Improve Run Form: Arm Swing & Core Stability

Improve Run Form: Arm Swing & Core Stability

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been running forever, it’s easy to feel like it’s all legs. After all, your legs hurt the most during your run and feel the most sore after usually. So, it may be a natural assumption that running form comes from your legs.

It is important to realize that your upper body has a lot to do with your running form. And keeping your upper body strong and in correct running form can reduce the impact and pain your legs feel during or after a run.

In addition, a strong upper body while you run will reduce your risk of injury.

In this article, we’ve got a few different exercise that are going to break down your upper body moves when you run, and how to use that information to improve your running form.

What Does Your Upper Body Need To Do?

Your upper body is responsible for two things when you run. First, your upper body keeps you upright.

The major leg muscles – the glutes, hamstrings and the quads – cannot work properly when you are running hunched over.

And it’s your upper body that will keep you upright and allow those lower body muscles to fire properly and efficiently.

Second, your upper body helps fight the rotation that your body naturally wants to incorporate when you run.

We see this most in our arm swing. The main idea: your arms should never cross your mid-line when you run. How do we fight this natural tendency? We user upper body strength to keep things moving in a forward-backward direction, instead of side-to-side.

Exercise 1: Plank Position

Core Strength: Plank

Strength work is helpful in improving run form because it exaggerates the positions we use while running.

To start, find a straight arm plank on your hands. Right away you can feel how much control your core has over your entire upper body.

From there, start to lift up one hand and then the other, and feel how dramatically your body wants to rock back and forth.

You can even try a one-arm plank by extending one of your arms out in front of you.

Notice how easily the torso wants to rotate when you make even the slightest movement. And we can combat this by holding our core tighter.

This principle is going to translate directly into upright run form.

Exercise 2: Breaking Down the Arm Swing

Core Stablility: Arm Swing

As we said above, your arms should not be crossing your mid-line when you run. Crossing your arms too far over takes power away from your legs and diminishes the effectiveness of otherwise proper run form.

In fact, your arm swing is going to take place largely behind you. To begin this exercise, stand with your feet hips’ width apart, and just practice driving your elbow straight back. Your hand will actually cross behind your pocket line.

Be sure that your elbow is not extending out to the side, and that your should isn’t rounding forward.

From there, bring your arm up in front of you. Notice if you arm wants to cross that center line and adjust it outward if it does.

Next, start running in place and practicing your arm swing with only one arm. Rest the other hand on your stomach and exaggerate your leg movement as you run in place and swing only one arm.

After 30 seconds swinging one arm, switch and swing the other for 30 seconds. Again, be sure your arm isn’t crossing that center line.

Next, try 30 seconds with both arms swinging. Focus on perfecting your arm swing form for 30 seconds and get used to what that feels like.

Exercise 3: Hand-Release Push up

Upper Body Strength: Push Ups

Now we’re going to combine the above two ideas: core strength and arm swing.

To begin, start back in the same plank we did earlier, with your hands right below your shoulders.

From there, rock forward about an inch over your hands, and lower yourself slowly all the way to the ground. As you do this, drive your elbows back just like you did in the arm swing drill.

Once you’re all the way down and laying on your stomach, release your hands off the ground. To do this you’ll need to engage your shoulder blades and back muscles, which is great training to keep you upright when running.

Next, press back up to your starting plank position, lifting your chest up off the ground first, and rolling up from there.

For an added challenge, try to press the whole body up in one piece instead of rolling up chest-first.

To exaggerate the arm swing aspect, lower down slowly taking about 3 seconds or so, and then come up quicly.

Try 3 or 4 rounds of 10 hand-release push ups for this drill.

Exercise 4: Upper Body Mobility

Upper Mobility: Arm Swings

Strength is a huge component of upper body as it relates to run form, but mobility is just as important.

Increasing your range of motion will only improve your arm swing. To do this, add some arm circles to your warm-up.

Start with your arms out to yoru sides, making small backwards circles and gradually increase the size of the circle until they are as big as they can be.

After 10 or 15 of those, switch directions and swing your arms in forward circles.

Next, bend over at your hips just a little bit with your knees bent, keeping your spine straight. Start to swing your arms open and close, crossing them over your torso and then opening them as far as they can go behind you.

Again, try 10-15 of these swings to increase your range of motion.

Conclusion

Work these drills into your half marathon training plan, 10K training plan, 5K training plan or whatever distance goal you may have.

Notice how the plank and strength work translates to your running, and how encouraging proper upright posture and arm swing makes your legs that much more useful.

In addition, increasing your upper body’s range of motion will allow proper arm swing to feel more natural when you run.

