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Running form: Proper arm swing and 5 ways to improve it


Proper arm swing is incredibly important when it comes to running – but many runners often ignore it.

In a 2014 article from Live Science, it was found that although arm swinging costs energy, not swinging the arms during running would cost even more energy.

It’s true that your legs are the powerhouses of running.

Your glutes, hamstrings and calves work hard to propel your legs forward. 

But without your arms, the whole running puzzle just wouldn’t be complete.

They are the secret weapon in your running armoury!

So, what actually constitutes as proper arm swing while running? 

In this guide, we’ll look at a few key points when it comes to proper arm swing as it can go a long way in helping you achieve better running form. 

We’ll explore:

  • Why is proper arm swing important when running?
  • How do runners swing their arms?
  • Proper arm swing and 5 ways to improve it


Let’s get started!

proper arm swing

Why is proper arm swing important when running?

Arm swing is a key component of proper running form.

Running form isn’t a one size fits all approach, but essentially running form is all about running in the most efficient and economical way possible.

Arm swing helps to:

  • Stabilise and balance your body
  • Dictate your pace
  • Dictate your overall rhythm when running

Think about it: have you ever tried running with your arms straight down by your sides. Feels weird right? 

Equally, try sprinting on the spot but keep your arms swinging at a slow pace. It just doesn’t feel right. 

Related: The ultimate head to toe guide to proper running form

proper arm swing

How do runners swing their arms?

The way a person runs, and indeed swings their arms, will be governed by a number of factors, such as gender, weight, age, fitness level and injury.

How a runner swings their arms, for example, may account for an injury or just a habitual way of running that they have learned over the years.

If you are used to holding a phone in your hand when running, for instance, this may affect how you swing your arms when running.

This is why it’s even more important to work on your running form when it comes to arm swing – it will take time and practice to get it right.

Related: 7 essential running drills to improve form and performance

proper arm swing

Proper arm swing and 5 ways to improve it

Now you know why arm swing is important when it comes to running, in this guide we’ll look at 5 tips on how to improve arm swing.

These include:

  • Keep your arms at a 90 degree angle
  • Don’t let your arms swing across your body
  • Swing your arms backwards, not outwards
  • Swing your arms from your shoulders, not your elbows
  • Relax your hands

#1 Keep your arms at a 90 degree angle

This is a common tip when it comes to arm swing, and you may be wondering:

Should arms be at 90 degrees when running?

When your arms are at a 90 degree angle, they have less distance to travel every time you swing your arm. 

This saves valuable energy every time you swing your arm. 

It’s sometimes hard to know what a 90 degree angle should look like without standing in front of a mirror or getting someone else to film you while you run.

A good way to help you find the right angle is to place your hands on your on your sides and have them in line with your hip bone.

Find your hip bone, bend your arms at the elbow and this position should closely mimic a 90 degree angle.

Related: Proper running foot strike and 3 actionable ways to improve it

#2 Don’t let your arms swing across your body

This is something I see a lot in beginner runners who do not show proper arm swing.

They swing their arms across their body which causes them to rock sideways, left to right, right to left. 

When you swing your arms too much across the front of your body, this causes extra rotation in your lower body, torso and back, therefore causing extra strain on your spine.

It’s also a really inefficient way of running as you end up using more energy going sideways than you do propelling your body forwards. 

Here’s a simple way to fix it. Imagine you have a line travelling down from your chin to your belly button. This line can be thought of the ‘do not cross’ line. 

Don’t let your arms swing across this line.

You’re only allowed to swing your arms up to this line, but not across it. You’ll find that by doing this, your arms swing more by your sides. 

Related: Running form and technique: 4 simple tips to improve running form on your next run

#3 Swing your arms backwards, not outwards

Your arms should swing backwards and brush the sides of your body, but not so much that they end up chafing against your sides.

Some runners find this difficult if they have a tendency to swing their arms across their body (as described above).

Alternatively, if they have tightness in their chest and shoulders. 

If you struggle to drive your arms backwards (instead of outwards), focus on opening up your chest and shoulders.

You can aid this by including dynamic arm swing exercises in your warm up before your run.

Arm circles

  1. Extend your arms either side so they are level with your shoulders.
  2. Keep them straight but don’t lock out your elbows.
  3. Start by rotating your arms forwards in small circles and gradually build up into large circles.
  4. Then change the direction and rotate your arms backwards, from large circles to small circles. 
  5. Continue doing this movement for about 1 minute.

Standing arm swings

  1. Stand on the spot and swing your arms up and down, keeping them at a 90 degree angle.
  2. Start slowly then gradually build up your speed.
  3. As you speed up, try and keep them by your sides and at a 90 degree angle. Try not to let them cross your body.
  4. Continue doing this movement for around 30 seconds.

Standing shoulder and chest stretch

  1. Stand tall and extend your arms backwards.
  2. Keep them straight but don’t lock out your elbows.
  3. Point your thumbs up to the sky when you stretch them back, then swing them forwards in front of you. 
  4. Repeat this movement 10 to 12 times to loosen your shoulder and chest muscles.

Related: 5 key principles of proper running form and technique (and why they matter)

#4 Swing your arms from your shoulders, not your elbows

This is probably one of the parts of proper arm swing that most runners have difficulty with.

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.

If you suffer with neck and shoulder pain while running, this tip could help you alleviate some of the pain.

Your shoulders should also not move forward and backward.

Aim instead to keep the shoulder in a fixed position.

Related: 9 of the best shin splint stretches for runners

#5 Relax your hands

When your hands are relaxed, there is less room for tightness to build up in your arms and shoulders.

Neck and shoulder pain while running is no fun!

During the winter months, many runners pull their sleeves over their hands which can inadvertently cause them to clench their hands.

Clenching too much can cause tightness in your arms and shoulders which therefore making it harder to relax your shoulders. 

Try this simple tip instead. Imagine you have a butterfly in your hand and your mission is not to harm the butterfly.

Keep your hands in a relaxed position, cupped around the butterfly. 

Related: Neck and shoulder pain when running: 6 quick fixes

Caroline Geoghegan