Track/XC Tips for Physical Education Class - Don't Flap the Hands When Running

Dick Moss

Inefficient Technique: 
Runner Flaps Her Hand 
as She Pulls it Backward
Inefficient Technique: Runner Flaps Her Hand as She Pulls it Backward
You'll often see athletes flap their hands when running. With their wrists pointing down, they allow their hands to flop as their arms move back and forth. Most claim it helps to keep their arms relaxed as they run. For others, it's simply an unconscious action.

However, this common technique is an error that can make runners less efficient. Here are two reasons why:

1. Longer Levers
According to basic physics, a longer lever is harder to move. Here's a demonstration. Have your students straighten their arms and swing them as fast as they can. On your signal, have them bend their arms to a 90 degree angle. With the arms bent, they will be able to swing much faster and with less effort. That's because the length of a bent arm is only the distance from the shoulder to the elbow--about half the length of a straight arm (see Long Arm Demonstration).

When the wrists are allowed to dangle, the length of the arm becomes the distance from the shoulder to the elbow, plus the distance from the wrist to the tips of the fingers (which are dangling below the level of the elbow). This lengthens the length of the lever that must be moved, making it slower and harder to swing.

2. Too Much Relaxation in the Biceps

Better Technique: Runner Keeps 
Thumb Up When Pulling Back.
Better Technique: Runner Keeps Thumb Up When Pulling Back.
When swinging the arms, the focus should be on the backward movement, not the forward swing. After all, it's the backward movement of the opposite arm that corresponds to the backward thrust of the drive leg, and that's where the propulsion comes from in running.

A good cue for the arm action is to focus on driving the elbows backward when swinging the arms.

The forward swing of the arms is a more relaxed movement, not a driving action. The forward swing should be initiated by an elastic stretching of the biceps and shoulder muscles as they reach the end of their backward range of motion. These muscles stretch and rebound the arm forward keeping it relaxed and saving energy.

And here's where paddling the hands can cause problems. Rotating the wrists so the palm faces down causes the biceps to relax. As a result, the biceps don't stretch as the arms are driven backward and can't contribute to initiating the forward swing of the arms. It's one case where too much relaxation isn't good!

1. Dick Moss, Editor, Physical Education Digest.

2. Loren Seagrave, "Neuro-Biomechanics of Maximum Velocity." A summary by Richie Mercado of a presentation to the NACACTFCA Congress in Costa Rica, October 1998. A posting by David Hegland to the Yahoo Supertraining list.


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