Sunday, April 19, 2009

Join the Arm-y

If you've ever watched the Olympic sprinters perform, it's likely you noticed their pumping, domo-arigato-Mr.-Roboto-like arms. Of course, this contrasts starkly with their marathoner counterparts, who swing their arms in a much more loose, relaxed manner. But what do the arms really do for a runner? For a sport that relies so greatly on the lower body, less attention is given to the mechanics of the upper body.

What Role Do Arms Play in Running?

Certainly, arm movement is a factor in how an individual runs. If you don't believe me, I suggest you step outside, tuck your arms behind your back, try to run (potentially at the expense of looking rather insane to the neighbors), and then profess any remaining skepticism. Many associate "pumping arms" with stronger, faster running (like in the case of a sprinter). However, contrary to popular belief, the arms really play little role in forward movement because they are not propulsive mechanisms. Rather, they serve to counter-balance the legs, moving conversely with the opposite leg, as well as each other. They react to our movement to maintain equilibrium. This explains the intense arm movement of a sprinter, who is generating an immense propulsion with their legs that must be balanced with an equally aggressive arm swing.

The arms are also perceptual appendages in that they constantly, and instinctively, gauge our perception of falling. When someone begins to fall, their reaction is to outstretch their arms to brace themselves for the ensuing impact with the ground.

For Running, What is the Proper Arm Movement?

To those guilty of frequently monitoring their running form, you can rest assured that you needn't consciously think about your arms (unless, of course, you're a baby-stroller-pusher). Their tension, swing, and angle will all adjust themselves in accordance with your leg cadence and running speed. Therefore, the notion of a "proper" arm movement does not exist, just as there is no one-size-fits-all "proper" running form. Because everyone has different body mechanics and thus runs with very individual forms, various arm movements will result to complement one's unique style.

Although a universal, proper arm movement is non-existent, remember to relax your hands and shoulders, which are common points of unnecessary tension. Even while racing, when the last thing you want to do is relax, avoid tensing up these areas, including your face. An added bonus might be a more attractive racing picture, because honestly, no one wants to buy a concrete memory of themselves with an awkward facial expression.
Whether your a Styx fan or not, pumping one's arms in a robotic fashion is unnecessary unless the running event calls for it. Let the arms be free to do their own thing, but don't allow them too much leeway lest they produce tension in other areas of the upper body. As long as you don't run with arms flailing overhead like you're on a roller coaster ride (see below), you should be okay.


  1. Cute post!

    I wish I had guns like the secod picture, sheesh, perfect!

  2. this is "Uetze" from RW, I've been experimenting with arm movement the past week. And aside from the odd looks from my neighbors, I've found that the more relaxed one is the more can focus on their leg movement rather than focusing "energy" to the upper body