When learning any new sport there is a period of tension and compromised efficiency while motor skills are learned. With practice, and as the skills steadily improve, it requires less and less effort to recall and perform the motions.
The best tips for improving relaxation in the short term are to:
- Keep the facial and eye muscles, particularly the jawbone, loose (let it drop freely).
- Relax the leg muscles and gently flex the ankle (toes towards the shin) during the forward swing phase after the push off.
- Avoid raising or tightening the shoulders.
- Keep the arms, wrists, hands, and fingers relaxed and unrestrained.
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Keeping the arms relaxed but functionally coordinated is most effective for running. Many athletes think the arms help you drive forward, but this is not so for endurance runners. They do, however, provide balance and are in tempo with the movement of the legs.
Here are a few basic tips to follow:
- The arms should not cross over the center of the body as this may result in too much side-to-side motion.
- Your arms should be loosely flexed with the elbows at about 90 degrees.
- Your elbows should be close to the sides of your body (but not touching) as they move downward past the hip.
- Think of gently pulling the elbow straight back.
- Bring your hand and forearm up parallel with the middle of your chest (but do not move your arms across your body), then lead with your elbow down and back toward (and past) your hip.
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Some runners hold their arms too low. Olympic distance runner Ryan Hall is a good example. Not only does this awkward position use a lot of energy, it tenses the muscles. Hall is an amazing runner, but it’s easy to spot this odd technique. It might be better to bring the arms up into a relaxed position.
There is a sweet spot at about a 90-degree angle, where the forearms are just above parallel with the ground. You’ll know when you’ve found the right position because it feels relatively comfortable to hold the arms this way.
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