Probably the Best Way to Use Your Arms

I said “probably” because I’m not 100% certain about any of my advice, but I can tell you from my own experience, and from watching lots of runners that I think my advice works.

You see people doing all kinds of different things with their arms. Some hold them quite low. Some hold them out from their body. And of course, many experts tell us that we should swing them only forward and back. As distance runners (meaning anything from 5k up to the marathon) we need to find a way of using them that helps us conserve energy, while aiding our forward locomotion. Sprinters like Usain Bolt need to generate lots of power quickly over a short distance, so naturally they will swing their arms quite a bit. We shouldn’t do that.

Let’s start with getting our arm carriage correct. Stand with your proper posture (within yourself, eyes down and ahead 10 ft. or so) and let your arms hang relaxed against your sides. Don’t hold them out from your body at all. Then simply bend your arms at the elbow until your hands are right in front of you chest (nipples). This should feel relaxed. Too many people hold their arms out from their body, and over the course of a race, this adds to fatigue.

Now when we run, we should focus on sweeping our hands down in front of our chest–the left hand sweeps down over the left lung, and the right hand over the right lung. This is much more efficient than thinking of moving our whole arm forward and back. Watch the great Ethiopian runner, Bekele, demonstrate in this video:

Half Marathon PR Today

So after a night of almost no sleep, I went out and ran a half in 1:37:34. I was 28th overall and 6th in my age group (It seems like the 40-44 year old guys are a pretty competitive group. I would have gotten a top 3 finish in most other age groups). Still not blazingly fast, but half an hour faster than I ran the same course last year. A co-worker who had signed up last year injured his foot and let me take his bib, so I ran under a different name in 2012.

I felt strong the whole time today, and passed so many people during the last few miles. Only one speedy younger guy came from behind and passed me. I’m feeling good now, after the race, too. Seriously considering running a full next Sunday. I think I’m gonna have to do it…

Wow, Lookin’ Good…

Here’s what happens when your posture is wrong (gaze focused up and out, pelvis not level, core not engaged) and you don’t use your arms properly (held too low and not moving efficiently). You get a nice crashing heel strike in front of your center of mass, which is like putting on the brakes a little with each step:

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I mentioned the arms, and I will get to that. I have to keep this short today, though.

More Crap Advice From “Experts”

So I was just on facebook, and saw this picture posted by a couple of running pages:

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OK, first of all, we can see where his gaze is directed, and it’s not 30m directly in front of his head. His form looks good, and you can see that he certainly appears to be “within himself” looking down in front of him a few feet.

1, 3, and 4 are typical gobbledygook that never help anyone. However, I’ll be willing to bet that his cadence is pretty high because you can see that he won’t be heel striking in the next step.

And now we get to one of the biggest fallacies in running- “The arms must pump straight forward and back!” When viewed from the side, it does indeed look as though runners are only moving their arms forward and back, however, when viewed from the front, it’s apparent that something much different is happening. Before I give away the answer, look at this video from an earlier post of the great runners Bekele and Gebrselassie (he’s the one leading until the end). Since his form is so good, pay particular attention to Gebrselassie’s arms when you see them from the front. Do they merely move forward and back like a stiff robot, or is something else going on?

5K PR Today

Yesterday, I found a race scheduled for this morning and decided I would run it. Placed 1st in my age group and 2nd overall. My time was 20:12, which is a minute and 3 seconds faster than my last 5K in June.

That’s a big chunk of time to knock off of a short race like this. I felt great the whole time, too. I kept a cadence faster than 180 the entire time. I was aware of my posture, and even at the end, when I was thinking maybe I felt tired, I made sure to run within myself, keeping my gaze focused down and ahead about 10-20 feet. 

When I got home, I ran 6 miles at a 7:19 pace. I needed more miles because I’m planning on running a half marathon next weekend.

OK, I’m a pretty crappy runner, but I came close to winning a 5K today. Yeah, maybe a lot of the faster runners were out of town because there’s a pretty big marathon nearby today, but the fact remains that I lopped a large chunk of time off my previous PR. I hope someone is paying attention to the advice I’m giving, because I think it works. 

Another important element of my running form that helped me today was how I used my arms. Few people at this level get it right. I’ll talk about it more soon.

Late Night Post

So it’s the middle of the night and I had a shitty day. Didn’t get to run. Looking forward to doing a 13 miler tomorrow. Don’t know if I’ll get to sleep tonight, seeing as how my day was so shitty, and I’ll probably toss and turn. But I’m still going 13 tomorrow.

Since I last posted, I’ve done two half marathons and a full. I just keep running and running, and I don’t seem to get hurt. The great thing about all the running is that, no matter what sort of thing is making you anxious, or whatever you’re obsessing about or whatever, after you’ve been out running a while, that stuff just disappears.

Alright, so since I kind of figured out this running thing last April, here’s the list of races I’ve done:

4 marathons

3 half marathons

1 ten miler

2 5k races

And that’s on top of all the training miles I’ve done. My GPS watch thing gave me a congratulations message for going 1000 miles since March or February or something. I don’t remember. But anyway, it’s been quite a few miles.

My best times for the races are 21:15 for the 5k, 1:43 for the half, and 3:37 for the full marathon. So, not super amazing times, but not bad either. And remember, I don’t have any pain anywhere. So I think I kind of know what I’m talking about.

I hope anyone who reads this is still thinking about their posture. Not looking up and out, which draws the head up and out and throws your balance off. Instead, running within yourself, and directing your gaze down and in front of you 10-20 ft or so. This keeps your posture in line, and puts your body in a position that engages your important core muscles. VERY important in avoiding injury.

But it may be a good idea to go back a bit, and do some more rudimentary exercises to make sure the legs are working in an efficient manner. That’s tomorrow’s post.