If your goal is to improve your race times, you’ll want to focus on three factors that can greatly improve your running form and therefore help improve your running times. Sure, there are runners with bad running form who still run fast, but they aren’t the norm.
Typically, the better running form a runner has, the more economical they are, and therefore, the faster they can be using less energy. To improve your running form for your upper body, have your elbows at 90 degrees, work on having loose and relaxed hands, and keep your elbows close to your body.
Arms at 90-Degree Angles
If you’ve ever heard “pump your arms” while running it’s because your arms are a great power producer for runners. When our elbows create 90-degree angles – or thereabouts – we can create the greatest amount of power from our arms. This will translate into more power output from our legs.
As Run Addicts suggests, your arms “determine your stride so you’ll be able to run faster, longer, and/or with less perceived effort”. The faster and more powerful our arms are, the faster and more powerful our legs can be. When our arms work at an optimum capacity (pumping arms at close to 90 degrees) our legs benefit from that power and can create more force per stride.
Loose, Relaxed Hands
The second strategy for improving upper body form is to keep our hands loose and relaxed. When our hands are loose and flexible, we have energy and flow to put into other areas of our body. If two identical runners were running next to each other and one is smooth and relaxed and the other is tense (especially around the hands and shoulders), more often than not, the relaxed runner will run faster. Jerry Lynch, writing for Active.com says, “The secret to smoother, faster running is to focus on being relaxed”. When you’re relaxed, blood can flow from your heart to your legs rather than your tense arms. This alone can save valuable resources that can improve your time. If nothing else, a relaxed runner will look better and when you feel you look better you might run faster. “What the mind believes, the body achieves”!
Elbows Close to Torso
The third strategy to improving our running form is to keep our elbows close to our body when running. With elbows close to our body, we create more power per stride, plus keeping them close minimizes wind resistance. In keeping our arms and elbows close to our body, we will use less energy to do the same amount of work.
According to Christopher Arellano and Rodger Kram, writing for the Journal of Experimental Biology in an article called The metabolic cost of human running: is swinging the arms worth it?, “swinging the arms reduces the metabolic cost of human running”. This “cost” or amount of energy spent will inevitably be multiplied a number of times over a marathon distance. By keeping our arms close to our torso, we could literally save ourselves countless amount of energy that we could instead be using for running faster or longer.
Fixing Running Form
To fix your running form, especially your upper body, keep your arms at close to 90 degrees, keep your hands loose and relaxed, and keep your elbows close to your body. Keeping your arms at 90 degrees provides the maximum amount of power in each stride. Plus loose and relaxed hands and elbows close to your torso can save copious amounts of energy. If you have poor form with your upper body, chances are you have bad form with your lower body.
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