iRun because I like buying running clothes Pamela Blaikie, Ontario

iRun to kickstart my day Sharon Strueby, Saskatchewan

iRun whenever I feel the need to escape Iona Hillis, Ontario

iRun slowly!Jason Hoffman, Manitoba

iRun for the individual pursuit Robert Pelletier, New Brunswick

iRun because it's cheaper than therapy Leah Boulter, Alberta

iRun because I need it to soothe the soul, keep me in shape and for overall wellbeingBeth Neil, Lombardy, ON

iRun because people around me inspire mePina Bevilacqua, Caledon, ON

iRun because when I run I feel most aliveMeghan Lynch, Ottawa, ON

iRun because it makes me feel powerfulCarlene Paquette, Carp, ON

iRun so I can eat ice cream Sandy Bolan, Ontario

iRun because I love the sense of accomplishment Amber Moase, Nova Scotia

iRun because i love to Mirella Petriello, Ontario

iRun to maintain a strong physical and mental state Tammy Rainville, Ontario

iRun for relaxation and to motivate my two sons Keith Bradbury, Newfoundland

iRun because it makes me feel powerful Sarah Kallaghan, Alberta

iRun because I learn more about who I am with every km Steph Mansell, Quebec

iRun because I am not as clumsy I thought I was Hanna Baer, Quebec

iRun because walking is too slow Barry Knapp, Ontario

iRun because I want to live to be 100! Colette DeJean, Ontario

iRun to stay fit and release those running endorphinsLiliana Plava, Calgary, AB

iRun because couch potatoes die young Cathy Andrew, Ontario

iRun because iEat Sherry Maligaspe, British Columbia

iRun for me! Judi Wearing, Saskatchewan

iRun see where my feet will take me todayMegan Dolinskas, New York

iRun because itís like flying, only lower Glenn Johnson, Ontario

iRun to satisfy the irresistible urge Tim Nixon, British Columbia

iRun because it has saved my life John Marshall, Alberta

iRun at 50 years old because at 43 I couldnít Peter Cicalo, Ontario

iRun because it’s in meMichael Foley, Stittsville, ON

iRun because I get foot rubs afterward Kate Howerton, British Columbia

iRun to challenge my perceived limitations Cassandra Williams, Ontario

iRun because of the peace and strength it brings meMichelle Jordan, Ottawa, ON

iRun for the challenge and to remember to fully live Pascale Synnott, Quťbec

iRun because I like to be healthy Melanie Oickle, New Brunswick

iRun because it's better than almost everything else Nathan Carey, Ontario

iRun because it makes me feel good, allows me to spend time with my friends and gives me a feeling of accomplishmentHelen Kolodziejzyk, Calgary, AB

iRun to unleash my inner athleteAdelle Densham, Avonmore, ON

iRun so my daughters know that they can, too Shelley Kirkpatrick, New Brunswick

iRun because it gets my husband out there Tricia LaLonde, Alberta

iRun because I never thought I would be able toGary Morris, Winnipeg, MB

iRun to inspire my children! Wendy Bowen, Manitoba

iRun because it makes me whole Denis Ladouceur, Quebec

iRun because all the ladies are chasing my sexy runner’s bodyChris Baker, Etobicoke, ON

iRun because couch potatoes die young Cathy Andrew, Ontario

iRun because I canít dance Mario Javier, Ontario

iRun because it is my tonic and my salvation Georgia Ioannou, British Columbia

iRun all the livelong day Pierre Saint-Laurent, Quťbec

iRun because it cleans up my life, because I drink more water, sleep better and eat healthier foodsRobin McIntyre, Ottawa, ON

iRun to prove to myself I canLesley McGougan, Brampton, ON

iRun for my heart, so it runs for me! Cathy Brzoza, British Columbia

iRun because it sure beats the bus Robin Robbins, Alberta

iRun to stay ahead of the weight gainMyra Abstreiter, Alberta

iRun because pecan pie, french fries and beer are chasing meTeresa Sterling, Ottawa , ON

iRun so I donít say never ever again Linda Klaric, Manitoba

iRun because endorphins are freeCassandra Chouinard, Ontario

iRun because I want to be a role model for our six kids Catherine Empey, British Columbia

