Swinging Your Arms when You Run
When I was fifteen I was in a pretty bad car accident, the car flipped over and my arm smashed through the closed window and landed underneath the car. My forearm was shredded to the bone and I sustained significant shoulder damage. After various surgeries, and a bunch of related infections, illnesses and extremely annoying issues, most of my arm looks okay. However, even though it was years ago, I still have a sizable amount of pain – especially when the weather changes or when I run.

Pumping my arms hurts. I've been through physical therapy and I will admit, I should be better about doing my exercises. I have to consciously remind myself to hold my arm down and not let it float out at my side, but even that hurts. And arm pumping while running? Ouch. So when the New York Times blog published the post "How our arms help us run" I was extremely interested. Was my pain worth it?

The article referenced a study done at the University of Colorado at Boulder and recently published in the The Journal of Experimental Biology; the study consisted of 13 adult runners who ran normally, arms loose behind their backs, arms crossed at the chest, fingers entwined at the back of the skull, and then pumping and moving normally.

According to the blog post, "With each change in arm position, their efficiency dropped. Holding their arms behind their backs required 3 percent more energy than running normally; draping them across their chests used 9 percent more; and parking them on their heads demanded 13 percent more energy."

Basically, runners "used the least energy and were most efficient when they ran normally, their arms swinging at their sides."

It turns out that swinging your arms helps to counterbalance your legs and without your arms swinging, your body begins to compensate, oscillate, and basically burn more energy. The study abstract states that, "running without arm swing, subjects significantly increased the peak-to-peak amplitudes of both shoulder and pelvis rotation about the vertical axis, most likely a compensatory strategy to counterbalance the rotational angular momentum of the swinging legs. In conclusion, our findings support our general hypothesis that swinging the arms reduces the metabolic cost of human running."

Therefore, to conserve your energy, to run farther without tiring as fast, pump your arms. This study may not change the world but for someone like me, who actively experiences upper body discomfort while running, this is just more motivation to keep going.

What is the best way to swing your arms while running?
The scientists who completed the study are the first to admit that they don't know the best swing to use, and aren't even sure that a "proper" swing matters. However, I'm convinced there are many runners out there who disagree. A quick stroll around the internet brought up tons of tips for the right way to move your arms while running.

Tips for swinging your arms while you run:

  • Hold arms at 90 degrees(some people say anywhere between 70 to 120 is okay)

  • As one leg moves forward, swing the opposite arm forward

  • Keep the motion of opposite arms and legs in sync

  • Keep your shoulders down

  • Swing from your shoulders

  • Keep your hands loose

  • Push your elbows back

  • Do not swing arms across your body

  • Hands should pass around the height of your hip

I'm going to start paying much more attention to my arm swing while running. I'm not sure it will do anything for my shoulder issues but maybe it will help me go farther faster, and that's always a good thing.