Many think that when running, your legs perform the majority of the work and the arms make little to no contribution. However, not utilizing the arms can cause a substantial increase in energy expenditure. Runners, sprinters, and even jumpers (those with major hops) can all improve performance by using a proper arm swing. The forward and backward sway of the arms is natural, so why not let them sway!
The stride dynamics of walking are a prime example of the way our arms are utilized. The swing of the arms during walking and running helps to create balance between the upper and lower extremities and can be vital when sprinting or jumping. The human body must be stable when running, sprinting, jumping etc.…and proper arm swing dynamics limits the degree of torso rotation, thus making locomotion more energy efficient. When running, excessive torso rotation means more energy and more effort used to run.
During the arm swing, your arms and shoulders should be relaxed, with little to no tension placed throughout the arms – doing so allows for a consistent and continuous rhythm. Running is an art form in which small details and adjustments in body movements are in sync and flow together, like Usain Bolt during his iconic 100m race.
Arm swing dynamics can have a considerable effect on gait smoothness, which will reduce the workload on the legs by creating a state of dynamic balance. Though some of these mechanical changes may seem small, they will allow you to be a more successful runner overall, be it for distance or speed.
Want to be efficient? Just swing those arms.
The Do’s and Don’ts in running
- Swing the opposing arm and leg in sync while running.
- Pump the arms forward and backward in line with the direction of movement. The arms should not swing across the body and the elbows should point backwards, not outwards.
- Swing the arms from the shoulders, not the elbows. Keep the elbows bent and focus on driving them backward.
- Hold the elbows at about a 90-degree angle. Allow the elbow angle to fluctuate slightly during the arm swing, but don't stray too far from 90 degrees (70 to 120 degrees is a good range.)
- Have the hands pass the body at about hip height. Avoid holding the arms so high that they pass above the waist or so low that they pass below the hips.
- Swing the arms powerfully through a full range of motion. Distance runners' hands should move from their hip or a bit further back to their chest. When sprinting or running uphill, the hands should move from the back pocket, or a bit further back to the chin.
- Keep the shoulders and hands relaxed. The shoulders should be down, not tight, and the hands should be relaxed but stable, not clenched in a fist, hyper-extended, or flopping around.