2. Compact Arms
For years now, I’ve been teaching runners that a compact arm swing is the #1 “quick fix” to improve their running form, especially if they want to stop over-striding.
I joke that most American runners get their arms from watching Richard Simmons exercise videos! Consequently, the biggest form problem we see with almost all runners is that they swing their arms too much—both side to side, and especially forward. Unless you are sprinting, the elbows should not come forward past the hips, and your firsts should not cross the mid-line of your chest. For reference, the average runner moving at 10 minutes/mile pace should only have about 3″ of arm movement.
While distance running, if your elbows come forward past your hips, that tends to pull your foot out in front of your body, causing an excessive heel strike or over-stride. In my opinion, the easiest way to get people to stop over-striding is to simply have them only actively pump their arms back (no forward arm pump), and to keep their elbows behind their hips. Back is an active motion, forward is just a recovery or passive motion.
Along these lines, we see terrible things happen when running coaches yell “pump your arms” to their athletes mid-race. They could add one word and make everything work—back. “Pump your arms BACK”. That one word changes everything. Driving the elbows back improves running posture by driving the chest forward, opens up the airway, and propels the body forward. Because of this, if you want to speed up, simply pop the elbows back forcefully and it will happen!
Elite runners and most who are rarely injured have very compact arm movement when running. They keep their hands quite high, with their wrists occasionally brushing up against their ribs. (Cue: “Wrists to Ribs!) They quickly pop their elbows back and let them passively recover while the other elbow is popping back. They also keep their arms moving in more of a front-to-back motion with less side-to-side movement.
One fun tip I use while teaching is to instruct people to “run proper” like a British person…most people see a dramatic improvement when they try this cue and “wrists to ribs”. Then we just have to remind them to relax, since people tend to tense up anytime they try something new. I like to chant “Run British, Run Proper, RELAX…Wrists to Ribs, RELAX.”
One other way I like to talk about things is to remind people that to increase efficiency, they need to keep their arms compact and close to their chest at somewhere near a 90-degree (everyone is a bit different due to genetics) angle—most runners carry their arms far too low.
–Move the arms as *little* as necessary for the speed you are going
–Short, compact, arm movement: think “Chicken Wings, Relax” or “Wrists to Ribs, Relax”
– Pump the elbows back and recover forward (no forward arm pump)
– Elbows should not extend in front of the waist unless sprinting
Quick Tip: Use 1 to 2 pound hand weights or strap on hand-held water bottles on shorter or easier runs to find your most efficient arm movement and angle.