Coach Mike Mead

April 2014

A Runner’s Handy Work

Whether you are a novice or seasoned runner, some have a problem with their hands. You might be asking, “Their HANDS?” That is correct, their hands -- what to do with their hands when they run.

It seems simple enough, but some runners just have a problem running with their hands. Some have trouble running with their arms, too!

It is like the public speaker you have probably seen who does not know what to do with their hands. Some speakers are all over the place with their hands. Others tightly grasp the nearest podium or lectern. Yet others simply stick their hands in their pockets.

However, it doesn’t do a runner any good sticking their hands in pockets, though some may run with their hands flaying all about.

The point to all of this hand jive? It is important for a runner to maintain a comfortable position with their hands AND ARMS to develop an efficient running posture.

The key to efficient running mechanics requires rhythm. If your hands and/or arms are flailing around, or they are not coordinated with your legs you will run less efficient and spend more energy covering the same distance as a mechanically sound runner.

When I instruct young runners or try to correct the mechanics of experienced runners with issues, I tell them to pump their arms using their elbows and maintaining them at about 90-degrees. If you are moving your arms from the elbow, you are not doing it correctly. Again, it is about being in-sync.

If you have a consistent problem with your arms moving at the elbows instead of staying gently locked at 90-degrees, try running with a coat hanger in each hand. Be sure that when the left arm comes up that the right knee is up, too.

One should keep his or her hands and arms relaxed. The hands, right down to the fingers, should not be clinched, tense, or tight. If you finish a run with sore arms, hands, and/or shoulders, then you are not running relaxed.

One trick you can do if you have a problem with your hands is to either imagine or actually hold a potato chip between the thumb and first finger on each hand with just enough pressure as not to break the chips.

I have observed some runners who run with their hands and fingers extended. That might be fine in a sprint event, but not for a 10K. It is important during cold weather to keep your hands warm by wearing gloves or mittens. Cold hands and fingers can cause tight arms and shoulders.

Another important position for the hands is how high to hold them. If you are running relaxed with arms bent about 90-degrees, one’s hands should float about your waist. Unless you are sprinting, in which the arms are driving and hands may come up to about your chin, the hands and arms maintain a relaxed rhythmic state about the waist area in-sync with your legs.

It will take some time and proper practice to improve one’s hand and arm positioning to become more mechanically sound. To check on your progress, simply run in an area that may have storefront windows that you can catch your image or reflection. Another way to check, run on a treadmill located in front of a window or mirror. If you can see yourself run, visual reinforcement can improve your learning curve. Don’t be afraid to observe yourself run. Heck, your running mates have to watch you every run!

Learning to run mechanically efficient with your hands and arms will make you a faster runner without having to significantly increase your weekly mileage. If your hands and arms are in-sync with your legs, your stride length, and stride frequency should increase leading to faster outcomes on training runs and competitions.