Good Running Form = Tired Arms?

I did a long run yesterday, and boy, are my arms tired.

Your logic escapes me, sir.

Your logic escapes me, sir.

The logic would be obvious, Mr. Spock, if you had been at the running clinic at the Ann Arbor Running Company on Wednesday. It was led by Grant Robison, a star runner at Stanford and Olympic miler in 2004. Over 20 people of all ages showed up to get tips on running with better form.

During high school, college, and his Olympic career, Grant told us, he never studied proper running form, and doubted that most of his fellow Olympians did, either. That may have contributed to his frequent injuries, one of which brought an early end to his participation in Athens.

Today Grant is a teacher for the Good Form Running program, which focuses on three key aspects of running form – posture, foot landing, and body lean. Here are the main points of each:

  • Posture – body straight, pelvis under hips, proper arm swing
  • Landing – midfoot on landing, feet under hips, cadence around 180 steps/minute
  • Lean – bend from ankles, not at waist
Here's a short video showing the main principles of Good Form Running. It's sponsored by New Balance, so there are some not-so-subtle references to the company and their shoes. But the advice is good.

Here’s a short video with Grant demonstrating the principles of Good Form Running. It’s sponsored by New Balance, so there are some not-so-subtle references to the company and their shoes. But the advice is good.

I’d heard all these principles before, and working on them has helped keep me free of serious injury (falls not included) for several years of 1000+ miles of running. But what made this clinic particularly useful to me was the easy drills Grant taught us to develop the habits of good form.

For example, to restore correct posture, all that’s needed is to “reach for the sky” and then let the arms drop. “You can’t touch the sky with a tipped pelvis,” Grant pointed out. Sure enough, it worked like a charm – and it can even be done while running.

To establish a midfoot landing habit, just try heel striking while walking, or walking in place. You can’t do it – it feels too unnatural. Practice that, then letting your feet fall naturally under you while walking. Then extend that to running.

For proper arm swing, just walk in place, letting the arms swing naturally. Then without lifting the shoulders, just bend the elbows to create a 90 degree angle. This “shortens the lever” for more efficiency when running. “Most runners don’t use their arms enough,” Grant said. “It’s hard to run fast with slow arm movement. So when you go out running next, I want you to use your arms more than your legs. Concentrate on the arm movement, and the legs will naturally follow, even when they’re tired.”

For proper lean, all we did was stand straight and let ourselves lean onto our toes. “The moment the toes curl is the proper amount of lean,” Grant said. “Then just release the toes and you’ll fall naturally into your run.”

Afterward, a few of us went out for a four-mile run to try out the things we’d learned. I tried to follow Grant’s advice to run more with my arms than my legs. A couple of times I noticed my arms were not as active as they should be and got them back into action, but other than that I didn’t notice any difference in my technique.

When I woke up Thursday morning, however, my first thought was, “Why are my biceps sore?” Well, that came from exercising them in a way I wasn’t used to – which means my arm form has been less than ideal for a long time.

On yesterday’s long run I worked on form again. Sure enough, at several times over the 16 miles I realized that I wasn’t using my arms properly. I’d let them drop or wasn’t swinging them purposefully enough. At my next race (45 miles of trail April 25-26), good form will be very important to finishing strong, and this will give me something to focus on over the next two weeks.

Bottom line, if there’s a Good Form Running clinic in your area, I recommend it. It’s free and has good advice for runners of all levels. If there isn’t one, here’s a page on their website with more helpful videos.

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2 responses to “Good Running Form = Tired Arms?

  1. Thanks for all of this info! I’ve been feeling that my running as been getting sloppy, particularly my landing. I’m going to try this out

    • You’re welcome! I’d forgotten about this post. Good timing, since I have another huge ultra coming up, and my legs will need all the help they can get. Thanks for reading!

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