Many runners focus solely on their lower body when it comes to running form, but the movements of the upper body, specifically the arms, are just as important. Proper arm movement can increase a runner’s speed by 5 to 20 seconds per mile, while incorrect arm movement can lead to injuries. Even experienced runners may not be maximizing the potential benefits of their arm movements while running.

The arms are the key to good running form.

Many running injuries are caused by poor running form rather than overuse. Over-rotation is a common cause of hip and knee injuries among runners. This issue is particularly prevalent among runners who rely on their upper body strength to move forward.


One common mistake runners make is swinging their arms from side to side, which can lead to a twist at the waist. This twist creates an additional rotation in the hip, which can travel down through the knees and the foot strike, leading to injuries.


Your body is naturally designed to move forward smoothly, so the side-to-side arm motion disrupts this natural flow and creates inefficiencies. Although it can generate speed, it also requires more energy and can lead to injuries in the long term.

Poor running form is often the root cause of injuries among runners. While many runners attribute their injuries to overuse, many hip and knee injuries are caused by over-rotation. However, this is a process that can take time, and hence, many runners do not realize that their poor form is leading to injuries. To avoid this problem, it’s essential to note the centerline that runs down your body and keep your arms and hands from crossing this line, as it can prevent over-rotation.


Many runners swing their arms not just back and forth but also side to side, which can cause a turn at the waist. This extra rotation at the hip echoes down through the knees and foot strike, leading to injuries. Our bodies are designed to move forward smoothly, and the side-to-side arm motion introduces a rotation in the hip. While it can generate speed, it is less efficient and requires more energy.

The Golden Rule is to make sure your hands or arms do not cross the center-line of your body.


The Key to running is relaxing. The more relaxed you are the less energy you consume. This is part of what is know as Running Economy.

The secret to relaxing the upper body is relaxing the hands and arms. 


Try clenching your fist. All that tension carries through the arms and into the back. By relaxing and arms you can remove most all of the tension in the upper body.

Using arms to help generate speed.

Used properly, your arms can help you generate more speed when you run. This can get you to the top of the hill faster. On the downhills, they can help with the balance and increase the tempo. This will allow you to get to the bottom of the hill faster without expending extra energy.

The use of the arms can also help you change Tempo. By changing the rhythm of the arm swing you can change the Tempo or turnover of your legs. Try doing this consciously this on the next run.

To see how important the use of the arms can be, on your next run after you are fully warmed up, while running at a decent clip, just drop your arms by your side. Do not swing them at all. If you do this for a half mile or so you will feel that your legs are doing more work than normal. When you go back to swing your arms, you should be able to discern a slight lift of the knees on each stride. Using this knowledge, we can increase the motion of the legs even further by perfecting your form.

On the next run, while keeping the arms relaxed, ever so slightly push or lift you hands on the apex of the swing. This will cause the legs to drive forward ever so slightly which allows one to increase their stride length without over-striding.


On the downhills, we know that shifting the center of gravity forward can help increase speed. In this case we need the arms to help maintain the new tempo without adding to the consumption of energy. Bring the arms away from the body core. The distance is dictated by the steepness of the hill, The steeper the hill the further the distance the arms are away from the body. In many cases on steep downhills their isn’t much need for too much movement.


Running uphill can suck up a lot of energy. This is where it is better to be proactive with the use of your arms. The active use of the arms can help drive the legs up the hill. Yes, it takes energy, but it also helps take the loads off the legs, which can then help to be used on the downhills to generate a net gain in speed. Remember, the arms can help change cadence, so in this case, on strong uphill’s, it is better to shorten one’s stride.

Running tip for Advanced runners

Here is an advance trick from Olympian Ed Mendoza. Ed was slightly more active with his arms than other runners. Most elite runners  keep their upper body fairly quiet. The arms usually swing in cadence with the legs. For some there is barely any movement.

ED would generate a little bit of extra leverage with more than average movement. Making sure the arms never got close to the center line he would unhinge his arms and let the arm swing down further toward his hip. This created a longer arc to the arms. The upward swing causes a slight knee lift. So if your horizontal movement is at say 6 min mile pace and you add this army swing you will create and additional millimeter or two knee lift, which results in the covering extra ground without using too much additional energy being spent. This does some work and getting used to.

There is an exercise that can help with this form. Take two 5 pound weight. The type which are flat and goes on barbells. While stand stationary, slowly move your arms in a running type cadence. You will find very quickly that it is better to make sure your arms straighter than how you normally carry them. Slowly start unhinging your elbow more and more. The goal is to be able to drop your arms down to your hips then bring them back up to your shoulders. This is an over exaggeration. You will want what feels comfortable in your natural gait.

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