The "Andre Arm" and Other Mysteries of Arm Carriage
Canadian Olympian Andre De Grasse won three sprinting medals in Rio with an unorthodox right arm swing that became known as the "Andre Arm." In interviews, De Grasse has been candid about it, admitting he's not sure where he picked up the tendency to sprint with his right arm straight, and adding that he and his coach are working on fixing it.
From a technical standpoint, correcting Andre's arm mechanics makes sense, since he is an elite sprinter who competes against the best in the world. On the other hand (or arm), his results have been so impressive that it begs the question: if something is working, is it better to stick with it? And what constitutes "proper" arm swing, anyway?
Like many elements of running form, arm position varies widely from one runner to the next. Some runners carry their arms up high like a shadow boxer, while others keep their arms low and have minimal arm movement. Personally, I like to think of my arms as a metronome that keeps the timing and rhythm of the run smooth.
In general, the arms should swing naturally and loosely from the shoulders. A relaxed arm motion prevents the arms from being too high or too rigid, which expends unnecessary energy.
Optimal arm placement also helps your cardiovascular system. Your heart has to pump blood through your entire body, and all the major muscle groups are looking for additional blood during running. As far as your hardworking heart is concerned, the most efficient place to carry your arms is in the area of your heart, so keep your arms bent at about 90 degrees. If you carry your arms too high, the blood has to be pumped uphill; if your arms are too low, the heart has to pump the blood an even greater distance.
Your hands play a role in this, too. Since running is a forward-motion sport, all your movements should be in the same direction. Ideally, your hands should not cross the mid-point of your chest. Holding the palms of your hands inward and slightly upward will keep your elbows near your sides.
Keep your hands in a relaxed position and avoid clenching them into fists—this helps your forearms and upper arms stay relaxed. We have all seen people running along with their arms dangling, in an effort to alleviate tension that has travelled up through the hands, forearms, and arms to reach the shoulders. Staying relaxed can help prevent this discomfort.
Ultimately, your arm swing should feel natural and comfortable. At the end of a race, pushing a little harder with your arm swing can help increase the turnover rate of tired legs. It may be just the thing to give you an extra burst of speed over the last 100 metres— the perfect moment to channel your inner Andre De Grasse.
Here are a few simple tricks to try if you're trying to hone or re-train your arm swing:
As you're running, think of reaching for an apple, placing the palm of your hand over it, pulling it back and putting it in your pocket. The palming motion of your hand over the imaginary apple gets you to relax your hand, while the return motion maintains your alignment. Work at keeping your hands really loose, and practice clipping your hip with your thumb on the way.
To relax your hands while running, try touching your thumb and middle finger together lightly. I have seen Running Room clinic groups hold single potato chips (such as Pringles) in this way and head out for their training run, challenging themselves to not drop or break their fragile cargo. If you are a chronic fist-clencher, try holding saltine crackers in your hands and see if you can keep them whole for the entire run.
If your arms cross over the vertical mid-line of your body while running, the lateral motion may cause your lower back to tighten up. If you think you have this tendency, try standing on the spot and working just your arms in a running motion. If you exaggerate the crossover motion, you will feel the stress that it puts on your lower back. Focus on slicing your arms in a forward-and-back motion instead.