Coach Mike Mead

"Arm" Yourself to Run Well - August 2007

I got to thinking recently how much we runners tend to forget about our arms when we run, or maybe it’s just me. I was very fortunate to have a high school coach who spent the first few weeks during the summer training of my freshman year, having me be aware of the proper way to carry my arms. Over the years, it has been second nature regarding what I do with my arms when I’m running at different paces and tempos. But a few runners obviously have not been given proper instruction on arm carry and are not mechanically sound.

So what do you do with your arms? Public speakers have issues with their arms, too. Some speakers have a hard time figuring this out and may come across being uncomfortable or unprofessional in front of their audience. Some may put a death grip on the podium while others may stick their hands in their pockets and rattle their keys and change. Very distracting!

Like public speakers, runners need to learn the proper way to hold their arms. Arm carry is more important to running then most think. Besides providing you with balance, your arms work in sequence with your legs to propel you down the road. Think of your arms as pistons driving the legs (the engine) to work efficiently and effectively.

Running is about rhythm. You gotta have rhythm when you run. If the arms are not working in tune with the legs, you will not be running efficiently. One common running flaw for some runners dealing with their arms is too much shoulder rotation. Picture an off-balanced load in a washing machine and you should get the idea. Just like the legs, the arms should be working in the same direction unless you’re on an easy jog or a slow long run when your arms should be relaxed with minimal motion. Runners with too much shoulder rotation find their arms swaying across their body and disrupting their cadence which leads to a gradual slowdown.

Two things to know about arm carry. First, your shoulders need to be relaxed. Running too tense will result in muscle tightness elsewhere like your back and arms. Second, move your arms from your elbows and have them maintain a 90-degree angle. Think of the elbows as a pendulum moving according to the pace your feet are setting. Or imagine a line is attached to each elbow and someone is moving them forward and backwards. The hands should stay in a plane that is about hip-high. The majority of the time your hands should not go below your hips, except when you are starting or finishing a race then the hands can go a little below your hips. In addition, the hands should never get above your shoulders when you’re pumping your arms hard. You’re just wasting energy. And be sure your arms stay 90-degrees at the elbow.

To aid you in positioning your hands and arms properly, you can use various techniques. One way is running with a coat hanger in each hand. The tips of the hangers should seldom touch, they should point up in the air and they should move in the same general direction your legs are going. Another method is getting giant rubber bands to hold your arms in the 90-degree range while doing some of the same things that the coat hangers achieve.

If your issue is relaxation, place a potato chip (or pretend to do so) in each hand and lightly hold between the thumb and index fingers as you run. You break the chips, you’re running too tense. However this time of year, the humidity will make the chips limp. The idea is to be relaxed from your pinkies to your shoulders.

If you have a little discretionary income, you might consider purchasing a pair of e3 Fitness Grips (also known as biogrips -- that I have had runners use in the past and they have worked great. Basically the grips are a biomechanical hand positioning system. If you have trouble with any of the above methods mentioned these babies will do the trick!

Keep in mind, what ever method you use to correct your arm carry, it is going to take many weeks and/or months of using these methods. The easiest method just might be the biogrips since you hold them in your hand and they won’t go limp in humid or wet weather, nor will they cause danger to fellow runners like coat hangers might.

The main goal is to get your upper body in rhythm with your legs so that you can become a more efficient running machine. So control your arm carry and you should see a difference real soon!