iRun for overall wellbeingTrish McCourt, Halifax, NS

iRun for the moment when both feet are off the ground Catherine Anderson, British Columbia

iRun because iLoves my man Beverly Huang, Alberta

iRun because it gives my day a boost of energy Sara Campbell, Nova Scotia

iRun to be free and enjoy our beautiful countryCheryl Carter, Clearwater , BC

iRun away from the negative and towards the positive Teri Lepard, Alberta

iRun because it gives me freedom to relax my brain Marie-Claude Gregoire, Nova Scotia

iRun for health, i Run for life Pat Cheung, British Columbia

iRun because itís a great way to see the world Sherry Mahoney, British Columbia

iRun so that I can live longer and stronger Derek MacPhail, Ontario

iRun for meKiza Francis, Ottawa,ON

iRun away from the abyss Charlene Thomas, Ontario

iRun because I love the solitude Janene Tailleur, British Columbia

iRun for the cool t-shirts! Pina Bevilacqua, Ontario

iRun because it helps me see things more clearly Jennifer Pitts, Ontario

iRun because I can and I’m gratefulTerry SanCartier, Gatineau, QC

iRun but not enoughMichael Shaw, New Westminister, BC

iRun because itís cheaper than therapy Leah Boulter, Alberta

iRun to challenge my mind, body and soul Sonia Mendes, Ontario

iRun because I learn more about who I am with every kmSteph Mansell, Quebec

iRun to prove to them that iCan Catherine Smith, Manitoba

iRun because it reminds me of how strong I can be Monique Lavoie, Ontario

iRun to inspire my kids to tryGlen Johnston, Nunavut

iRun because somebody once told me I couldnít Heidi Abbey-Der, Saskatchewan

iRun at 50 years old because at 43 I couldn't Peter Cicalo, Ontario

iRun because it gives me freedom to relax my brainMarie-Claude Gregoire, Nova Scotia

iRun because the wall is meant to be broken Jonathan Bird, Ontario

iRun because I liveGeorges Schneller, Laval, QC

iRun therefore I amDuncan Walsh, Nottingham, UK

iRun because I like buying running clothes Pamela Blaikie, Ontario

iRun to someday win the race Lindy Dunlop, Yukon

iRun to challenge myself, physically and mentallyKathleen Keenan, Brampton, ON

iRun to feel great Kathryn Rachar, Saskatchewan

iRun because food tastes better afterwards Patrick Houston, Alberta

iRun because endorphins are free Cassandra Chouinard, Ontario

iRun because Iíve lost 80 lbs and running has become fun Cheryl Kelly, Ontario

iRun because itís fun when itís done Sue Matte, Ontario

iRun and run, and run, and run, and nobody can stop me Andrei Lucaciu, Ontario

iRun because it is my tonic and my salvation Georgia Ioannou, British Columbia

iRun because running is like breathing to Stephanie McEvoy, Ontario

iRun because it reminds me that I am capable of so much more than I have doneJames Sauve, Ottawa, ON

iRun to correct years of sedentary living! Mike Scott, Ontario

iRun because my heart tells me to William Martin, Manitoba

iRun because not everyone can Olivia Harvey, New Brunswick

iRun slowly! Jason Hoffman, Manitoba

iRun to my happy place and some days itís very Doreen May, Alberta

iRun because it makes me a better person, a better wife, a better mother and a better friendNathalie Joncas-Caissie, St-Antoine, NB

iRun for the challenge to go faster and farther Steven Matejka, Alberta

iRun because it's a great stress release Brooke McKenzie, Yukon

iRun because otherwise Iím grumpy Alexandre Charest, Quebec

iRun to get to know myself, my strength and my spirit Lisa Groulx, Ontario

iRun for relaxation and to motivate my two sonsKeith Bradbury, Newfoundland

iRun because I want to qualify for Boston and raise money for charities near and dear to my heartChristine Gracel, Calgary, AB

iRun because I cannot say no to a second slice of chocolate cakeEmily Shandruk, Vancouver, BC

