Your arms help preserve momentum while you’re running. Plain and simple. So from an economical approach, it’s quite important for runners to understand a bit about maximizing the upper body in training.
Running is an activity where you move straight forward (most of the time). Therefore, things that help you move forward will help while things that move in any other direction will be a hindrance. This is why it’s important for those arms to move directly forward and back while running, and not side to side. Some runners may have a slight arm cross over their body while others have it quite pronounced. Extreme side-to-side movement will actually cause your body to have to work harder. Instead of being able to maintain momentum forward, your arm movement side to side will cause more energy expenditure to control that side to side movement and make you far less efficient.
It also helps to maintain a nice relaxed and upright posture. Insufficient strength or tolerance to stay upright while running, or even extreme fatigue can cause your upper body to tire or slouch forward. This is also going to work against you while trying to maintain efficiency. Some runners are coached to pinch their shoulder blades together and keep their heads up. While I agree with the head up part (it’s always a good idea to know where you’re going anyway), aggressively pinching your shoulder blades is also counterproductive. You should have a relaxed upper body with a slight glide backward of your shoulders. Think somewhere in between pinched like crazy and fully rounded or slouched. Your shoulder should still be able to rock and move like a pendulum which requires freedom that is sacrificed with aggressive pinching. So keep your head up, and find that happy medium for your shoulders.
Strength training can also be beneficial for increasing upper body strength and endurance. While we discuss appropriate lower-body resistance training often, it’s helpful to throw some upper body into the mix as well. I’ll keep it simple because the struggle is real when it comes to convincing our runners to hit the weights. So here are three exercises you can toss in the routine for your upper body:
2) Lat Pull Downs
3) High Face Pulls
These three additions to your routine will help strengthen the muscles around your mid and upper back as well as your shoulder blades. It is a comprehensive way to address postural endurance and overall economy for running. No need to complicate it too much, just keep it simple and aim for 6-10 sets of each per week. Stay tuned to our Instagram page for vids and demos. And huge thanks to Fabrice for some B roll action in the blog video!
Now that we covered strength, what about pattern? Just as a basketball player practices free throws and elbow position for shooting, there are some ways to improve your arm swing “direction” for running. There are two drills I like for teaching proper control for arm swing and to help correct any potential crossover.
These two drills can help a runner learn to perfect the arm swing pattern that will lend itself to being most efficient. These drills can be done in sets of 30-60 seconds and it is beneficial to add them into warmups or simply 2-4 days a week depending on your needs and comfort. Also, stay tuned for some excellent demos!
I hope that helps. While we aren’t known for bringing the “gun show” it’s still important to focus on that upper body. The arms are very beneficial for running and can be an excellent improvement if given the attention they deserve.
Get after it!