Running gets written off as a leg-centric sport, and for good reason: pounding the pavement demands a lot of your quads, hamstrings, and hips. What people often forget, though, is that a powerful arm swing can shave seconds (or even minutes!) off your race pace. So to get your full body on board for lightning-fast miles, trainers recommend a little something called the “hip to lip” method to teach you how to swing your arms while running.
“A proper arm swing counterbalances and stabilizes the body,” says Melissa Wolfe, a coach at New York City’s Mile High Run Club. “While one leg is driving upwards ahead of us and the opposite arm is driving back behind us—and vice versa. That balance is enabling us to move forward in a straight line.” When you drive your elbows back powerfully and then swing your arms up beside your face (the “hip to lip” method), your lower body reacts by kicking your heels up higher and creating a more forceful stride. “For sprint pacing, when we pump our arms faster our legs will also follow with a faster turnover.”
Wolfe tells me that everyone’s body and running form is unique, but generally, two things will get in your way of performing the hip to lip swing. First, your arms should be swinging forward. “If you had an imaginary line down the center of your body, you’d want to keep your arms and hands from crossing to the other side,” says Wolfe. “If you cross that midline you’ll end up twisting out of your hips and shoulders which costs energy and makes your run less efficient.”
Wolfe’s second no-no is one you likely see all the time. “Clenched hands! Let that tension go and keep your hands loose! When you dig your fingers into your palms you’re gripping tension, and that will travel upwards into your shoulders and neck, which will feed it right back down through your body. Run confidently and powerfully without allowing any of that to translate into tension,” she says. Sprinting already introduces a lot of tension into your body, so there’s really no need to make it worse—right?
Bearing those two things in the back of your mind, Wolfe recommends doing a quick check-in before you get down to this running business. “When I need to check in on my arms, I take 15 to 30 seconds of getting my thumbs to come in contact with my hipbones as my arms swing back,” she says. “That’s a good physical contact checkpoint to make sure the arms are being pulled back efficiently.”
If you feel your thumbs brushing against the waistband of our leggings then see them whiz past your face, you’re doing it right, runner! You could go for miles and miles.
Test out your new arm swing skills with a 15-minute treadmill workout:
Here are a bunch more interval running workouts to get you sweating, and the reason why a cardiologist has run three marathons.