Remember, your core strength and arm swing will help your body’s overall run form, so work hard to make them as correct as possible.

Author:

Holly Martin is a San Francisco-based running coach and personal trainer. With a 20+ year background in dance, Holly brings a strong focus on technique and mobility to all of her coachings. Currently, she coaches online with The Run Experience, an online training community that specializes in preparing runners for a 30-day running challenge, half marathon running plans, workouts and more. She trains clients at Midline Training and Nfinite Strength. Connect with her to learn more about how to train for long distance running and other advanced training tips.

 

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6 Things the Happiest Runners Don’t Do

6 Things the Happiest Runners Don’t Do

Are you a happy runner?

Lately, I haven’t been. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my love for the run back.

I’ve read a lot of running books, thousands of blog posts about running, training books, and I’ve listened to hours of podcasts and I’ve seen all the running movies. After all of that, I’ve picked up on a few things that I do that runners who seem the happiest don’t do. Here they are:

1. Think Too Much

Happy runners just go on their run. They don’t think about what time it is in the morning. They don’t worry if they’ve created the right playlist. They don’t care if they match their outfit. They just go running.

 

2. Schedule Runs

The happiest runners go when they have the time. Running is their hobby. And who schedules hobbies? Sure, they may have a habit of running early in the morning or late at night, but it’s not written down on their calendar. They throw on their shoes and go when they feel like they just gotta go for a run. Have you ever noticed how when you schedule something, it becomes just another item on a to-do list? Should running be more like homework or a hobby?

 

3. Use Social Media Mileage Apps

The happiest runners don’t upload their milea

ge because they don’t need feedback on their run. They don’t need other people to tell them how badass they are because they got up at 4:30 a.m. and ran 20 miles on a Tuesday. Just doing it is enough.

 

4. Stare at their Watch

Happy runners don’t wear GPS watches.

 

Me (red skirt) and a group of running buddies during 2012's Virtual Run for Sherry.

Me (red skirt) and a group of running buddies

5. Race All the Time

A lot of runners race (even happy ones). And they have a ton of fun racing (myself included), but the happiest runners don’t need to race. They run for the love of running. They just run because it clears their mind. Or they want to be out in nature. Or it helps them think better.

 

 

 

6. Run for Fitness

This was the reason I started running and now that I’ve achieved my goal, I’m left feeling a little empty. For me, the point of running was to burn more calories. But that’s not the point. The happiest runners get out there because they love the feeling they get from running.

What do you think? What else don’t happy runners do?

4 Tips Wilson Kipsang Does Not Need

"Lilesa, Biwott, Kebede, Mutai, Kipsang & Abshero" (C) 2013 Julian Mason, Under a Creative Commons Attribution License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

“Lilesa, Biwott, Kebede, Mutai, Kipsang & Abshero” (C) 2013 Julian Mason, Under a Creative Commons Attribution License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

 

You aren’t going to beat Wilson Kipsang unless you can run faster than a 4:42 per mile pace for 26.2 miles. That’s what he had to do to achieve his World Record-breaking time of 2:03:23 at the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 29.

Just think: Not only did he set a PR (Personal Record), he set a PR for the entire world.

Of course, no one is satisfied with their PR for long. After the race, Kipsang told reporters that he thinks he still has the potential to run a faster marathon. “Anything under 2:03:23,” he said.

Right.

But you don’t have to be an elite runner from Kenya to achieve a PR. Anyone who has ever participated in a race has thought about setting a personal best.

Training for a personal best takes dedication and hard work…and a good coach doesn’t hurt. But, beyond that, here are 4 practical tips from top athletes and coaches to help you set your next PR:

“Often people see a great achievement and impulsively want to achieve the same goal. There are no short cuts. Give yourself the opportunity to be successful. Do this by putting in the time and earning it.” – Gail Kattouf, champion duathlete from “Achieving Personal Best: Gail Kattouf on CityCoach.org”

“Believing you can do something can help you achieve lofty goals that you once thought were almost unachievable. Set your sights on seemingly impossible personal records and then mercilessly work toward them.  There are people who think they can and people who think they can’t.  Both are right.” – Jason Fitzgerald, running coach (Strength Running) and author from “Breaking Mental Barriers: How to Run Dramatically Faster”

“If you’re looking to run a personal best, racing every weekend isn’t the recipe for success. The reality is that personal bests are often the result of many weeks and months of quality training.” – Matt Forsman, running coach from “Run Less for Your Personal Best Race”

“Decide you really want it: Visualize achieving success while you’re training. You have to really want it on race day. There is nothing stronger than an intense will, so make sure you focus on that passionate drive to achieve your goal.” – Scott Jurek, 7-time winner of the Western States 100-mile trail run from “The Long Run: Push to Achieve a Personal Record”

If all else fails, pick a fast course. Check out this guide to “The 6 Best U.S. Marathons to Set a Personal Record.”

