Wednesday, 10 August 2005

Form Principle #6

Posted by speedygeoff on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 with 3 comments
“Drive with the arms”

Good running form looks roughly as follows - free flowing (see principle 1) and natural (see principle 2); fast, high off the ground and up on the toes, leading from the hips (see principles 3 4 and 5); and the arms need to be working hard, because the legs tend to follow the arms; the arms and legs working together determine the gait and pace of the runner.

Think of a galloping horse – first the forelegs, then the rear. For us humans, the drive similarly comes from our forelegs, the arms, and the pattern and pace of the run is set by the arms.

So like the horse our arms need to reach forward, not across. If we push the arms out in the direction we are running, and the legs follow and stride out in that direction (good!). If we slow down the arms, the legs slow down (not so good!). If we push our arms across our body, the whole body rotates sideways instead of moving in a forward direction (bad, bad!). If we speed up our arms, our legs speed up (good!). If we throw our hands forward and down, our stride shortens and becomes very quick (very good!). If we throw our hands down but pick them up again very quickly, our knees come up fast off as well (very good!).

A good style is a varied style – resisting the temptation to plod along with just one running action, we vary the way we run. Like a child! We need to re-awaken, re-activate the patterns of running we exhibited when we were very young.

So develop natural ways of moving the arms – at times throw the hands out and down, pick them up fast. At other times the movements are smaller. At all times the elbows do not lock. The elbows should not be frozen in place. Now the worst feature of nearly every running style I observe is the locking of the elbows. It is associated with sore necks, restricted breathing, bad posture, excessive shoulder sway, tension, tension, tension.

(To clarify - a "locked" elbow is one where the angle of the elbow does not change)

Of these faults, the most obvious to the naked eye is shoulder sway. And with that, elbows out to the side of the body, “Chicken wings.” I am at fault here as much as anyone. All the years of slow marathon training have helped develop in me the really bad habit of sticking the elbows out to the side. To have the arms reaching forward and pulling back most effectively, the elbows really should be quite close to the body. A way of correcting this (in training) is to turn the hands over; rotate both hands outwards so the palms are facing up. Then you can practise until it feels comfortable. It will feel strange at first so ask a friend if you really are tucking the elbows in. And when you resume normal arm actions be aware of where the elbows are.

A good running style is a varied style. In particular it doesn’t seem to matter how high or low the arms are held, as long as they are working vigorously and hard, and there is good relaxation. Because high arms are less relaxed for me, I have developed lower arms, and that is my preference. But high arms are OK too.

Breathing and arm movements go together. But that is the next topic.

So pump those arms stronger and faster!

Form Principle # 6 – Drive with the arms.


  1. You have some great running tips here Geoff. I read regularly!

  2. all good advice...i've been focussing on my footstrike and the hip thing and will now work on my arms!

    i think i suffer from the locked elbow situation sometimes - definitely notice the tension in my shoulders when that happens

  3. Great encouragment, thanks o cool runners, your enthusiastic comments are examples of what inspires me to keep trying to write informatively and creatively.
    On style and form, even subtle changes can make a difference. So if I can help you enjoy your running more, by helping you to run more easily and hopefully more quickly, that's great! And I am benefiting from the tips too, as putting these things in writing helps me focus on improving my own running action.