We run with our legs. A good enough reason for many runners to focus solely on the legs when training – yet the arms are just as important. This means a complete rethink, as runners who want to perfect their running style must start with the arms. In this article, we discuss the reasons behind this and the common mistakes runners make when it comes to their arms.
Why your arms are important for running correctly
When it comes to running, your arms are not just an incidental tool – they set the pace. They affect the stride rate, keep the body stable and help with coordination. As soon as you move your left foot, for example, the right arm automatically swings with it. This provides the stability you need. Anyone who tries to resist this and instead tries using the left arm whilst moving the left foot will quickly notice that it feels very strange and that it’s really difficult to keep your balance. In addition, the strength of the arm movements also has an impact on the leg movements. The more powerfully and more quickly you move your arms while running, the better your leg movements will be, too.
Common mistakes runners make with their arms
If you go to a park and watch all the joggers, you will see that, for many of them, running looks anything but easy. If anything, it seems exhausting. The reason is often the arm movements, which don’t fit with the natural sequence of movements. For example, many runners run with their fists clenched. This is usually a sign that the entire upper body is tense, not just the hands. It is better to run with the hands loose so that they are relaxed, which helps relax the whole upper body. Another common mistake is simply not making use of the arms while running, just letting them hang down instead of moving them with the movement of the body. This results in the loss of a considerable amount of extra momentum and power. Then there are those who barely have any control over their arm movements, moving their arms erratically as they run. Yet others are the so-called shoulder-rotators. Instead of moving the arms back and forth, these runners are prone to repeated swinging from side to side.
Unfortunately, incorrect arm posture also has a negative impact on leg posture. This can lead to muscular problems and have a bad effect on the joints and tendons, too, and can result in signs of wear. Runners who aren’t using their arms correctly will also find it more difficult to achieve their personal best. This is because a more well-matched sequence of movements between the arms and legs can also influence performance.
But what’s the right way to do it?
Using the arms to run correctly
Adding the arms can turn running into a natural, flowing sequence of movements. But only if you use the arms correctly. To do this, follow these steps:
- Form a right angle with your arms.
- Lightly rest your thumb against your index finger, making sure that you don’t make a fist. That will only introduce tension.
- Your arms should swing loosely backwards and forwards in the running direction.
- When you move your right leg, your left arm should move with it. This gives your body the stability it needs.
- In the so-called propulsion phase, runners push off with one foot – usually the right – to start running. At the same time, the right arm moves backwards.
- The propulsion phase is followed by the footstrike phase. If the arms are used correctly, the foot does not strike the ground in front of, but rather directly beneath, the body. This is beneficial because it reduces the impact load. It is important here to make sure the shoulder, elbow and hand of the arm which is behind as the foot strikes the ground all form a triangle. This arm therefore must not swing too far backwards.
- Experts refer to the phase which follows the footstrike phase as the so-called midstance phase. In other words, the phase before the runner briefly stands on one leg between two running strides. It is vital to maintain tension in the body during this phase. This can also help to stabilize the hips. Many athletes find this difficult as their core muscles are not adequately developed and are therefore weak.
- The arms then swing again to take the next stride. The lower arm swings so far up that the hand almost touches the shoulder. This is essentially the propulsion phase again.
- This is then followed once more by the footstrike phase, during which the arms are still kept at an angle.
- When running, every movement of the arms should come from the shoulders.
- The arms swing in time with the legs, but always on opposite sides. So, when the left leg is in front the right arm is behind, and vice versa.
- The faster you move your arms while running, the faster you will be able to move your legs as well. As a result, you will only be able to reach the right speed when your training focuses on both the arms and legs.
As well as the arms, the posture of the upper body and head are also important, of course. You should always run with your upper body upright and your gaze fixed on the far distance. This is important to keep the head upright.
Paying such close attention to your arm movements when you are training can be difficult at the beginning. But over time you will get used to this arm posture, and you will find that you can achieve a higher stride rate when you make sure you use your arms correctly.