Running Arms Fixed: 4 Ways Your Arm Swing Is Slowing You Way Down
Updated: Jul 10
Your Running Arms And How Much Much They Matter
Most people think that running is all about the lower body. After all, your feet and legs seem to be doing most of the work, don't they?
Any runner with a cramped foot or sore legs (AKA all runners😆) know this!
But, we have to give credit where credit is due. And knowing how to use your arms to run faster is a key part of running form. You simply CANNOT forget about your running arms if you want to see improvement.
I'm not a licensed Physical Therapist nor a student of Sport's Movement, (see disclaimer), but if there are two things I've learned in my over-a-decade-long running journey, it's this:
Your body is entirely connected in surprising ways. If your right knee hurts while running and eventually gets injured, the area of concern isn't actually your knee. But it might be your left shoulder blade. (Seriously, I'm not being dramatic. Your body is that connected.)
What your arms and hands are doing while you're running plays a major role in your speed. (I've been yelled at by coaches more times than I can count about what my running arms look like)
Is it a coincidence that the two major takeaways I have from my time as a D1 and professional runner both have something to do with improving one body part to make another part faster?
If you're not clear on the theme of this post yet, I'll get right to the point:
Your arms can make or break you running speed; they play an important role in proper running form.
So let's take a super quick look at 4 things you shouldn't do with your arms when you run...and how to fix them. If you're wondering what to do with your arms when running, this post is definitely for you!
1) Your Running Arm Swing Is Coming From Your Elbows
x SWING AT YOUR ELBOWS
✓SWING AT YOUR SHOULDERS
This is a really common error that people make when running. Something about bending at the elbow just comes naturally to a lot of people.
With the incorrect runner arms, the shoulders are staying still and the "swing" movement is coming from bending at the elbow. Picture more like a hammering motion.
Running with arms like this can give the illusion that you're swinging your arms, when you're really not.
The reason we swing our arms when we run is to give the body momentum! If you're not actually using momentum to drive your arms, in turn helping your legs move quicker and propelling your body forward, you're just wasting energy.
The next time you're running, make a conscious effort to check whether you're actually swinging your full arm from the shoulder.
Here's a better description of what your running arms should look like:
Bend your elbow at approximately at 90 degrees. That angle should, or barely, never change. Keep the elbow bent at roughly 90 and move only from the shoulder.
For this fix, you'll feel faster almost immediately!
2) Your Running Arms Swing Is Too High Or Too Low
x EXTREMELY LOW, NO SWING (OR TOO HIGH!)
✓A RANGE OF MOTION WHERE YOU CAN SEE IN THE FRONT AT THE TOP OF THE SWING, BUT JUST OUTSIDE PERIPHERALS AT THE BACK OF THE SWING
When it comes to running efficiently, you have to give a little to get a little.
You don't want to give too much unnecessary energy, but you don't want to give too little either. With proper running arms, you must have a good balance.
If you can't see your arms or hands at all while running (when looking straight ahead), you're probably not using them efficiently. They're too low and doing very little for you.
You're not using them at all if they're just shuffling low and not giving you any momentum.
If you can see your arms the whole time in front of your face, you're using too much energy in the wrong way.
Basically, if they're just going up and down in front of you, they're potentially causing your force to go the wrong way (up and down, not forward).
So what arm swing heigh should your arms have when running? A middle balance!
You want to see your hands on the upswing, no higher than your chin for sprints. (Sprinting usually has bigger swings, with longer, slower running you want to see your hands but maybe more like chest height).
And on the back-swing, you shouldn't be able to see them. I typically try to say that your hands should be right by your hips. Much further than that and you're using energy to stretch your body unnaturally far anyways!
3) You're Putting Force In The Wrong Direction On Each Arm Swing
x PUTTING YOUR EFFORT TO PUSH FORWARD/TO DRIVE ARM ON FORWARD SWING
✓FOCUS ON PUTTING YOUR EFFORT BACKWARDS, DRIVING YOUR ARM BACKWARD ON THE BACK-SWING
In the laws of Physics and/or motion, (lol like I said, not a science professional here): for every action, there is an opposite reaction.
And that's basically what's happening when you swing your arms.
Honestly, physics is at work with every aspect of running. And you can't fight against physics, because you will lose! 🤷♀️ I don't make the rules.
The pro of this though? Working with physics will only make running easier for you! And it's not that hard to start practicing.
The force you put into the ground through your running stride helps determine how you are propelled forward.
The same goes for your arms! Focus on driving your arm backward, and that force will naturally go forward.
And of course, you want to be propelled forward as much as possible to run faster.
This is a common running form mistake because, at first thought, you would think that you need to put as much effort forward as possible.
With what we just learned about motion though, it would follow that momentum is pushed backward and ultimately that energy you spent to drive your arms forward is wasted.
4) You're Twisting Upper Body When Running
x CROSSING ARMS OVER TORSO AND/OR TWISTING UPPER BODY
✓ FOCUS ON DRIVING YOUR ARMS BACK AND FORTH- NEVER ACROSS
We all have different running forms...just naturally. Unfortunately for some of us, that means our arms like to cross across our bodies while running, our torsos twist side to side, or a deadly combo of both.
For me, my right arm loves to perfectly swing back and forth😇... while my left arm naturally turns in and crosses my torso.
Like I said at the start of this post, I've been yelled at for my running arms many-a-time over the years. The left crossing over was a coach favorite to call out.
You've probably gathered this by now, but running is all about momentum, and proper running form ensures that you have efficient momentum in the right direction.
If you are twisting your upper body when running, your momentum gets seriously confused.
You're asking your body to run straight forward, yet sending motion every which way. Talk about mixed signals!
This wastes energy, so you get tired faster and slow down your running.
Pay attention to this the next time you're running. Not only out for an easy run, but when you pick up the pace too.
Our form changes a bit based on our speed and you might not notice this one until you pick up the effort a tad.
Are your arms going across your chest and/or is your torso twisting from side to side? If so, you should practice proper arm form to fix this problem.
You can do a running arms exercise by sitting legs straight on the ground (so legs are out of the equation, and practice swinging. Or stand in front of a mirror and practice!
You want to make sure your arms, moving only from the shoulders remember, are going back and forth. This sends your momentum the right way and can help you run a lot faster!
Teach your body some muscle memory with a running arms exercise by standing in front of the mirror and watching your arms to make sure they go back and forth and your torso doesn't twist.
When It Comes To Running Form Arms Are So Important!
Unclear if I mentioned this enough throughout this post about running arms, but learning how to use your arms to run faster can be a game changer.
For beginner runners, running appears to be all about the legs, but I promise you that taking some time to examine and correct your running arms can make a world of difference in your running.
I will confidently go as far as to say that fixing 1-2 major running arm problems can be one of the quickest ways to drop your times. And I'll stand by that!
If you want to run faster but haven't looked at your running form lately, checking out your running arms is a great place to start. You can practice with running a running arm exercise, such as practicing your arm swing while sitting down so as to remove your legs from the equation.
My other best running arms exercise tip would be to just film yourself. Set up a camera or ask a friend. Then you can really slow down the video and take a look at what you're doing.
Make sure to come back to this list to see if you're doing one of these 4 things you shouldn't do with your runner arms.
If you're working hard and feeling aerobically fit, yet still feel like you can't run any faster...your arms might be a source of the problem. Get out there and run and give it a go!
I'd love to hear if these tips were helpful, so leave a comment below if they work. Plus, I want to cheer you along your running journey.
Follow my Running Tips Pinterest Board for more easy-to-follow running tips each week. xo, MK