Getting in the swing

[Originally posted on Bristol Running Resource, 19/05/11]

What are your arms up to when you run? You may not have given it much thought. Surely running’s all about putting one foot in front the other? If you want to run faster then the key is to move those legs quicker. Well, yes, but what you’re doing with your arms can make a big difference as well.

I’m rebuilding my running after injury at the moment. Speed and distance aren’t top of the list. So I thought I’d work a bit on my running style.

In particular I’ve been trying to drill myself to improve my arm swing. On Sunday morning while many of you were enjoying the Bristol 10k – well done, by the way – I was on a treadmill doing 6k and watching the Manchester 10k on the BBC. Quite a lot of people out there seem to be expending more energy than they need to on an inefficient arm swing.

My arm swing tends to be too high. When I get tired it all gets a bit side to side, rather than forward and back. If things get really bad there’s also a bit of upper body rotation, instead of keeping my torso steady and facing forward. Not good.

Like other people I guess, I also tense my shoulders without noticing. The best bit of crowd support I ever received at a race was at the Bristol Half a few years ago. Someone near the Mud Dock, rather than shouting “Keep going” or something similarly vague, got a bit more specific and shouted “Relax your shoulders”. I hadn’t noticed I’d tensed them. But, boy, was it a relief when I relaxed!

So I’m practicing running with relaxed shoulders and a lower arm swing. I’m trying to discipline myself to make the swing consistently forward and back, rather than drifting sideways. Sometimes it’s not a challenge, but at other times I’ve really got to concentrate to run that way. Clearly it’s not ingrained in the muscle memory yet.

Why bother? There’s a dividend in terms of running efficiency and speed. It was clear when watching the Manchester 10k the other day. And you see it at every race. Many people, as they enter the home straight, see the finish line and kick for home. But it isn’t just about turning the legs over faster, in the process the arm swing improves – it becomes more purposeful, more direct, with the energy focused in the direction of travel. It is the arms that drive you forward. So we all, sort of, know that a more focused arm swing helps us run faster. The trick is not just having that available for the last 100m but for the whole race.

For me that’s still work in progress.

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