iRun to eat Maureen Tritscher, Alberta

iRun to eat more, especially sweet potatoe fries Joanna Skomra, Ontario

iRun because iEat Sherry Maligaspe, British Columbia

iRun because there is no finish line Claire Kilgour, Ontario

iRun because itís better than almost everything else Nathan Carey, Ontario

iRun for the fresh air and adrenalin Charlyn McGregor, Saskatchewan

iRun because somebody once told me I couldn't Heidi Abbey-Der, Saskatchewan

Cover photo from the current issue of iRun Magazine

Workout Wednesday

My Best Running Race

February 2012

Back to Table of Contents


The 'Oops' Factor: Arm Swing

There has been a lot, and I mean a lot, of chatter about running form in recent years. Most of it has centered on “to be shod or not to be shod,” with off-shoot topics discussing foot plant and proper cadence. However important these topics may be, I would like to discuss another aspect of running form: the arm swing.

The arm action counter-balances the leg action. According to Newton’s Law of Physics (the original guy, not the running shoe company) for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, when we run or walk, the force of the arms swing creates an equal and opposite reaction in the opposing leg. As a result, the more forcefully we swing the arm backwards, the more forcefully the opposite leg drives forward, and therefore the more ground is covered in each stride. If you want your right leg to drive forward to increase both speed and stride length, drive the left elbow and arm backwards slightly more forcefully. The right leg will move forward more quickly to counterbalance the left arm action and the momentum will carry the leg further forward. It will work every time.

I’ve participated in running clinics where the instructors tried to simplify the arm swing topic with an analogy. Unfortunately, due to individual perceptions, those analogies often are not quite interpreted the way they were intended, and the result can be an even more awkward and less efficient arm swing. Phrases like “imagine pulling yourself up the hill,” or “your hands and arms should go straight forward and backward like the rails on train wheels,” or even, “focus on swinging your hands forward to reach up the road or hill” can be misinterpreted. These analogies are not wrong, they are just not quite right either.

Instead of using analogies to describe proper running form, I have always believed that in watching the best in the world run, we can be directed towards running the best way.

If you watch the best runners in the world, you will notice their arms are bent between 70 and 80 degrees when in front, hands just above sternum height, 15 cm away from the chest plate, and close to—but not crossing—the centre line of the body. The faster they run, the harder the backward arm swinging motion is. At the back end of the arm swing, the arm angle opens to 80-90 degrees.

Keep in mind Archimedes’ wisdom (he’s the guy who said “with a big enough lever, I could move the world”): a long lever has lot of strength. Conversely, a shorter lever must travel more quickly and further to do the same work in the same time frame. In the case of the arm, the hand on the arm bent at 70 degrees is closer to the body than the hand on the arm bent at 80 degrees. Effectively, the lever is shorter at the beginning and lengthens through the arm swing, even if just slightly. The arm can therefore accelerate and move more quickly at the beginning of the arm swing and then halfway through when the arm angle opens up a bit. And this built up momentum adds more force to the longer arm. The opposite leg must, in turn, respond to this force by moving quickly and forcefully forward.

Additionally, though it is subtle, as running pace increases, the height of the hands in front of the body increases. At a light run, the hands are at the sternum. At race pace hands rise about 2 cm higher, and in the final sprint, the hands can be higher still. A slightly higher hand position gives more travel distance to crank the arms backward and gain even more speed and momentum.

You should also notice that the fastest runners keep their shoulders fairly steady (not perfectly steady, just fairly steady) and swing the elbow backwards more than the arm.

A very simple running drill for arm swing mechanics is to sit on the ground with legs straight out in front and swing your bent arms as if you were running. Your hands should travel from about 5 cm outside the centre line of the body and just above sternum height in front to about the hips on the back swing (not behind the body).

Do this for a few minutes to get a feel for it, coming close to your legs without touching them or without rocking your shoulders very much. A mirror helps tremendously with this drill.

So what’s the Oops Factor here?

When it comes to running form, the Oops is believing that there is only one way to run and that that way will work for everyone. There are far too many physical and mental variables between humans to say that one arm position will work for everyone. In watching the best runners, you will notice that none of them has exactly the same form. To that end, my points are only guidelines. Don’t aim for perfection; aim to just get close to doing things within the parameters outlined.

And to reinforce my point about the importance of form, you may also have noticed in watching the lead runners that while the race leaders all have GOOD form, the winner does not always have the BEST form.

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