The Most Important Thing about Marathon Training New Runners Forget

So you decided to run a marathon. Congratulations!

Although it isn’t known exactly how many people run marathons every year, the common assumption is that it is as low as 1%. Becoming a part of the marathon runner tribe is special and quite an accomplishment simply because not everyone runs a marathon. Not everyone can.

Not everyone should.

Why So Many Runners Don’t Get to Run their Marathon

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a new mom. She was overweight and had a terrible case of the blahs. She also had developed a back problem…and she was only 31!

One day, her chiropractor gave her some advice for her back. “Maybe you just need to lose some weight,” he said.

Perhaps that doesn’t sound very nice. But it was the truth, and she’d never heard it put so bluntly before.

So she started running. And then she met other runners. And, after a few weeks, she decided she wanted to run a marathon. She chose a half marathon training plan and checked that race off the list after three months of running.

Then she cut back on her running for a couple months. It was the holiday season and there was just too much to do to devote much time to running. She hung in there running, probably, 9 or 10 miles per week.

In the new year, she chose a marathon training plan and jumped into it. A marathon, after all, was the ultimate goal!

She stuck to her plan like a good little runner. In fact, she even hired a babysitter one night when her husband had to work late, so she could knock off 7 miles that were scheduled on a Wednesday!

Marathon training does take dedication. But she didn’t get to run her marathon.

Nope. She didn’t run the marathon because she didn’t know one of the most important things about marathon training.

Before you decide to run a marathon, you must already have built up a base. You must already be running, at least, 15-20 miles per week BEFORE you chose your plan. You must have a running base BEFORE you begin training to run 26.2 miles.

You simply cannot jump from running 5-10 miles per week to the 20+ miles per week that most marathon training plans begin with and not get hurt.

You might be thinking this won’t happen to you. You might be thinking about how healthy you are and how much money you spent on running shoes so that this won’t happen to you.

Unfortunately, the reality is, nearly 70% of runners get injured every year. And, as a new or low-mileage runner, if you do too much too soon, you drastically increase your odds of injury. And an injury usually means NOT running a marathon. That’s what happened to me as you probably guessed from the story above. And I played sports all my life and had never been injured.

The Simple Math that Will Help You Become a Marathoner

If you want to successfully join that 1% and become a marathon runner, here’s what you should do before you choose and begin following a training plan:

  • Figure out how many miles per week you are running right now.
  • Figure out how long it will take you to get a running base.
    • Take your current number of miles per week and multiply it by 10%. That is the number of miles you should increase each week until you get up to, at the very least, 15 miles per week. Twenty is better. Every 2 to 4 weeks during this period, you need to drop one of your weeks back down for a lower-mileage recovery week.
    • Figure out how many weeks it will take you to get to 15-20 miles per week. Ideally, you should be running about 6 months before you start training for a marathon. At least a few of these weeks should be in the 15-20 miles per week range. This is your running base.
    • Now find a training plan. You can search online, hire a running coach or buy a book on marathon training. There are tons to choose from.
    • Add your base training to the beginning of the plan. Take your marathon training plan and add the weeks you figured it will take you to get a good running base to the beginning of the plan. Don’t start the actual plan until you’ve completed your running base and you should be okay.

Of course, there’s no guarantee you won’t get injured when statistics show 70% of runners do each year, but the odds of staying healthy will be in your favor. You can reduce your risk even further by adding strength, cross training and plenty of rest to your repertoire.

Marathon training is no joke, but you can do it because you will be smart about your training and you are dedicated to putting in the work it takes to prepare your body to run 26.2 miles. Good luck with your race!

If you know someone who wants to train for their first marathon, do them a favor and send them this post, okay? Help a runner out.

Good luck and happy running!

How to Get that Stinky Smell Out of Shoes and Sports Gear

How to Get that Stinky Smell Out of Shoes and Sports Gear

Well, it’s fall and back-to-school time! And, if you are a parent (or if you are reading this and are in school, yourself), then you know it’s also back-to-sports time.

You also know that means it is back to washing some seriously stinky socks and uniforms, and dealing with smelly shoes and sports gear.  Ugh!

You don’t have to have a child in sports, though. My kindergartner comes home with some pretty stinky feet after wearing his shoes all day, playing on the playground and riding on the hot bus.

