How does arm swing effect running speed

[00:00:00] Let’s talk about those limbs that we don’t really recognize are probably an important part of running – your arms. How does your arm carry affect your running speed?

[00:00:21] I’m Jesse Funk this is a show I call Runner’s High where we talk about everything running, including today’s topic, How these gangly, wobbly things attach to our torso, help us or hurt us while we’re running? So if you like running, if you like endurance, sports, triathlon, any of those kinds of things. Hit the unsubscribe button at the bottom right hand corner. Stick around with me for more episodes every Tuesday and Thursday.

[00:00:45] So we want to talk about the effects of our arms here. Or maybe yours aren’t gangly, mine are extra long. They’re longer than they should be for my body. So I always think they’re gangly. How do they affect our running speed? Do they affect our running speed. And what can we do about it? Or is there anything we can do about it? When I found the research to look through this, there’s a couple of different conditions that were discussed.

[00:01:14] The first one was regarding sprinters, which is a little less important for us. But I think it’s important to note the differences and the researchers that were doing this had the sprinters hold their arms in varying positions to their sides across their chest, starting from blocks in different ways, where they wouldn’t use their arms like normal. And typically they found that doing all these adjustments did slow the sprinters down. However, through repetition, doing the same tests say say, let’s say this position over and over again, the reduction in speed reduced itself.

[00:01:53] So say they lost one and one half seconds to begin with. Maybe they only lost a second after the second time and it reduced on and on after they did it two, three, four times. So that is to suggest that for sprinters, their arms may not be particularly useful. They may not be as needed as we think, and the amount of usefulness that comes into play with them may be more out of habit then out of necessity. Now, it’s a little bit different for endurance runners.

[00:02:29] So there’s the 2014 study done on this where the researchers had runners hold their hands or arms in varying positions and trying to measure how much more or less energy did that change. And we’re talking about running economy basically. Running economy is how effective are you at turning energy into speed.

So if I am less effective, meaning I spend more energy to run the same speed that I’m typically going to poop out, I’m going to get tired earlier than somebody who’s more effective and efficient. So running economy is important in endurance running because the less fuel you need to go a particular speed, the longer you can probably go at that particular speed.

[00:03:16] The researchers in this study looked at three different positions, holding your hands behind your back, holding them across your chest and on top of your head. And the results were that in that order, behind your back caused 3% more energy, across your chest took 9% more energy, and on top of your head was 13% more energy to produce the same speed.

[00:03:42] So I think we could see that those changes did, in effect, cause us to slow down, be less effective and have a poorer running economy than if we were to have a normal arm swing. Now, everybody’s arm swing does differ somewhat, but I would suggest there is an optimal arm swing for most people, and that’s somewhat supported by a few kind of interesting schemes that, like Nike and other people, have taken on. 

[00:04:14] As a part of Nike’s breaking two project, they actually put together a straightjacket-like device that kind of held runner’s arms closer to their chest to try to be more effective and economical. They found that it was effective in reducing energy usage or increasing running economy. How you want to phrase it.

But the runners hated it. In particular, what I was looking at is that Matt Tegenkamp, who was part of the project at the time, hated it. Matt, if you don’t know like 20 minutes from here, one of the few people we can be super proud of here in the running community in Kansas City. So shout out to Matt has a great career, retired now.

[00:05:04] In any case I think it points to the fact that there is running economy to be gained from decreasing motion in your arm swing. So this is actually something that I was trained to do by former pro triathlete Barb Lindquist and trained by her running coach, legendary running coach Bobby McGee.

[00:05:31] And that is this arm carry, which I’ve shown in other videos. But I’ll show again here to try to explain why I think this is more important and how it affects our running economy and efficiency. So back the camera up a little bit so we can see a lot of us have this arm swing that we start out with. We start and it’s like down here you see this like chunky arm movement. But my suggestion is that by doing that, you’re actually producing more energy to move your arms than is necessary.

[00:06:10] Remember when I talked about running economy even if we’re thinking about a small difference in energy expenditure, it is exponentially larger when we increase the race distance, right? So every small amount of energy we can conserve adds up to be a much larger component over time.

[00:06:32] So this suggestion I have for improved running arm economy again comes from my coach Barb Lindquist, and her coach, legendary running coach Bobby McGee so credit to them, is that your running arm economy should be closer to 90 degrees here. And then is in this nice tight motion here.

Now I have to sit down so you can see this or be on my knees here. But they suggest it’s like pulling strings from your ears. That was always the phrase she used. I don’t know why we’re pulling strings from our ears, but that’s her suggestion. I have these extra long, gangly arms, so it doesn’t quite work for me.

[00:07:13] I have a little bit bigger running arm swing than the person with a little bit more proportional arm would have. So that’s just a weird thing I have to deal with. But it’s here. And then here’s that string. You’re pulling it down. Except it’s not quite that exaggerated just here.

And then your shoulders relax as your arm goes back. It’s not you’re not forcing it back towards. But they’re relaxed. So on an overhead view, you’ll see these shoulders go back when you’re running. Now, I’m obviously forcing them right now as an exaggerated motion to show you. 

[00:07:54] But the point being that when we reduce the amount of energy expenditure through our arms by reducing motion, which is what that Nike project was trying to do, and some other people who have invented like slings to hold your arms up so that you don’t have to put almost any energy into using them are trying to do. Those things, although helpful, I think are also harmful in that they can be distracting.

[00:08:21] So if you work on this kind of more economical arm swing, which will probably feel a little funny to begin with, you’ll find over time that you are more effective at running because you’re spending less energy on that arm swing.

[00:08:37] So do you have any questions for me about running, about technique, triathlon training, anything? Leave them in the comments below, I’d love to do a video for you in the future. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.

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