Improve your Running Form and Gain Free Speed


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You’d be surprised by how much good running form can help you run faster. Let’s be honest. We all want to run faster, but most people dislike what that means. Sessions at the track appeal only to the most masochistic amongst us. 

What if I told you that most runners can get faster without doing any extra work? You’d probably call me a liar or a snake-oil salesman. But you’d be wrong.

The solution is simple

The solution to better and faster running is simple…FIX YOUR ARMS! In all seriousness, arm swing has a big impact on your speed. That’s it. Fix your running form, specifically, your arms and hands, and you’ll be faster. You can stop reading this post now.

Ok, maybe I should explain it a little more.

Four steps to good running form

1. Keep hands loose

Efficient running form requires that you be relaxed, and it starts with your hands. This isn’t hockey. You don’t need to be ready to throw down at any minute, so relax those fists.

Imagine that you are holding potato chips between your thumb and index finger, and breaking those chips would ruin your day. Try to squeeze a potato chip and not break it. It doesn’t work so well. A soft touch goes a long way in relaxing your body all the way up to your neck.

2. No fist-pumping

Now that you have relaxed hands, let’s try not to go “Jersey Shore” and spend all day fist pumping. Your hand movement should not be straight forward and back. Your hands should move in an arch from your hip to below your nipple line. 

The actual height can vary, depending on how hard you are running and the elbow angle (we’ll hit that next).  The main point is that your hands should not extend forward. They should swing like a pendulum.

3. Hold the elbow angle

Because we already determined that you don’t need to be ready to fight, you don’t need to practice hammering with your hands, so let’s get rid of that next.

Before you take your first step, bend the elbows to 90 degrees or even a little tighter if that is more comfortable. Once you set the angle, keep it that way. There is no need to straighten your arm when running.  That just interferes with the speed of the arm swing, which affects your steps per minute.

Your legs cannot go at a faster turnover rate than your arms can swing.  If you don’t believe me, try it. If you do try it, please post a video of you doing it in the comments below for some good comedy.

Changing the elbow angle makes your arm swing cycle faster or slower, depending on whether you open your arm during your swing.

Ian Murray running IM 70.3Ian Murray running IM 70.3

4. Don’t cross your body

Now that you have a good elbow angle, and your arms are swinging, focus on how they are swinging. For best running form, swing them from the elbow, backwards and forwards.

When swinging from the hands, people tend to cross their hands over their body’s center line, causing the torso to slightly rotate left and right. That’s not efficient and will slow you down.

The torso rotation and cross-body swing makes you move left and right only a few inches with each step, but it adds up.  Runners average between 1000 and 1500 steps per mile, so a few inches each step can mean running hundreds of feet more per race mile than necessary. 

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do is add extra distance to a marathon, especially if you are targeting a Boston Qualifying Time.  That’s just crazy talk!

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Following the four steps above will make you a more efficient runner and give you free speed.  Will it cut an hour off of your marathon time or make you an Olympic-level miler? Maybe. Ok, probably not, but it can definitely save you minutes. 

Even for a 10K, it can keep you from running an additional 300 meters.  That’s over a minute saved for a fast runner with poor arm swing, and much more for us mortals. 

In conclusion, before you start your next run, check your hands and work on your swing. Before you know it, people will mistake you for Shalane Flannigan.


ok so now i am looking at photos LOL. arms are crossing. i learnt last year to not do this and am more conscious of it. this photo is 2017 and i hurt here… when the form falls apart

is this bend ok?

at the moment with my weaker running legs i feel like using my arms to swing out of tree branches LOL. some great tips in there

easy to think about. A few years back G showed me to hold my thumb and index a bit like i am meditating. it DOES keep the body more relaxed. i do this when i am anxious racing and remember!

i will keep working on the rest thanks a mill


The arm bend is fine. Mine changes with the effort of my running. The faster I am going, the faster the turnover, and thus, the smaller the angle between my forearm and upper arm. The smaller angle leads to a faster cycle which allows the legs to turnover faster.


@Coach_Ian for some of the running workouts in the lab, it lists warm up drills like blade runners and striders. Are striders just all out 100m sprints? What’s a blade runner?




Striders are not all-out 100m sprints. They are progressive builds over the 100m. Think of it as shifting gears in a car. Starting very easy, you will slowly accelerate up to about 95%, which you should hit at about the 90-meter mark. Then, let off the gas and slow naturally. Jog/walk back to the start and repeat.

As for the drills, here is a video for you. When my video producer returns from her trip, we’ll get a new one done.


Cool, thanks for the video and clarification on Striders.


I am working on thinking about where my hands swing. But, then I looked at pictures and realize my hands were close to my body, but my elbows are sticking way out. So now I am trying to keep my elbows in and also do more stretching as have tight shoulders.


Brigid Kosgei: arm and body rotation, heel strike and apparently no nutrition in 2nd half of the marathon and look at what she achieved! just goes to show we can over analyse things


i second you on this. tight pec/ shoulder seems to do the same for me. elbows out a little but hands move close to body


have you considered race walking??? :star_struck::stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


Yes and no. By the end of the race she had some trunk rotation. If you watch her hands, though, her left hand never crossed the center line of her body. By 40K, her left arm had started to chicken wing pretty bad, but her actual torso rotation wasn’t horrible. It was more of a tightening up of her shoulder. As for heel-striking, it’s important to remember the difference between the heel as a contact point vice a heel strike. Kosgei’s heel is the first contact point, but her weight doesn’t actually go onto the foot until it is under her hips with a flat foot. Technically, I would call that mid-sole striking as the weight-bearing doesn’t occur until then. But, you are correct, @cullenac, we can overanalyze things sometimes, and if you can run a sub-2:20 marathon, you don’t need to listen to anyone on your form.