In running, your legs move you forward but it is your arms that propel your body on to the next stride. If you carry your arms properly and use them in the right forward motion, they will help you maintain good balance and rhythm during your run. If the arms are held poorly (too high, too low) or the arm swing is incorrect, you will lose energy and speed.
If you doubt the importance of your arms when running, try going for a short run and allow your arms to droop down by your side. Tough, huh? Not using your arms properly or carrying them incorrectly, can cost you as much as four percent of your running speed. That’s a huge energy cost in any run or race.
It’s especially tough for beginning runners who often wonder what they should do with their arms or where they should place them?
What you should do is carry the arms from the shoulders in a natural way. To some extent that’s an individual matter, but basically you shouldn’t carry them too high (which causes muscular tension in the shoulders ) or too low (which causes bouncing). Nor do you want to hold your arms rigidly. Or clasp your fists.
The ideal position to carry the arms is comfortably between your waist and chest. Find what feels natural and easy.
When you swing your arms, it is important to swing the arms forward and back, rather than across the chest which can dissipate power and create side-to-side motion. When you swing your arms upward, your hands should be held close to your chest and come up as high as your nipples. On the downswing, it should be easy and loose and they should go as low as the tops of your running shorts. But not any lower.
Don’t lock your elbows. To prevent this, allow your arms to droop all the way down at the start of a run or a race. Or simulate a boxer’s fighting motion with your arms for a stride or two to reduce arm tension. Find the position which works well for you and that allows for an easy, relaxed arm carriage.
Always think driving forward with your arms. The arms balance your motion. They should be synched up with your legs. The right arm lifts as the left leg pushes into the ground and both work together to propel you forward. And then vice versa. The faster your arms move, the faster your legs drive. That’s why you see sprinters with exaggerated arm swings to keep up with their incredibly rapid leg turnover.
You don’t really have to worry about getting the arms and legs to work together. This will happen naturally as you have been doing it your entire life.
As you swing your arms forward, the motion should come from the forearm. You want to keep your upper body still and just move the forearm and not the shoulders or upper arms. Again, excessive arm movement is inefficient and takes energy away from your running.
Envision the forearms pushing into the ground. Of course, they don’t, but the up-and-down movement is the key. Think chugging forward like a train. Always think forward motion in all your upper body motions.
Don’t swing your arms too far backward either. Once again, wasted energy. The forearms should point forward and go up and down in a natural, easily flowing movement.
If your arms are moving smoothly forward, your hands should also be held loose and relaxed. The key here is what not to do: Never clench your hands in a fist or allow the hands to just droop. Alberto Salazar used to place his thumbs over his top finger when racing so his fingers weren’t held tightly.
The drive of your hands and forearms depends on your speed. When they move quicker, so will your legs and you will move faster. Slow the hands and arms down, you slow down. Again, that’s why sprinters are such a blur. They’re hands and feet are moving so quickly in completely synch as they fly to the finish.
Distance runners go much slower because we’re running much longer distances. So, too, our arms must move slower to conserve energy, while still driving forward.
Remember, keep you arms and shoulders relaxed, without any tension but moving forward in a vertical plane from front to rear. If your arms get tired while in a race or training run, shake out the tension and you’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel.