Running with your arms: How to power your way to a better performance

Here's how you should swing your arms in a way that will help minimize metabolic cost and properly direct the forces of your running.

April 26th, 2016 by | Posted in Expert Tips, Training | Tags: , , ,

How to power your way to a better performance by using your arms.

Running with Arms

By Kris Sheppard

Upper body position and arm swing are often overlooked when thinking about improving run form. Is it important? A 2014 study had participants run without using arm swing. Runners were instructed to hold their arms in three different ways: behind the back, across the chest and on the head. Not surprisingly, there were corresponding three, nine and 13 per cent increases in the metabolic cost of running. They also noted that in each of these conditions torso rotation increased. Increased torso rotation can also lead to cross-over and over-striding in the lower body which are known to increase the potential of injuries.

So how should you swing your arms in a way that will help minimize metabolic cost and properly direct the forces of your running? The arm swing opposes the leg-drive in a relaxed rhythmic fashion. Your arm should swing at the shoulder, while your elbow remains bent at approximately 90 degrees. Think about driving the elbow down and back. Avoid letting your hands cross your midline, and think about your wrist and elbow grazing your sides through your swing. As speed increases your arm swing will match leg turnover. If you are sprinting, arm swing amplitude will also change as you reach your maximum stride length. Make your cue while sprinting to move your hands your from your hip to your chin.

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Hands-on-your-head running
This is a great drill to show the importance of the arm swing. Try to incorporate this into your warmup or during your run for 15 seconds at a time. Think of this as a great reset for your upper body posture and arm swing, especially if you are experiencing stiffness in your upper back or shoulders. This can be used to strengthen your core and posture muscles. To advance this drill try holding a dowel over your head and doing 20 m of focused running.

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Fast arms
There is a direct neurological connection between your upper and lower body. Now that you know how to use arm swing properly, speed it up. This is another great one to do during a warmup or in the middle of a run for 15 seconds at a time. You’ll notice that your cadence automatically increases as you try to maintain your rhythm and opposition with your lower body. It is not uncommon that poor shoulder and upper back mobility may contribute to poor arm swing mechanics. Try including simple arm circles and shoulder rolls in your warmup. Most of us spend a lot of time at a computer during the day and will occasionally experience tension through the shoulders and upper back; don’t let it impact your running.

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Dr. Kris Sheppard works with runners of all levels at the Toronto-based The Runner’s Academy.