Arm speed

Would the speed of your arms make you run faster?people keep telling me to move my arms as fast as i can and the legs will do the rest and i’ve not tried it but what if any effects would it have on my sprinting speed?

Why haven’t you tried it? Try everything first, then ask questions.

“If you make your arms go faster, the legs will do the rest” is a proverb that existed when I was a boy, and probably long before. They could equally have said “If you make your legs go faster, the arms will do the rest”.
What this simple-minded advice means in practice is shortening the range of the arm action, and hence shortening the range of the leg action. The result is a faster but shorter stride. Which isn’t necessarily a good bargain. You’ll get a better practical result by concentrating on moving the arms with more force, rather than more speed. And what that needs is strong abdominal muscles to counter the large torsional effects. Have you got those? If not, go and get some.

Then you will find both the arms and the legs contributing to a more powerful thrust to the track. They might not be going any faster than they were before, in cycles per second, but you will be going faster - in metres per second. And that’s the only desirable result.


should it have a certain feeling?and your sure it will make you go faster?

The feeling is one of using the arms as drivers. Untrained and unskilled sprinters too often use them as mere balancing devices, flailing around to no great effect. You must develop a disciplined and piston-like action that goes straight backwards and forwards, with only a slight cross-body movement. You must also be mobile enough in the shoulders to take the full range. Otherwise the elbow starts sticking out to the side on the back-swing and the shoulder gets hunched forward. Become flexible enough so that you could pose in front of a mirror with your arm fully back, with the upper arm parallel to the ground, without any feeling of cramping up or hunching in the shoulder joint.

Do that for a few months, together with the strength work on the transverse abdominals (which take the strain of the action), and that will be worth any amount of the old “make your arms go faster” nonsense. Sprinting isn’t a conjuring trick; it’s a matter of careful, systematic work that makes the different parts of the sprinting machine act with more force and efficiency.

Curious as to why you think the “transverse abdominals” preferentially take the strain of the action?

Stand in your socks on the kitchen floor, or any smooth floor. Stand on one foot. Punch your left arm forwards, and your right arm back. Notice how your foot swivels sharply. That’s the torsional force produced by the action, something that will happen in sprinting - clockwise and counter-clockwise, in rapid alternation.

The muscles needed to hold the pelvis steady against the upper body are those that could be called the “twisting muscles”, which turn the upper trunk against the lower and vice versa. They connect the rib cage to the pelvis, and are positioned diagonally across the abdominal area.

To brace against the rotational forces generated by the arms, those transverse abdominals will need to be not just strong, but also capable of rapid reversal. So bear that in mind when choosing training drills to develop them. They must work at speed.


could you expand on this?
what do you mean by drills? and do you mean that these drill should be done fast?


so moving my arms harder isnt gonna help at first?

during the first 10m the focus should be on a powerful and fast arm drive, otherwise just relax and let it flow.

read through…

hope it helps!

That sounds better. I thought you were talking about the transverse abdominus, not the transverse abdominals.

Ditto! Thanks for the clarification Pat!

It’s my belief that they should be done fast, yes. Or, at any rate, you should move towards speed as soon as possible. For instance, since you’re asking about drills, there is one I devised for myself, which is to do the arm action alone. You stand on the spot, preferably in front of a mirror, so that you can continually check yourself for balance and symmetry, and start moving your arms slowly and in a very relaxed and rhythmic way. You’re thinking about letting the arms be loose, with no tension in the shoulders. Think of them as swinging pendulums. Then gradually increase the pace, but without tensing up, continually checking in the mirror to see that there is no hunching of the shoulders. Try to carry the relaxed attitude you had at low speeds into higher speeds.

Although speed is the ultimate object, speed is unfortunately the worst condition under which to learn anything. It’s often useful to work up through lower speeds, for the purpose of instilling technical accuracy - low shoulders, upright body, economical use of the muscles generally. If you can habituate yourself to those things when the action is slow, they are much more likely to hold up as the action gets faster.

And you then have to be aware of what forces are generated, which you probably won’t notice at low speeds. I’ve already mentioned torsional or twisting forces. In this drill, those only become noticeable as speed rises. You suddenly begin to notice tension in your legs. But that’s a necessary muscular counter-force to brace the body against the twisting action produced by the arms. Ditto the abdominals, which have to worker harder as the drill gets faster. That tension is okay. Putting your body into a crouch (which I’ve often seen sprinters doing when they run on the spot) - that’s not okay. So it’s often a question of thinking carefully about what forces are being generated so that you can identify which muscles should be used and which should not.

