Improve your running with one simple exercise.

If you consider yourself an experienced runner, I’m sure those Runner’s World and Running Times headlines bug you as much as they do me.

  • “5 Easy Steps to a Faster Marathon!”
  • “The Three Best-Ever Speed Workouts!”
  • “The Nine Secrets for Staying Injury-Free!”

It’s not that there isn’t good information in the articles, but it is usually presented as if it’s so simple, that anyone and everyone can read the magazine and immediately maximize their potential with hardly any effort at all. More than one experienced running blogger has noted the absurdity in this proposition. (Here is one) They all know that you must work hard to improve.

So it is with great trepidation I present a “secret” that I believe can help almost any runner improve. It is easy, fast, and requires little or no financial investment. Although it is possible that other people know this secret, I hereby claim that it is my idea and that I was the first to use it. It was the primary reason I had any success at all in high school and, although I haven’t used this secret in a long time, it still benefits my running. And I am giving it away completely free of any cost whatsoever! (Please read a lot of tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top satire into that last line.) 🙂

After such a dramatic build-up, you are expecting to be let down. Who wouldn’t? Nothing can be that easy and effective, too. Isn’t that what I said at the start of this post?

Well, here it is then… One simple exercise, described in  seven very easy steps:

  1. Obtain two items that fit comfortably in the palm of your hand and weigh between two and four pounds each; weight is dependent on your relative strength, but should not feel heavy enough to present any strain at all during five arm curls. These can be light hand weights, cans of soup, metal rods… even a plastic water bottle (filled) could work. Each item should not be so large that it prevents you from holding it comfortably in your hand.
  2. Stand in front of a mirror in which at least the top half of your body if visible.
  3. With your shoulders relaxed but not slouched and your arms held so that your forearm and upper arm are at approximately a ninety degree angle, begin swinging your arms. Don’t look down at your arms and don’t look directly at your arms in the mirror.
  4. Focus on your head as you begin swinging your arms as if you were running at a comfortably fast pace. You want your head relaxed but not moving dramatically either up and down or side to side. The same for your shoulders; yours arms should swing from the shoulder, not swing with them.
  5. Now, without dropping your head, glance down enough that you can observe the swing of your arms. Their movement should not appear stiff and robotic, but smooth and natural. Relax. There are four important things to check: First – your arms can swing toward, but should never cross the center of your body at any point in the swing. Second, your hands should not move up and down like a piston. That approximately ninety degree angle should not change more than a few degrees. But this should not make you stiff and inflexible. Third, your hand/wrist should be in a natural position in relation to your arm. (If you hang your arms at your side and relax your hands, this will show you the best position.) And fourth, on the forward swing of your arm, your elbow should reach a point even with your hips. On the back swing, your hand should go slightly behind this same point.
  6. Continue to swing your arms at a comfortably fast pace for as long as it remains comfortable, all the while monitoring your head, shoulders and arm swing. During the first few times doing this, it may be necessary to shake your arms out occasionally in order to make sure you are staying relaxed.
  7. At some point when you are confident that all the physical actions are being performed properly, close your eyes and imagine that you are out on the road running. Try to imprint on your mind how this correct arm swing feels. I recommend that you do this exercise just before bedtime and go to sleep dreaming about the perfect running form you are developing.

At the start of my sophomore year at Northwestern High School (we had three-year high schools in PG County, MD), my arms were the weakest part of my running. By spring outdoor track, teammates were calling me “Super Soph”. For a little guy, I think I achieved a lot and most of it was because, once I had run my little heart out and my legs were hardly more than quivering lumps of meat, my arms were pumping straight and true and getting me to the finish line.

If your arms are working efficiently with the rest of your body, you can propel yourself forward with less effort and a smaller expenditure of energy. This simple exercise can help you develop that efficiency. Do it enough, and your smooth, relaxed and efficient natural arm swing will stick with you the rest of your life.

If you are visiting for the first time, please explore a little! And I hope you’ll consider following my blog.


Filed under Running

4 responses to “Improve your running with one simple exercise.

  1. You are right. Arm strength can definitely help keep you going when your legs have given all they can. Efficient and effective arm swing often don’t get enough credit!

  2. Melanie Peters

    Exactamundo! The Miami variation of this (minus the weights and incorporating whole-body stability) is to do the same exercise standing one legged in a sand pit…without falling over. The balance and stability come while you focus intently on your arm swing – quickening it throughout the 30 second or so repetition before switching legs. Not quite the same strengthening focus you described here, but worth trying sometime when strolling past a volley ball court or high jump pit.

  3. As my mama used to tell me, strong arms carry tired legs!

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