How Arm Swing Affects Your Running Efficiency

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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How Arm Swing Affects Your Running Efficiency

While running might seem like a leg-dominant activity, how you hold and move your arms makes a huge difference in your stride and performance.

In fact, a recent study from the Journal of Experimental Biology showed that swinging your arms when you run versus running with restricted arm movement can save you 3–13% in energy expenditure. For distance runners, improving the efficiency of your arm swing can make you faster, more efficient and even prevent lower extremity injuries.


Running is all about creating a comfortable rhythm. An easy way to see just how important your arm swing is and how it can affect your overall rhythm is to run with your arms relaxed down by your sides. Not only will this feel extremely uncomfortable, but you’ll also notice the additional work it places on your back, hips and legs. This is because arm swing is a critical part of stabilizing your body while you run.

By balancing the body as it moves, arm swing helps reduce overall energy expenditure, propel you forward and improve overall running rhythm by helping to lift the body off the ground with each stride. This helps relieve stress from the lower body and improve pelvic rotation, making things easier on your legs, too.

While most runners concentrate on their leg stride to improve overall efficiency and waste less energy, arm swing is commonly neglected. Distance runners in-particular are known for keeping their arms relaxed in front of the body with minimal movement to conserve energy even though the opposite is actually true.



Most runners have a natural arm movement while they run. Since it can be hard to determine just how efficient your arm swing is, it’s a good idea to have a friend or family member take a short video of you while you run. This will show where you can improve and the segments of your arm swing where you may be wasting energy. Outward elbow movement, swinging the shoulders front to back and crossing the arms in front of the body are all potential areas for improvement.

Once you’ve studied your motion, use these tips to correct the form of your arm swing:

  • Bend your elbows: While you run, the bend of your elbow fluctuates slightly. To improve efficiency, keep your elbow bend in the 80–100 degree range. Keep your elbows tucked and close to your sides in the same plane of motion, never allowing them to swing across the body.
  • Swing from the shoulders: When you move your arms, swing them from the shoulders and not from the elbow. Try not to lift your shoulders up or down during the swing, which helps remove tension and stay relaxed. Your shoulders should also not move forward and backward. Aim instead to keep the shoulder in a fixed position.
  • Relax your hands: If you clench your hands into a fist, your upper body will be tight and it will be harder to keep your shoulders relaxed. If you relax your hands, the arms and shoulders will follow suit.
  • Concentrate on arm drive: The forward swing of the arm comes most naturally; where most runners can improve their arm movement is behind the body. By concentrating on pushing your elbow back, the forward motion happens on its own. While it takes some getting used to, and may feel initially like you’re working harder, increasing the drive of your arms takes strain off your legs and makes it easier to lift your feet.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for


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