When we talk about running form, most times the discussion is focused on our legs and feet. Sometimes we forget that the way we hold and control our upper bodies while running has just as much to do with our form as does the way our feet strike the ground or the speed of our cadence.
When I met up to run with Andia Winslow, Master Certified Fitness Pro, and founder of The Fit Cycle, at The Chelsea Piers Sports Center in New York City one of the first things she noticed about my running form was the way I was moving my arms.
"You're swinging them across your body," she told me. "Which is a waste of energy because your goal is to move forward, not side to side."
It's not like I wasn't aware that swinging my arms made for poor running form; other running experts and coaches had previously explained to me why it’s an inefficient way to move. I was simply unaware that I was making this common mistake while I run. After all, I do most of my running outdoors; it's not too often that I get to watch myself in a mirror or have someone else analyze my movements.
Beyond discovering that I was making this mistake myself, what amazed me even more was how many runners I noticed doing the same while running through Central Park the next day. Nearly every runner I passed appeared to be swinging their arms across their bodies; very few pumped their arms forward and back.
It’s not like the slight twisting motion caused by cross-body arm swinging is entirely detrimental to your running form. It’s just one aspect of your entire kinetic chain that if improved could mean the difference between average and exceptional running.
It’s easy to tune out and let your mind wander while you run. After all, for most the sport is a means of letting go and letting off steam. But staying present and paying attention to the way your body moves during your workouts is important if you’re goals include building strength, speed, and stamina.
Winslow helped correct my form by advising me to lightly swing my arms forward and back while keeping my forearms parallel to the ground. She says the faster you pump your arms, the faster your feet will move. Therefore, sprinters will pay more attention to their arm speed compared to distance runners.
She also advises that runners stay relaxed and loose in order to make the most efficient use of energy. This includes relaxing your hands (don't clench your fists), shoulders (don't shrug), and even your jaw.