Use Your Running Arm Swing to Unlock Your Core

My favorite thing about writing running form analysis of big races is that, in spending the 10+ hours it takes to study the video, write about my observations clearly, and illustrate them properly, I always learn something. Occasionally it is major.

That was my happy experience last weekend when I wrote about the 2015 London Marathon. As I categorized the different running arm swing strategies and wrote out descriptions of them I noticed that for each arm swing type, the most mobile part of the runner’s torso was the area around which the hands moved. When the hands come up very high, near the collarbones, the focus of upper body rotation was the upper thoracic spine. When the hands are near the heart, the mid-thoracic area turns the most. When they’re down by the hips, the pelvis moves a great deal. 

Sometimes my clients ask me what to do on a run when they feel like they’re not moving very well, like their pelvis or ribcage or whole core action is stuck. My usual answer is that you shouldn’t force it, but you can recall what it feels like when it moves well, and this will help it begin to move now. Your run will improve a bit, and after you go home and do a Feldenkrais lesson you will experience a world of improvement in your next run.

But this observation creates another option for a midrun tweak: you can use your hands to get different parts of your body moving. I’ve tested it out and it works quite well, though it will likely work better for people who’ve mastered a good core action in the past and just need help getting it going on a given day than for runners who haven’t really explored it before.

Regardless of which is true of you, try this on your next run once you’re warm: slowly shift your hands lower, then higher relative to your trunk by increasing/decreasing how bent your elbows are. Feel what happens in the area your hands are moving around. Do this quite slowly so there’s time for your body to be affected by your hand position.

Ultimately you’ll want your hands high — near your heart or even as high as your collarbones (the latter is better, but it may take a learning process to be able to do it while leaning forward rather than having it make you pull upright). But if it works for you, you can spend a few minutes during any run using this technique of moving your hand height — shall we call it the “hand-scan?” — to get things going.

Give it a go and then leave a reply here letting me know what you experienced.

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