One of the most common problems we see in running and indeed walking is the tendency to not use the arms effectively. Many people seem to just not know what to with the arms.
Although the arms contribute only a small amount directly in propelling us forward, they are massively important in the rhythm of movement, helping to both create and limit rotation in the upper body.
One of the most common problems I see is what I call ‘wooden arms’. Clients who have tended to not use their arms before in locomotion, suddenly discover them but don’t know how to swing them loosely and naturally, but instead bring them through straight and tense with tight fingers and wrists and elbows locked out. They will often point the fingers rigidly like a piston.
In truth this is a problem that relates to the whole arm lines of fascia, chest and back, running from the pecs and back all the way over the shoulders and down to the fingers. Tightness and inbalance anywhere along those lines creates a multitude of problems.
If the shoulders are hunched and rounded forward due to sitting, devices, bag carrying, desk work etc. then imbalance occurs – we see palms rotated inwards, elbows permanently flexed etc. You only need to make a tight fist with your hand to feel the reality and the oneness of these connections. You will immediately feel the whole line engage and the shoulders come forward. Relax the fist and feel it all fall back again. Many people have this mechanism permanently engaged to some degree, making it hard to relax the arms while moving, be it walking or running. So we get the ‘wooden arms’ effect.
If you are one of these people, you could start by practising walking letting your arms swing completely freely and energetically. Many will feel self-conscious doing this – an illustration of how much our feelings of defensiveness towards the world become locked up in our fascia and make it difficult to function effectively. Think about keeping thumbs facing forward as you walk, as this will take your shoulders down and back into an externally rotated, strong and stable position. It will also open up your chest to let you breathe properly. Walk briskly with this posture, taking long strides and fully liberating the arms to do what they naturally desire. Make sure feet are forward and push the big toes into the ground with every step. This should start to engage the core musculature and begin firing up the powerful glutes.
In this way you connect feet to core to arm swing and can walk effortlessly at a good pace for long periods. There should be very little muscular effort – you are just loading up the fascia with the ground reaction forces (think kangaroo!) Then releasing that energy like a catapult. This is great for the long fascial lines of the body, helping to keep everything lubricated and loosening stiff joints.
Note also that if you merely try to swing the arms harder whilst retaining the hunched shoulders, you will flare the elbows out to the side and over-rotate, which is very inefficient. You need to drop the shoulders down and back, open up the chest (useful when you’re hoping to breathe) and THEN let the arms free.
Just try it and feel the difference.
Whoever would have thought that we needed to be taught to walk all over again! As the saying goes, ‘don’t run before you can walk’.
Get in touch if you need help with this – it is a prerequisite for human performance in my opinion.
The order of development should be;
- Learn how to stand on two legs well (i.e. good standing posture)
- Learn how to walk efficiently.
- Address mobility and muscle imbalances.
Only then can we start to look at building strength, speed, power, agility, depending on what you are looking to achieve. To try to achieve any of these without focusing first on those three stages is, in my opinion, asking for injury and certainly inhibiting performance massively.