Running Form – Arms

The position of your arms while running might not seem important. After all, you run with your legs, right? For me, the only thing that I’ve ever focused on when it comes to my arms was to keep them bent, relaxed and to not cross my centerline. I figured that if I did these three things, I had it covered. Wrong.
As part of the training/fundraising group that I am leading this year (feel free to donate by clicking the FirstGiving button to the left), we have had several free workshops for our running team. This past weekend our workshop was on Cross Training. To my surprise, we ended up spending a lot of time discussing running form – specifically the role that your arm swing plays.
We were fortunate enough to have a Personal Trainer from Body Evolution that has lots of experience with runners. He currently works with middle and high school track and field athletes and had some really interesting insights.
Apparently, I keep my arms up too high, my elbows are bent too much (around a 45-degree angle) and I do not take them back far enough when I run. My shoulders were also a little tight. Take a look at this picture of me from a recent 5K:

My left arm is being held at an angle much less than 90 degrees
My right arm is closer to 90, which means that I’m moving my arm at the elbow with each swing – not good.
My right hand is up way too high, it should be down at my hip during this portion of the arm swing.
My elbow isn’t back far enough either.
Good thing I see here – I’m sporting my Ironman finishers hat!
So what should your arms look like and do during an efficient arm swing?
Step 1: Keep your arms at a 90-degree angle through the entire motion. So once your arm is locked in at 90 degrees, leave it there. Never let your hand go above your shoulder or below your waist. Your arms should be tucked in close to your body, even letting your hand brush your upper hip with each swing is a good idea when first learning proper arm swing.
Step 2: Keep your shoulders loose. If your shoulders are sore after a long run, this is a sure sign that you are too tense in your upper body (I’ve had this happen before). Shoulders, arms, hands and everything else from the waist up should be loose when running. Keep a constant mental check-list when running to make sure nothing is tight.
Step 3: Push your elbows back. Focus on your arm swing being a backward push instead of a forward pull. I try to image that there is a string tied to my elbow and with each swing, someone standing behind me is pulling on the string. I’ve noticed that when I do this, my arm natural comes back forward on it’s own.
I tried to incorporate this new arm swing with my speed work today. It feels a little awkward and I fell back into my old form a few times when I started to get tired…which is the worst time to do this. Taking my arms back further than what feels natural is going to be the hardest thing for me to do. But I know that proper arm swing will lead to a more balanced and efficient running stride, which is what we should all be striving for!
Take a look at this video on elite marathoner Ryan Hall. Specifically watch his arm swings. Do a run in front of a mirror on a treadmill or have someone take a video of you running…see what you are doing wrong and try to imitate what you see in this video.

2 Responses to “Running Form – Arms”

  1. Matthew Smith February 8, 2012 at 6:15 PM #

    Great info about the arms. I don’t think I’ve ever considered it, so that’ll give me something to focus on.

  2. Mike February 9, 2012 at 3:29 AM #

    Thanks for the info. Good stuff.

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