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Monday, November 15, 2010

9. Correct arm usage for runners

The arms are closer to the brain than the legs. Your arms are “cleverer” than your legs as a result. Fatigued limbs have a hard time responding to cognitive commands, making “access” easier through reflex, rhythm pathways. Part of this also occurs when synapses are used repeatedly – they start to lose choline & struggle to relay messages. These facts make it possible through the intricately integrated connection between all limbs, called the kinetic chain, to use your arms effectively to run better. One key component of effective running is to have your feet be on the ground for the briefest period possible for any given foot strike. This is called stride rate & if the arms & legs MUST move in unison (left knee to right elbow in front for example), it stands to reason that the quicker the arm is punched rearward & then automatically swung forward on the opposite side, the quicker the legs must move – effective running is often measured by how rapidly the foot can return for the next foot fall from toe off. (Of course stride length is the other half of the equation, but that’s another matter all together.)

Ensure that the arms remain bent at the elbow at 90* or even more closed; I often use a little pebble, held in the crook of the elbow & not to be dropped while running, to drill this component. The lowest part of the arm, at any point during the swing must be the elbow; the shorter the lever the quicker it can be swung. If there are no deficiencies elsewhere, the arms should be swung symmetrically under the shoulder – i.e. when the thighs are parallel during the running gait, the forearms should be parallel with each other & the surface & the middle of the forearm should be directly underneath the armpit/shoulder. Keep the hand above the short line. When viewed from the front the hand should be inside (or nearer the body than the elbow). If possible keep each arm on the outside of the sternum & try not to cross the center line. Some good runners do however do this & it is not a deal-breaker. What is a deal-breaker though is rotating the upper body across the line of travel where clearly there is a “disconnect” between the torso & the legs.

Good runners even close the elbow angle when the arm is swung to the front & open it somewhat when swung to the rear. Keep the hands loose & the wrists firm, with the thumb on the forefinger as a general rule of, um, thumb!

Relaxed, bent, coordinated, quick, rearward punching arms will help you be a more effective runner.

Bobby McGee – Bobby McGee Endurance Sports


  1. Bobby-Great post. With all of the talk about gait and where your feet should land, an arm technique post is quite refreshing. I have been working on this a ton lately. Arm swing is another one of those running elements you can control, but you have to know what your are trying to get to. Very helpful.