Proper arm swing while running and ways to improve it

Your arm swing is incredibly important when it comes to running. Proper arm swing for runners help to stabilise and balance your body and help to dictate your pace and overall rhythm. 

Think about it. Have you ever tried running with your arms straight down by your sides. Feels weird right? 

Equally, try sprinting on the spot but keep your arms swinging at a slow pace. It just doesn’t feel right. 

The faster your legs go, the faster your arms need to swing. 

Of course, your legs are the powerhouses of running. Your glutes, hamstrings and calves work hard to propel your legs forward. 

But without your arms, the whole running puzzle just wouldn’t be complete. They are the secret weapon in your running armoury!

So, what actually constitutes as proper arm swing? 

If you signed up to my newsletter recently, you’ve probably received my Complete Guide to Proper Running Form. If not, you can grab your free copy here

In the guide, I discuss the key components of proper running form including effective arm swing.

And in this blog post, I’d like to look at a few more key points when it comes to good arm swing as it can go a long way in helping you achieve better running form. 

But before I get started, I just wanted to reiterate that there is no such thing as ‘perfect’ running form. 

Everyone has their own style of running, and this is largely dependent on a person’s biomechanics. 

The term biomechanics refers to the study of how the skeletal and musculature systems work under different conditions. In this case, while someone is running.

The way a person runs is governed by a number of factors, such as gender, weight, age, fitness level and injury. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to running form.

With this in mind, think about how you currently run, in particular how you swing your arms, and by the end of this post you’ll hopefully have ways you could improve it. 

Keep your arms at a 90 degree angle

When your arms are at a 90 degree angle, they have less distance to travel every time you swing your arm. 

This saves valuable energy every time you swing your arm. 

It’s sometimes hard to know what a 90 degree angle should look like without standing in front of a mirror or getting someone else to film you while you run.

A good way to help you find the right angle is to place your hands on your on your sides and have them in line with your hip bone.

Find your hip bone, bend your arms at the elbow and this position should closely mimic a 90 degree angle.

Don’t let your arms swing across your body

This is something I see a lot in beginner runners. They swing their arms across their body which causes them to rock sidewards, left to right, right to left. 

When you swing your arms too much across the front of your body, this causes extra rotation in your lower body, torso and back, therefore causing extra strain on your spine.

It’s also a really inefficient way of running as you end up using more energy going sideways than you do propelling your body forwards. 

Here’s a simple way to fix it. 

Imagine you have a line travelling down from your chin to your belly button. This line can be thought of the ‘do not cross’ line. 

Don’t let your arms swing across this line. You’re only allowed to swing your arms up to this line, but not across it. 

You’ll find that by doing this, your arms swing more by your sides. 

Swing your arms backwards, not outwards

Your arms should swing backwards and brush the sides of your body, but not so much that they end up chafing against your sides.

Some runners find this difficult if they have a tendency to swing their arms across their body (as described above) or if they have tightness in their chest and shoulders. 

If you struggle to drive your arms backwards (instead of outwards), focus on opening up your chest and shoulders with stretches and dynamic arm movements before your run.

Some good dynamic movements to include in your warm up include:

  • Arm circles. Extend your arms either side so they are level with your shoulders. Keep them straight but don’t lock out your elbows. Start by rotating your arms forwards in small circles and gradually build up into large circles. Then change the direction and rotate your arms backwards, from large circles to small circles. 
  • Standing arm swings. Stand on the spot and swing your arms up and down, keeping them at a 90 degree angle. Start slowly then gradually build up your speed. As you speed up, try and keep them by your sides and at a 90 degree angle. Try not to let them cross your body.
  • Standing shoulder and chest stretch. Stand tall and extend your arms backwards. Keep them straight but don’t lock out your elbows. Point your thumbs up to the sky when you stretch them back, then swing them forwards in front of you. Repeat this movement 10 to 12 times to loosen your shoulder and chest muscles.

Swing your arms from your shoulders, not your elbows

When you move your arms, swing them from the shoulders and not from the elbow.  

Try not to lift your shoulders up or down during the swing, which helps remove tension and stay relaxed.

Your shoulders should also not move forward and backward. Aim instead to keep the shoulder in a fixed position.

Relax your hands

Don’t clench your hands. Clenching too much can cause tightness in your arms and shoulders which therefore making it harder to relax your shoulders. 

Imagine you have a butterfly in your hand and your mission is not to harm the butterfly. Keep your hands in a relaxed position, cupped around the butterfly. 

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