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  • Writer's pictureKely Kuhn PT

Arm Swing for a More Efficient Run

I'm excited to start using real volunteers to show how running analyses can help runners find new strategies that may improve their run and reduce injuries. Today, I am going to start looking at arm swing. Runners love to talk about heel striking and pronation, but often never give what their arms and upper body are doing a second thought. But the arm swing is an important part of running and should not be forgotten.

Arm swing is important for transferring energy from the upper body to the lower body to help propel the body forward. Thoracic, or upper back, rotation accompanies the arm swing while the hips stay relatively straight forward or counter rotated, causing a stretch-shortening cycle of the core that is like a plyometric. Energy is absorbed as we stretch and transferred as it contracts, assisting in propulsion. A runner who doesn't have a strong arm swing may compensate from another area.

The most common arm swing deviation is for the arms to swing way out to the side of the body and then cross over in front of the body, as show in the picture below. This runner seems to shrug her right shoulder as well to compensate. This is most likely due to a lack of ability to rotate through the thoracic spine - the upper back. She creates more motion at her arms to compensate for less motion at the spine, limiting the stretch-shortening cycle. This can contribute to changes in both foot-strike pattern and push-off as well.

Often times, runners are cued to just change the arm swing - "keep it in tight." This may be an inefficient strategy. If the runner is unable to rotate through the thoracic spine, changing the arm swing may take away a strategy that has been working for them and cause problems. Either leave it alone or work on the reason for the swing pattern - thoracic spine mobility.

First, we have to know if the runner has the mobility to rotate through the thoracic spine. I will use a seated rotation test to see if they can rotate. If a mobility limitation is noted, then motion can be improved with exercises.

Good Right Rotation mobility

Limited Left Rotation, note the trunk leaning and bending to compensate

I like to use the open book exercise or the child's pose rotation exercises to aid improving rotation.


If the runner can rotate through the spine but is not able to access the motion during their run, they may just need to feel the experience of running with rotation. This was the case for my volunteer. When tested she was able to rotate, but wasn't using the motion during her run. I had her run the first minute of her run with her hands behind her head, and then cued her to stop and not think about anything - "Just run." Her arm swing was greatly improved after just having the experience of feeling rotation.

Improved arm swing after rotation warm up, note how close the right arm is to the body.

Next time you are out for a run, take note of what your arms are doing. You might find one more thing you can work on to improve your run.


(2016, January 22). Stretch-Shortening Cycle | Science For Sport. Russia Today International. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from


This program, videos and content is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness or injury. It is for educational purposes only. If you chose to try any of the exercises presented here do so at your own risk. Please consult a physician before you start any new program.

Not every exercise is safe for everybody. Correct execution of all exercises is imperative to prevent injury. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have any questions about your exercise execution or if an exercise is right for you.

You are responsible for yourself and will not hold Kelly Kuhn or Kelly Kuhn Physical Therapy liable for any injury or illness.

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