Monday, March 31, 2008

Your Arms, My Arms and a Run Around the Neighborhood

Where are your arms when you run?

I wrote briefly about arm movement over a year ago and, while I’ve gained experience since that post, I don’t think I know much more today than I did then.

I googled arm position a year ago and found an interesting quick piece from the University of Hawai’i track coach, who recommended keeping your elbows at a 90 degree angles and swinging your cupped-not-clenched hands like pendulums so your thumbs grazed you hips as they swung by. And I tried to keep it in mind.

Not that it did anything for me.

My arm movement is a mix between a soccer player running with her arms in no-handballs-for-me mode and a swimmer paddling through the air. Which makes sense because I’m coming from a history of playing soccer and swimming. But it doesn’t make sense for running. At all.

So, here I am at square one. Again. I realize no prescribed arm position or movement will work for every runner, but I’d like to start looking more like a runner and less like a person who just plays a runner on TV.

Step one, I realize, is to loosen up already. Plenty of what I’ve read is that your arms have a natural motion they take when you’re actively running, which will be more efficient than tensing up and focusing on my goofy arms more than the ground.

Because running isn’t as integral a part in human life as it once was, however, that natural motion isn’t necessarily the most efficient. We use our arms for balance when we run, as well as synchronization. Some say that pumping our arms has any effect on our leg reflexes, so the quicker you pump, the faster you’ll run. To an extent, of course.

If you’re into research papers, you can check out the effect of rhythmic arm movement on leg reflexes and why we hold up our lower arms while running.

One of the most important points I gleaned was that your swing should move your arms directly back and forth from the shoulders. Obviously swinging your arms too far across your body will be counterproductive in your forward motion and even your balance. It’s a common mistake women make—maybe we’re just trying to cover up.

Movement from the shoulders, though, is an important thing to note: I know when I get tired or in a hurry, my motion comes from my elbows. Perhaps I think throwing ‘bows will get me somewhere fast. I guess if your legs aren’t doing the job, someone has to step up…

All of these leads me to ask: how are your arms today?

I’m curious to learn whether I’m overthinking this whole arm position thing or if you’ve ever received some key advice that helped you get your body in synch. No, I’m not looking for a magic fix, but just some clue of what on earth I should be doing with these excess limbs while I’m running.

On a semi-unrelated note: the advice available online is diverse and varied, but one thing is certain, I now have no doubt how to move my arms doing the running man:

I started thinking (again) about this whole arm thing yesterday when I ran around Euclid (we haven't moved yet, but that's not stopping me from running there) for a brief 3.75-mile run that was supposed to be a slow follow-up to Saturday's long run.

Well, turns out I get excited when it's sunny and pleasant outside after months of hibernation and I took it at a pace around 8:00/mile. I know, I know, I know: way to slow down during your recovery, girl! But I honestly had no idea I was running that pace until I was done. It felt just fine!

What gets me the most: I don't run that fast when I'm racing. Melissa has pointed out that I have a slight overthinking problem when it comes to racing. Apparently I have a slight nonthinking problem when I'm training. If only I could blend the two.

Note to self: turn brain off when racing, turn brain on when training.


Dana said...

When I first started running my arms used to cross over my body(near my chest). Apparently that's a no-no(uses too much energy) & thanks to my running partner(she kept slapping my arms down,literally) my arms now swing near my waist. My shoulders definitely feel more relaxed when keep my arms low.

Ahhh..I remember 8min/mile runs. But you don't need me to tell ya to slow down. I'm the same way w/ running slower in races as compared to my training runs. What's up w/ that? Maybe between the 2 of us we can get our "mental" act together.