contributing writer for Active.com. He's also the owner of RunnerDude's Fitness in Greensboro, North Carolina. He has a BA in Education from UNC-Chapel Hill, and his credentials include personal trainer certifications from NPTI and ACSM, as well as running coach certifications from RRCA and USA-Track & Field. Thad’s greatest reward is helping others live healthy, active lifestyles. From general fitness to marathon training, Thad can help you reach your fitness and running goals.