Want to run more efficiently? Use those arms!

By Greg Laraia, ATC

One of the most common questions that we get is “how can I run faster?” One way to improve your performance is to work on your efficiency! Making small changes in how you use your arms can lead to big results.  


When we look at someone running we can see that the right arm and left leg work together and the left arm works with the right leg. Cool! Our body creates a natural X pattern from the upper to lower body. Running is a full body exercise. If you find yourself going out for a run and notice that your arms aren’t doing much, then you probably aren’t running very efficiency. Think of it as wasted energy. When you run up a hill, you may notice your arms working a bit harder and pumping a little more aggressively; this is a great you are working your body’s natural X pattern!


Now, why don’t we do this on flat ground? It’s really easy to choke you arms up and let them cross over your chest or not to pump them and just let them go along for the ride, but how efficient is that? If your arms aren’t helping you create forward momentum then they are just dead weight, leaving your legs to do all the work. You can create forward momentum just by thinking about pumping your arms and creating that X pattern, instantly increasing your running efficiency and economy. (With that said, don’t overthink it!) 


When you are working the arms, think about just pushing the elbows backwards. Not aggressively, just a nice even pump from one side to the other. Relax them at the front of your swing and focus on the back end. If  you push your arms backwards they will naturally come back forward, try it out! Stand tall and push your arms backwards, they don’t go very far and they naturally want to come back forwards, boom! Another cool benefit is that this will help core engagement through your stride (we will dive into that another time). 

When working through the arms, each arm will effectively work to help the legs improve momentum in the sagittal plane (forward and back). You will create a nice line of activation from one arm down into the opposite leg and the other arm down to the other leg. Start thinking about this on your next run and see if it makes a difference!