But of course a drill like that could not be called a muscular-development drill until it’s working at high speed. So it’s part technical, part muscular. But there’s no doubt that when done at high speed, it’s quite an exacting exercise, and will place plenty of burden on the abdominal muscles, which have to continually reverse themselves if they’re to hold the body steady. It’s an abdominal drill all by itself - and perfectly fitted to the action too. It fulfils the demands of what is usually called the Principle of Specificity. That means, roughly, “train the muscles for what they have to do, not for what they don’t have to do”. In other words, do drills that most closely resemble what you have to do on the track. If you have to act at speed, do the drills at speed, at least eventually.


I should have said “obliques”. A quick Google search tells me the other one is the “transversus abdominis”, which isn’t involved in sprinting (I don’t think). Or if it is, it isn’t because of anything the arms are doing.


It would help immediately, if you aren’t pumping them hard enough at the moment. But obviously to do a more thorough job you want to focus on them off the track, using weights (if you like weights) or else doing drills such as the one I outlined in my answer to Nikoluski.


PMB wrote:

You must develop a disciplined and piston-like action that goes straight backwards and forwards, with only a slight cross-body movement. You must also be mobile enough in the shoulders to take the full range.

What good are full range in the shoulders if you restrict their movement by not having any cross-body movement?

Cross-body movement is no value in itself. It doesn’t contribute. But we have to have some, just in order to compensate for the fact that our feet do not land directly in front of each other, but maybe six inches on either side of an imaginary line running down the track in front of us. What that means is that we move from side to side as we run. The arms act as a balancing mechanism, counteracting these lateral forces.

But if you have too much lateral arm-movement, what happens is the reverse - the legs start compensating for the arms. They start landing even further apart than before. That’s okay in the acceleration phase when we need a wide stance anyway, but it’s not an efficient way of running at top speed. The amount of zig-zag should be kept to a minimum.


I agree with what you say about too much lateral arm-movement, but trying to restrict it by forcing a piston-like action sounds just as bad to me. In what top-sprinters do you see this?

Most have their hands come very close to the centerline, like these two:

Well, when I said piston-like, I really meant something quite tight and regular, as opposed to the kind of disorganised flailing that you get from some trainee sprinters. Although we’re bound to have some sideways action, the productive part is that part that goes straight backwards and forwards. So the more you can trim down the angles, the better.

The question is, how much lateral movement is too much and how much is just enough. Unfortunately your clip closes off our view of the sprinters’ feet too soon for us to get a good look at how far apart their feet are landing, and how that changes as the race progresses. But if the movement of their heads from side to side is anything to go by, I would say that Greene has more lateral movement to begin with. Powell looks better. But as the speed rises, Greene’s lateral movement diminishes, and after two dozen strides it’s Powell who is showing more. He is in fact rocking from side to side.

If we agree that lateral movement generally is not desirable beyond some necessary minimum, it has to be recognized that it’s intimately connected to the angling of the arms. For the same amount of movement, I’d expect Powell to have less lateral arm swing, because his arms are longer. A shorter man has to swing wider to get the same force. We would expect some pretty wide swinging during acceleration when the sprinters are planting their feet well out to the side of the body, but it looks to me that Greene gets more efficient as he gets faster. The diminishing movement of his head suggests that his feet are starting to land closer together, and his arm angles are being trimmed down to match. Powell doesn’t show the same progression. He seems to be swinging as wide at the finish as he was at the start. I also suspect that he’d be swinging wider than that if he wasn’t using his trunk to counter lateral forces that are better left to the arms to deal with. That rocking motion must be slowing him down.


i don’t see much advantages by trying to speed up the drills themselves; speed work is there for it

side-to-side movement is different to that close the centre line; arms coming close to the centre line is desirable because -if sufficient flexibility is there- it allows the pelvis to twist slightly and it allows the feet to land one in front of the other, running the race -after accel- on a line, gaining cm along the way

there used to be a video of Flo (front from Seoul); try and find it and watch out for her knees…