Before I get rolling on this topic, I want to thank you, our audience, for challenging me to research and prepare for you. Today I exposed myself to some fascinating data that has helped me to support my claims in this article. A simple idea with very complex underpinnings that make this something I am excited to share with you.
Arm swing as it relates to running gait, as it seems, is our trademark move. How many times have you found yourself approaching a runner from a distance and come to know who it was by the way they moved long before you could make out their facial features?
Over the years I have written about running styles, what makes a more proficient injury resistant gait but rarely have I touched on how our arm swing influences the way we run. Just this year alone, I have already conducted running clinics in 5 different cities for runners of various abilities, some following the “Natural path” others still unaware of the ill effects of heel striking. Regardless of approach where foot contact is concerned, or the ability to adapt to a revised style of running, arm swing, I have found, is the hardest trait to correct. The way our arms move while we run holds heavy influence over global outcome, where pacing, energy costs and even injury is concerned.
Just for fun here are just a few interesting arm swing styles:
- · T Rex – arms held static in front of ones chest with hands seemingly limp and arms appearing to be unusually short
- · Knuckle dragger – arms held low, like a gorilla, bent a bit forward at the waist
- · Spinner– arms seeming to swirl in circles also in front of the body
- · Muscle bound– shoulders hiked upwards, elbows out, shoulders swinging side to side
I’ll just bet you could come up with a few of your own renditions.
I teach people a method of arm swing that through my research and experience has shown to be extremely effective in guiding us and providing enhancement to forward locomotion, which I am going to share with you, but first, I want to introduce you to some science that I found fascinating.
As I was pouring over some lofty research papers on gait, I was lead down a deep path, beginning with the first and second law of thermodynamics, which speaks of energy costs, then on to a term known as entrophy. Then it was like I was hit with a hammer! Entrophy is a theory that suggests that all things begin in order and then all order begins to dissipate to eventual chaos. This ensuing chaos where humans are concerned is largely responsible to our environment. For example; infants are typically born with the ability to be perfectly ambidextrous. Through the process of selection and parental influence we begin to retrain or corrupt these motor skills. Teaching our children to be right handed vs. left is one way that we introduce imbalance. From these early stages of our lives we begin to form our traits. Another example of this degradation of inherent skill can be found in our breathing patterns. Watch a baby as it sleeps, as they breathe they draw air deeply into their bellies which is far more functional than chest breathing. Take a deep breath; odds are you filled your chest and not your belly. This action draws your diaphragm up against your lungs and inhibits as much as 25% of your potential to take on air. When did this transition occur? This is one of those burning quandaries that I have yet to find an answer for, yet, it like other human motor functions have altered or degraded with time.
Getting back to my point; we, with time adapt and mold ourselves around our personal environments. We develop imbalances, and from these imbalances, physical traits that come to be our nature. Training, regardless of discipline or purpose, is all about honing in on our functional asymmetries. Our arms and legs have the potential to work together to assist our forward locomotion, transferring roles of stability, guidance and propulsion, “if” trained to do so.
To the contrary, what I have found to be more typical is our trademark moves that are commonly disruptive to our forward progress as runners. Think of your arms as you might a steering wheel; while driving down a road swinging the steering wheel from side to side will cause your car to travel on a jagged course. Unlike a steering wheel, your arms also have the ability to assist in drawing you forward if they were to oscillate forward and back in a rhythmic fashion. Further, there is an energy potential that exists that can greatly influence your rate of speed while reducing energy demands.
Do this experiment; stand up, relax your shoulders, bend your elbow a bit more than 90 degrees so that your hand is slightly higher than your elbow. While maintaining this angle, draw you hand back to your hip. Think of it as “getting ready to draw your six shooter”. Be sure that your elbow is not splaying outwards but is pulled straight back and behind your hand. You should begin to feel tension where the muscles of your chest connect to your shoulder, much like pulling on a bow string to release an arrow. Now, simply release and relax your arm while maintaining your arm angle. Like a pendulum, you have initiated energy and released it. For many people, this action is cumbersome due to tight pectoral muscles. But this action/reaction potentiates an opportunity to assist the legs in forward motion.
With training, this action can become “our nature” and far easier to perform and will yield a significant enhancement to our running costs, equilibrium and stability. It is a matter of creating order where once there was chaos. Getting our arms into the swing of things so to speak.
Another flaw that seems to get overlooked is what we do with our hands. I see various grips, from hitch hikers, slap happy loose hands to tightly balled fists. Clenching your fists is much like clenching your teeth, it causes unnecessary tension. A good hand posture is one that that is lightly cupped not clenched. By simply lying your fingers against your palm and resting your thumb atop your index finger, your hands will come along for the ride without generating any extra stress.
One more experiment; the next time you go out for a run, employ this arm swing, try and introduce a rhythm in where your arms start point is where your hand meets your hip and the finish is where your elbow is in alignment with your hip. Once you have it down, as you are jogging, try doubling up your arm swing speed. I wish I could be there to watch this but since I can’t, I’ll tell you what is going to happen. Your leg speed will double to match your arms. Clearly, this is an indication of the importance and reliance your legs have in relation to your arms.
Arm swing presents an opportunity to improve your running. A good arm swing can minimize lateral rotational movements that can have adverse effect over the way you contact the ground, they can help to propel you forward, increasing your pace and reduce the cost of work. Or, they can help your friends identify you from a far! I suggest you try and give these concepts some thought and find out for yourself what a little intelligent training can do for you.