The Importance Of Arm Drive In Running

What is arm drive in running, and why does it matter?
◷ 3 minute read. In a hurry? Scroll down for our 60-second summary


the arms race

Cast your mind back to secondary school and your Science Teacher scrawling on the blackboard, ‘Each action has an equal and opposite reaction’. In case you were busy graffitiing your textbook that day, this is Newton’s Third Law of Motion. It’s very relevant to the movement of the human body (I’ve heard Toni Minichello, Jess Ennis-Hill’s former coach, mention it a few times during his BBC Athletics commentary). When you run you use just one leg at a time, (with apologies to any bunnies or kangaroos who might be reading,) therefore you exert a force that the other side of your body needs to counterbalance. If you don’t move your opposite arm, you will need to use your shoulder and/or pelvis as the equal and opposite reaction of the running motion. This won’t give you much momentum, and it will make you look a bit daft. Here’s why you should use your arms to put that equal and opposite reaction to much more effective use.

What Do We Mean By Arm Drive?

Arm drive is the movement of your arms, in the direction you are running. Your elbow should be bent at about 90 degrees and should pull back behind your torso with the hand level with, or just above, your waistband. Your arm should then move forward so your hand is about the height of the centre of your chest. If you imagine you are wearing a zip up jacket, the hands should not cross that zip, and there should be as little lateral movement as is comfortably possible.

Why Is Arm Drive Important For Runners?

Fun fact – each arm is roughly 6.5% of your body weight, so if they were no use in running, we’d be better off saving the weight and chopping them off – once we’d tied our shoe laces, of course. However, as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, there is a reason why runners without arms enter the Paralympics: The T45 (double above elbow amputee) world record for the 800m is 1:59 by Yagonny Reis de Sousa, which is absolutely brilliant, but he’d be about 150m behind the 1:40 world record achieved by David Rudisha. So, the moral of the story is; if you have arms – make the most of them! Your arm movement helps you run faster, for longer and dictates the pace of your running. If you’d like to test this theory: Walk forwards with your arms swinging slowly. Now increase the speed and power of your arm drive. Did your legs also speed up? Perhaps your knee lift got higher too?

What Are The Benefits Of Working On Arm Drive?

Here’s another test for you: Run about 30 metres with your arms by your side. Did your glutes and quads feel like they were putting a lot more effort in? Using your arms effectively will take work away from your lower body and your perceived effort will be less. They’ll also give you more speed and power. This is really felt when running uphill where fully engaging your arms will give you a massive boost.

What Are The Potential Risks Of Neglecting Arm Drive?

Going back to my slightly long-winded introduction, running will make your upper body rotate and driving the arms will address this. Failing to address it will cause your body to rotate from the shoulders down causing excess pressure on the joints to keep the legs and feet pointing forwards. Running really is a whole-body experience!


what you need to know
  • When running your upper body needs to counterbalance the rotational effect of each leg moving forwards. Using your arms is the most efficient way to do this.

  • Failing to address this rotational effect with your arms will lead to more pressure on your joints to keep your legs and feet pointing forwards.

  • When running your arm should pull back so your hand is level with your torso around hip height, then forwards to about mid-chest height. There should be as little lateral movement across the torso as possible.

  • Arm drive gives you more power and speed, particularly when running uphill, and it dictates the pace of your run.

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