Running – Arm Swing In Sprinting
Running Arm Swing Exercises
Arm swing in sprinting to this day, remains a highly contentious issue amongst many sprint coaches, fitness industry professionals and even fans of the sport. The reason for this contention appears to be down to the two schools of thought regarding the reason for arm use in the performance of sprint running. On one hand, there is a distinct group of people who believe that the arms merely provide balance to the rotary momentum of the legs i.e. the arms work to keep a person upright when the legs are moving quickly. Meanwhile, on the other hand, there is a group of people who argue that arm swing is a distinctive characteristic of sprinting with the arms working in a contralateral manner with the legs to propel the body in a horizontal direction. Essentially, this is a fancy way of saying that people work their arms and legs in an opposite fashion for example, left leg and right arm to move their body forward.
THE VIDEO: Running Arm Swing – Sprinting Technique – Running Arms Exercises
In this article, we are going to provide you with the facts about arm swing. There is a significant body of research proving that high acceleration and maximal velocity cannot be achieved without the use of the arms. In Layman’s terms, you cannot sprint your fastest time, if you do not incorporate your arms into the process.
With this in mind, let’s delve deeper into the action of the arms and how we can optimise their movements to maximise your sprinting potential.
How can we optimise our arm swing during sprint running for best performance?
Every individual is different and should be treated as such. One method that works well for one person may not work so well compared to another. Rather than providing one magical remedy, we have provided a list of some issues that we have seen commonly adversely affect sprint performance over the years in relation to arm swing to allow you to experiment and find your own style that works and prevent you from making these mistakes.
4 Common Arm Swing Mistakes To Avoid
There are two types of T-Rex in the sprinting jungle. The first T-Rex is the classic one you’ve probably all seen, the one who relies heavily on the use of their elbows when attempting to engage their arms in sprinting.
This T-Rex appears when there is a lack of shoulder flexion and extension. As a result, we are completely negating the use of the upper arm during our sprint running, meaning that the range of motion the arm travels is extremely small and therefore unable to generate as much power for forward movement and horizontal force production.
A good way to combat this form of arm action is to improve your shoulder range of motion. There is a huge selection of exercises you can be performing at home or at the gym to start to increase that range of motion around the shoulder joint. We recommend exercises such as ITYW’s, shoulder dislocates and bird dogs to name a few.
The second T-Rex that we see is the opposite problem to the previous. They can use their shoulders but are unable to extend at the elbow.
From a biomechanical perspective, this arm action trait is actually beneficial for steady state endurance runners. This is because the rapid flexion and extension of the shoulder, due to the limited extension through the elbow, means the arm does not have to travel through a large range of motion resulting in conservation of more energy over longer bouts of exercise. However, in the context of sprint running, small range of motion that the arm travels means that the arms cannot generate as much force during its swing, resulting in smaller propulsive horizontal force production like the other T-Rex.
To fix this issue one needs to address your technique, spatial awareness and proprioception. Watch our video for a series of drills with associated progressions that you can start practicing at home or in the gym to address these issues. These drills and technique also apply for the next two issues.
- Long-arm squid
In contrast to the second T-Rex described earlier, the long arm squid sprinters are unable to flex and the elbow. The biomechanical benefit with this is that the shoulder now moves through a significantly larger distance due to the open angle at the elbow resulting in far more power generation which, is great as this is what the T-Rex runners’ lack.
The issue now though lies in the speed of the arm action. The greater range of movement around the shoulder joint means that it now, takes longer for the arms to move forwards and backwards so the increased power output is released in slower intervals which, again is not ideal when you are trying to move as quickly and efficiently as possible for those faster times.
- The “strict” professional
What we are referring to here is those who maintain a strict 900/900 arm position through their entire race.
When introducing youngsters or beginners to arm action in sprint running, this is a really good cue to help people understand the range of shoulder flexion and extension that we are looking to get. This is because for most people it will be a completely new and unnatural movement. The issue here, is the limitation that is placed on the elbow range for force production.
T-Rexing results in poor force production but fast arm swing whilst long arm squids generate significant force production but slow arm swing. Having a 900/900 elbow angle is the happy medium right? Well in theory yes but when we analyse elite level sprinter arm action on the backswing, their elbows are extended closer to 1000 with the forward swing angle closer to 850 degrees. This combination of a greater extension of the elbow during extension of the shoulder to a sharper flexion of the elbow during flexion of the shoulder allows the arm to both:
A) Move through a big range of motion to generate large force.
B) Be more aerodynamic and have quicker movement of the arm between swings in order to continue to repeatedly generate large force outputs in the shortest space of time.
Having a strict 900/900 arm position will therefore, not quite allow you to reach your true optimum force production and speed of movement through the arms for horizontal linear speed.
This is still a great cue for teaching beginners and youngsters so do not discount this as a valid coaching technique.
- Rock em’ sock em’ robots
The final fault that we most commonly see are the rock em’ sock em’ robots. What we are referring to is those who cross their arms from side to side in front of the body causing rotation of the torso, in particular the upper back.
Whilst this is not a problem with the arms per se, it is a problem caused by the arms which, is why we have included it in this list. The reason this is an issue is because this now means that rather than applying force in a linear, straight line, direction, we are now applying force into multiple different directions. Consequently, this now disturbs our centre of mass which, results in a loss of coordination between the arms and legs causing us to lose our balance and speed. Another negative impact is that we increase our surface area meaning we are less aerodynamic and more exposed to head wind and receive less benefit of tail wind during our sprints, if they are present.
To counteract this issue, we recommend working on your anti-rotation to improve your midline stability. Some of our favourite exercises that challenge this, and we find have the best carry over to sprinting are the banded isometric anti-rotation, paloff press and renegade row. To see how to perform these exercises correctly and safely, watch our video.