The Run Stride: Driven By The Arms?

Nothing goes unnoticed. We’ve recently observed that many runners have a tendency of keeping their arms immobile when they are running.  With the recent influx of smart watches on the market (some of which have the option of calculating speed based on arm movements when a GPS is not an option), the role of the arms in the running stride becomes all the more relevant.

Our tests have concluded that watches relying solely on arm movement to determine run speed and distance have their limits, especially at higher paces.  Much like running steps, the rate of arm movements will eventually hit a ceiling.  At that point, the length of each stride is the only determining factor of speed and distance.

Arms: What Are They Good For?

Questions relating to foot striking are always at the forefront of any discussion on run strides and techniques (are you a hell, mid-foot or fore-foot striker?).  The natural progression of this discussion relates to cadence and length of strides.  As you may already know, when the foot strikes the ground ahead of the body (as we see in heel striking) there is a much higher impact on the rest of the body.  The foot strike to the ground is the result of the movements and positioning of various other body parts.  For example, an activation of the hip that allows the foot to begin its rear cycle before it even hits the ground.  The gluteus muscles also play role in bringing the vertical and horizontal movement the knees. What about the arms?  What is their role in all of this?  Needless to say, it has in large part been forgotten, or at least neglected. 

Go Ahead. Give It A Try!

A natural movement of the arms occurs when you are running.  Try completely stopping this movement and run a little bit with your arms completely immobile.  You’ll notice that you start losing balance.  Now stand in front of the mirror and start moving your arms up and down, the same way they would move while you are running.  You’ll notice that your hips will begin moving a little, following the lead of the arms.

There you have it!  You now understand that the arms are crucially important to your run stride.  Indeed, the arms are responsible for your stability and balance when you are running.  Proper use of the arms will allow optimization of both vertical and horizontal forces of your stride.  There is no rule that says your arms must be locked-in, close to your body, so don’t shy away from letting them separate from your sides.

Gain Control Via The Arms

  • Regarding synchronism, you arm movements have a direct impact on your gate.
  • If you speed up or slow down the cadence of your arm movements, the feet will follow.
  • Allowing your arms to go higher in their movement towards the front, will allow your knees to go up higher, thus keeping a loser leg upon its ground strike.
  • Allowing your arms to go further behind your body in their movement towards the back will translate into a longer stride.

An understanding of the effects your arms have on your stride is key to optimizing running efficiency.  Special attention should be given to the arm movements, as you are tiring during long and hard runs.  There is no better example than that of Greg Bennett who used to run wearing white gloves during runs to make sure his arm movements and rhythm stayed at the forefront of his thoughts.

Simply put, we recommend you give your arms the importance they deserve, and require, for optimize your running efficiency!

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