The Role of Arm Swing During Running

You were born to run. Maybe not that fast, maybe not that far, maybe not that efficiently as others. But to get up and move, to fire up that energy-producing, oxygen-delivering, bone-strengthening process we call running.
— Florence Griffith-Joyner

As the fall season settles in, the running season is in full swing! There are races and cross-country running events every weekend at this point, and we could not be more excited to support our running/sprinting/power-walking athletes!

In running rehab and coaching, athletes often hear about the importance of foot and leg positioning as they make contact with the ground. Or that core muscles should be active to help stabilize their pelvis and hips. But did you know that the way a runner’s arms swing is also important?!

When a runner has a GOOD arm swing, this can help:

1) Core muscles to activate

2) Legs to be efficiently positioned when they hit the ground and when they lift off the ground

3) Decrease the overall energy required to keep running. Think less energy requirement means more endurance!

GOOD arm swings are with arms by your sides, even swings with the left and right arm, and fingers/wrists are gently controlled.

Here are some examples of common INEFFICIENT arm swings:

The “Cross Body” swing…the arms swing side to side across the front of the runner’s body.

The “Uneven Arms” swing…one arm swings up higher compared to the opposite arm.

The “Floppy Hands” swing…one or both hands excessively flop/wiggle when the opposite leg hits the ground.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal recently published an article entitled “Role of Arm Mechanics During Sprint Running: A Review of the Literature and Practical Applications.” One study looked at the consequence of eliminating arm swing. When subjects’ hands were clasped behind their back there was a 4% increase in energy demand during running. When subjects’ arms were crossed in the front of the body there was an 8% increase in energy demand. And when subjects’ arm swing was eliminated all together by resting arms by their side, the step width variability increased by 9%! This shows us that the way our arms move affects how much energy we must spend to run and how consistent our steps are!

Here’s a quick and easy drill to work the efficiency of your arm swing during running:

  1. Place left arm on wall and right foot on floor (both will stay still during this drill).

  2. To work on right arm swing, drive right arm back while left leg straightens behind you.

  3. Then as left leg swings up (think toes up towards head), drive right arm forward, bending elbow. Hold only 1-2 seconds in each position.

  4. Repeat 30 times. Then proceed to opposite arm!

Good luck to all of our athletes this running season! And if you need help to improve your running mechanics, contact us today at

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