Can arm movement make us run faster? Does arm movement reduce energy waste when running?
Ideally, while running, you should keep our shoulders low and relaxed, your hands also relaxed, without making a fist, and your elbows flexed. Your arms should swing close to your body and heart. While running, your hands should not cross your body’s midline; otherwise, it would mean you’re rotating your torso excessively. Additionally, the total distance of your arm movement will depend on your running speed.
If we look at several elite runners, we will probably find different arm movement techniques. Also, depending on whether we observe middle distance races, sprints, or long-distance races, we can observe that arm movement will be different depending on the type of racing event.
Even though scientists have in recent years placed additional focus on arm movement, for many years they focused almost exclusively on the lower limbs, studying runners’ gaits, body posture, and their relation with injuries.
The truth of the matter is that arm movement plays a highly significant role during running. Arm movement aids in vertical thrust, counters the torso’s and the legs’ rotational movement, and decreases the rotation of neck and shoulders.
Some studies suggest that these contributions help in improving “running economy”, resulting in a reduction in the energy spent while running. Other studies state that no consensus exists yet on the matter and, consequently, suggest that athletes should run with an arm movement that is as comfortable and natural as possible.
But, what would happen if we did not use our arms while running? This issue has, in fact, been studied. Some studies evaluated the running technique of athletes whose arms had been tied to their backs, others with their arms tied to their chests, others with arms tied behind their head, and a very recent study only suppressed one arm, simulating field sports.
One of these studies, conducted by Ross H. Miller, states that suppressing arm movement while running reduces the body’s vertical thrust, which, in turn, forces the legs to overwork and increases the body’s sideways thrust, leading to loss of balance during running. Moreover, the findings of the study conducted by Christopher J. Arellano show that athletes who run without any arm movement increase their base metabolic cost by up to 13 – in other words, they spend more energy while running! – and increase the rotation of their shoulders and hips over the vertical axis, meaning that they lose their posture while running. Lastly, a study led by Christine Agresta, in which only one of the runners’ arms was suppressed, showed changes in the running pattern which were associated to knee injuries.
In conclusion, there is no good or bad arm movement technique, but studies do show how important and beneficial arm movement is for running efficiently and preventing injuries. Many recommendations have been issued, such as relaxing your shoulders and hands; however, experts also say that your arm movement should be as natural as possible while you run. How do you swing your arms while running?