You don’t want your house smelling like a locker room. And you don’t want to send your child to his or her game with stinky gear. Washing uniforms and socks is easier, of course, since you can throw them in the wash.

(Click here to learn more about Stink Free Sports Detergent.)

But what to do about the stuff you can’t throw in the washing machine? Getting the odor out of running shoes, or off of soccer shin guards or hockey pads seems more difficult.

That’s exactly why 2Toms created Stink Free Spray.

Stink Free is a shoe deodorizer that also works on sports gear and even in gym bags and lockers. You can spray it on anything that is hard to wash.

It’s safe to use on leather, canvas, satin and denim shoes, in work or riding boots, on hockey and football pads, in helmets, and on motorcycle gear—anything that smells, really.

Stink Free Spray uses a formula that doesn’t just mask the odors caused by sweat, it completely eliminates it.  And Stink Free does not use perfume in its formula. Once the spray dries, there is no smell at all.

If you’ve ever thrown something out, or thought about throwing something out, because it smelled and you didn’t know how to wash it, then you definitely need to try this.

For example, let’s say your husband wore his expensive fur-lined Crocs on a hot day in the summer…with no socks on. Just a hypothetical. But you’ll be glad you have some of 2Toms’s Stink Free Spray.

Go here to learn more and read more about Stink Free Spray.

Do Compression Socks Work?

“How’s Shalane doing?” I asked my husband from the kitchen. He was watching the women’s 10,000 meters at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow with me.

“I think she’s in the front still.”

I came over closer to the TV and instantly knew he was wrong. “No she’s not,” I said. “None of those women are wearing compressions socks. Shalane always wears compression socks.” (She finished 8th in the race.)

Some runners, like elite distance runners Shalane Flanagan and Meb Keflezighi, wear compression socks during races. Some athletes wear them after races for recovery reasons.

What is it about these socks? Should all runners be wearing compression on their legs? Do compression socks work?

Compression socks were originally created to help diabetics improve circulation. Now, many compression sock manufacturers—such as CEP, Zensah, PRO Compression, The Recovery Sock and others–say that their product(s) can help runners, cyclists, triathletes and other athletes race and recover better with benefits like increased oxygen delivery to muscles, decreased muscle fatigue and lactic acid, and cramp prevention.

Unfortunately, there is not any solid research to back up these claims even though many runners and cyclists swear by these socks. In fact, you can find compression gear for almost any part of the body these days—tights, shorts, sleeves, shirts.

“Very little evidence exists (ie. two to three studies out of 15-plus) from a sport and exercise perspective that compression garments improve performance when worn during exercise,” said Rob Duffield, a professor at the School of Movement Studies at Charles Sturt University, in a Competitor Running article last year.

In the article, the author points out that studies have not been able to find any difference in “running times, VO2 max, oxygen consumption or heart rates” between athletes wearing compression socks and those not wearing them.

Sports physiology professor Elmarie Terblanche, from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, said that most studies are done in a lab. So how reliable can those studies be? She decided to test compression socks in the real world and she found that athletes who wore compression socks “had significantly less muscle damage and were able to recover more quickly.”

Oh yeah, and they also ran 12 minutes faster on average.

Of course, Terblanche’s findings were, technically inconclusive. But, like Flanagan, some athletes swear by these tight-fitting socks. Boston Globe writer Shira Springer says that Flanagan “started wearing the knee-high tight-fitting socks to keep her calves warm as she dealt with an Achilles’ problem.”

Now, compression socks are practically the 2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist’s trademark.  “It’s very natural for me,” said Flanagan in the Boston Globe article. “I feel like I’m preventing injuries by wearing them and staying warm.”

Don’t mistake compression socks with knee-high socks. Compression-specific gear is very tight—the socks can even be difficult to get on! A pair of compression socks can cost anywhere from about $20 to $80 (or more).

I’m not a world-class athlete, obviously, but I did wear a pair of CEP compression socks during long training runs and during my first marathon. I won’t say I felt energized afterward, but my calves and shins felt pretty decent post-race. In fact, I had to sprint across a stadium parking lot to catch my friend before she left with my keys.

 

I wore The Recovery Sock during a tough, muddy 7-mile trail race earlier this year. Even if I don’t always wear them during a long run, I definitely wear them after. Maybe they don’t really work, but they feel like they do…and that’s all that matters to me.

So, if you’re on the fence about compression socks, it definitely can’t hurt to try them out…and they may just help you run and recover faster.

We’d love to hear from you.  Do compression socks work for you? Let us know in the comments!