Getting into the right swing

Photograph: Getty Images

Photograph: Getty Images

Tue, Dec 11, 2012, 00:00

RUN CLINIC:What should I do with my arms and hands as I run?

Whatever you are doing with your hands and arms when you run, I hope that at the very least they are adopting some semblance of a swinging motion. Put simply, the arms should support the energy of the body in a forward motion while running. They help to provide balance and power, and adopting a relaxed and efficient arm swing can have a huge impact on the smoothness of your gait, which translates into making you a more efficient runner.

Different types of runners necessarily have a different “swing”. If you imagine Usain Bolt in his 100m dash at the Olympics 2012, he pumps his arms in a very straightforward backward motion.

Longer-distance runners use a slight arc as they swing their arms, but the faster, more efficient ones don’t waste motion by moving too much from side to side.

Wasted energy from unnecessary motion in the arms is just as damaging to your performance as a dodgy stride. So it is worth trying to rectify this even if it feels a tad unnatural to begin with to be focusing on precisely what your hands and arms are doing. To that end, for the arms:

It should be obvious that bending your arms while swinging is essential.

Don’t carry your arms too high. This may cause neck and upper back pain and swinging arms across the body also needlessly wastes energy.

Don’t have them hanging too low either; they won’t be helping propulsion much down there.

Swinging your elbows out too wide is another needless energy sapper.

The ideal arm position requires that you keep them at a 90-degree angle irrespective of your speed. Hold them with your thumbs just brushing below the top of your pelvis (hips) with the palms facing inwards. If your hands never fall below your waistline, you’ve basically nailed the angle. Pump those elbows backwards and forwards without ever crossing your arms across the body.

Relaxing your shoulders is absolutely key to perfecting your swing. With a little practice you can learn to swing your arms without moving your shoulders at all. Here’s how: when at home and stationary, place one of your hands on your opposite shoulder and swing the arm of the shoulder that is being held down. This will help you feel what it is like to swing your arm without moving your shoulder. Relaxation doesn’t come naturally to some of us, particularly the Grit Doctor, but practice makes perfect and what I find helps is if I focus on the tips of my elbows when running, drawing the focus – and, hopefully tension – away from my neck and shoulders. When I forget to do this, I often get really sore shoulders after a run, probably as a result of working on a keyboard all day and bringing all that stored-up tension with me on the run.

And now for those hands:

When running uphill, swing your arms with your hands held closer to your chest. This gives your arm swing a more upward motion and will help you to lift your legs more easily. You can also use this arm motion when doing short sprints during interval training.

Do not clench your fists – you will be expending energy unnecessarily.

Any tension held in your body will restrict your movement so hold your hands with your fingers curled in slightly, like you have just caught a butterfly and you don’t want to crush it.

The Grit Doctor says:Master your swing and you’ll get a whole lot more bang for your running buck.

Tweet your running queries to Ruth at: @gritdoctor


RUTH FIELDis author of Run, Fat Bitch Run

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