How Arm Carriage Affects Forefoot Running Gait

A study by Hinrichs et al. concluded that there is no advantage of the ‘classic’ style of arm carriage and arm swing over the arm carriage of most Ethiopian runners.

Many Ethiopian runners, especially female Ethiopian runners, run with a higher arm carriage compared to most recreational runners and even non-African elite distance runners who run with a lower arm carriage and swing the arms directly back and forth.

Arm Carriage in Running
The classic style of arm carriage (left) was found to have no economic advantage compared to a self-selected arm carriage (right).

The finding is concerning because most coaches strongly recommend runners to utilize the classic arm carriage for movement efficiency and drive. However, the winners of all the major marathons and other long distance events run with an arm carriage style that deviates far away from what most of us have been told.

The classic style of arm carriage also discourages an arm swing that crosses the mid-line. Yet, in the same study, the authors found that arm swing crossover reduced side-to-side excursions of the body’s center of mass and promoted a more constant horizontal velocity.

This finding is in parallel with the arm swing of most Ethiopian distance runners who also utilize a crossover arm swing which must be relevant to their high mechanical efficiency.

The authors also found that arms did not contribute to drive. Therefore, arm pumping to accelerate when running is a waste of time because it’s a waste of energy. And, the classic arm carriage reduced the changes in forward velocity.

 

Obviously, no one told the Ethiopian runners about the classic style of arm carriage, and that is perfectly fine because they are better off without it.

In fact, most Ethiopian distance runners are unfamiliar with biomechanical descriptors such as vertical oscillation or vertical displacement of the center of mass, terms that are well understood in non-African elite distance runners because much of their training is centered around perfecting biomechanics. But, not for Ethiopian runners.

Ethiopian runners spend less time on perfecting each and every biomechanical parameter of running and instead, they just run, giving little if not any thought on arm carriage or arm swing.

Chances are, your self-selected arm carriage is highly efficient and will be similar to that of the self-selected arm carriage of the best runners in the world. So, if it feels right, do it.

Arm Carriage: Non-African vs East African
Most East African runners have a different style of arm carriage compared to non-African runners who utilize the classic style of arm carriage….. but how is that working out for them?

More on Forefoot Running Mechanics:


References:

Hinrichs, RN., Cavanagh, PR and Williams, KR. Upper Extremity Function in Running. I: Center of Mass and Propulsion Considerations. Int J Sport Biomech, 1987; 3(3):222-241.

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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