Running Technique – Are your arms holding you back?

Mar 3, 2022

Our Arms are extremely innovated parts of our body. This can lead to some weird and wonderful running techniques. Let’s look at what we can modify at the arms, to improve our overall flow and running technique!

What do I mean by innovated?! Well, in this case I’m referring to neural pathways. Whether you sit at a desk and type all day, or chop wood for a living, you are using your arms and hands constantly. As a consequence, they like to sit in comfortable positions that they are used to. This can translate to your running, resulting in little-no movement, excessive movement, or wild octopus arms. This blog will take you through a few basic techniques to improve your arm drive.

  • Rigid arms.
  • Bicep flexors.
  • Twisters.
  • Sprinters.
  • Individuality.

In an absolute ideal world! A runner’s elbow should be locked off at an angle somewhere between 70-90 degrees all dependent on personal comfort. The arms should sit comfortably at the side of the body facing forwards, and within the leg cycle the arms should drive forwards without rotation. A good guide for drive distance is when your arm comes forwards it is level or just below the line of your chin. On the reverse it should come to the mid line of your body or level with the pocket. A good runner will be able to dictate their running pace and rhythm, by increasing or decreasing the speed of their arm drive. They also keep you in a straight line, preventing twisting at the upper and lower body. Let’s now go through a few types of runners you will see out on the streets.

Rigid Arms

Often we see this in trathlets, or populations who have a significantly high training load. They can be tight throughout their body and have certain restrictions that lead to a stiff torso. You will have seen these runners out and about. Often their arms are quite open, with an elbow angle of well over 100 degrees, and their whole upper body seems to move as one piece. They are not traditional twisters with arms like these, and can be excellent runners putting out good times. However this kind of rotation usually occurs and the hip and sacroiliac joint. In terms of risk, this puts a significant amount of strain on the lower back and discs. There is also great energy expenditure as your obliques and other muscles around the stomach are constantly moving through range (lengthening and shortening). An ideal would be these muscles stabilising the trunk so that you can focus on moving efficiently at the arms and legs. Often those with rigid arms will be struggling with upper body restrictions in the pecs, lats or around the shoulder – we will go through thoracic restrictions in a later blog.

Bicep Flexors

Bicep flexors can fall into two categories. They can have octopus arms, constantly looking like they are reaching out in front of them and far behind them – essentially all their arm movement is coming from the elbow. Or they can be tricky to spot from a coaching perspective. Sometimes the arms look compact and technically sound, however in reality they are just gently extending their elbows within acceptable ranges whereas the shoulders are actually very still and could be used more. 

Either way it presents an interesting challenge as one type needs to cut movement at the elbow and the shoulder movement might be acceptable, whereas the other needs far less work on the elbow, and an increased shoulder movement to hit our ideals.


Traditional arm twisters may have restrictions and tightness in the pecs, be struggling with core strength in the abdomen and glutes, or be twisting through simple habits. They are easy to spot, if you put a pane of glass down the midline of the body, they would be punching it to pieces with every stride. The arms are usually locked in a good technical position, however the runners shift from side to side, and rotate at the upper body. This arm rotation is often mimicked at the legs with crossing over the midline in stride. A simple analogy is like running on a catwalk or tightrope. An efficient runner steps on tramlines, foot underneath knee, knee underneath hip.

Once the issue is isolated, a few added strength exercises, tissue releases or technical tweaks can get improvements extremely quickly.


Just to highlight a difference in sprinting technique and distance running. As mentioned in our RL video series, sprinters will almost fully extend their elbow and drive their arms well out in front and behind the body. This not only improves their power and speed, but lengthens their stride. Making them more powerful and efficient over a shorter distance. Although the leg cycle is extremely similar with small exaggerations, this is a notable difference in arm drive.


I know it can all sound very prescribed. However arm technique training is often a guidance and will vary distinctly between people. This is due to the amount of neural pathways and use everybody’s arms get in different ways. Working on a few basic tips will help get you in better shape for distance running and help protect your body, but it is ok to have your own little quirks and eccentricities when you run. This is seen all the way from amateur to professional level when analysing arm drive technique.


  1. Arms are innovate – making everyone a little different which is great!
  2. Ideal arms come through straight from pocket to chin with an elbow angle of 70-90 degrees.
  3. Restrictions in the upper body, lack of strength, and personal lifestyle all impact your arm drive.
  4. Although we coach changes, you will always have something a little bit unique in your arm drive.

Improve Arm Form to Release the Potential in Your Technique