As a coach I've seen all sorts of arm actions, from what resembles knitting, to rocking a baby and the playing of a drum with one hand and the only thing these techniques have in common is how inefficient they are.
You arms are really important when you are running
1.They help set the rhythm (which can dictate speed)
2.They keep you from moving forwards
The arm movement comes from the SHOULDER, the arms stay at a 90degree angle and they drive backwards and forwards. The arms will come across your body, to around your nipple line. Any further and you are driving them too far across.
The 90 degree angle is very important, and a lot of runners either close up their arms at the top of the running action, or extend the arm way back (as if they were part of a relay team) - both these movements are unnecessary and can slow down your leg movement.
The left picture highlights that 90degree angle that we want to keep during the whole arm cycle. The right pictures shows that ‘nipple’ line we want the arms to drive to.
When considering Running Technique, it is important to remember that everything is connected, what you do in one location will greatly affect what is going on elsewhere.
To demonstrate this, stand in front of a mirror and jog on the spot, driving the arms forwards and back. Then, start to swing your arms across your body and see what happens.
What you should notice is that the legs start to swing out to compensate for the change in arm action. This is an inefficient way to run. We run in a straight line, and want to minimise movement from side to side.
A delay in swinging your arm forwards, or an exaggerated movement at the top of the arm swing, could cause you to not drive off the ground efficiently. This cause of your over stride might be a lazy arm!
The arms are vital when you are looking to increase cadence, start to pump them faster, and the legs will follow. If you are doing any of the cadence work we spoke about a few weeks ago, make sure you are using the arms to help.
If you ever watch a video of Haile Gebrselassie running, you'll notice that his arm swings out on one side more than the other, this is because as a child he ran carrying his school books under his arm, and developed this bad habit! Once you are at his level, making any tweaks to running form might not be beneficial, because he has become very economical running the way he does, but until you are there, start to work on your arm
What about your hands?
To get the hands right, you want to create a relaxed fist, with your thumb resting on your forefinger. Avoid tension in your hands, so don't create a fist properly, and equally avoid having your hands open.
Exercises to help improve your arm drive
1.Static Running - stand in front of a mirror and drive the arms back and forwards, as if you were running. Keep your legs still. Focus on keeping the arms at a 90 degree angle, driving from the shoulder and brining the arm up to your nipple. Do this for 30 seconds 3 times as part of your warm up before a couple of runs a week.
2.Get Strong - the stronger your arms are, the the more they will be able to help with your running. Own body weight exercises are perfect for this, add in a set of press up, dips and pull ups and you'll see an improvement.