When I first saw Eadweard Muybridge’s famous photos of this runner, I was struck by the low arm carriage, which I at first assumed might have been a running style of his time. But the more that I have studied arm carriage in today’s runners (myself included), the more I see how very good this runner’s arm movement really is.
Here is another video, this time of some of today’s top sprinters, Usain Bolt amongst them:
Of course these runners are going much faster than Muybridge’s runner is, so the amplitude of their arm swings is much greater and, thus, in accord with their longer strides. However, note the marked similarity of arm carriage to that of Muybridge’s runner. Note how Bolt and friends move their hands well below hip level on back-swing and it is only on fore-swing that we see a large difference. This difference is more amplitude — fuller extension of the leg rearward requires more corresponding forward arm swing — and there is a marked hinging of the arms at the elbow, which gives a sprinter more lift at the end of his stride — throwing the hand’s weight upwards along the line of forward inclination extends the arc of the running stride [The Arc of the Running Stride]. Slow these modern sprinters down, and they would resemble Muybridge’s runner.
Note that, in spite of low arm carriage, Mubybridge’s runner makes good use of the weight of his arms. The distance traveled by his hands is quite reasonable, especially when compared with runners who have very high arm carriage with elbows locked near 90 degrees. Also note the forward lean of Muybridge’s runner, allowing him to extend his leg in line with his trunk, which is the line of most power in leg extension. Runners who don’t use appropriate forward lean tend to compensate by, among other things, very high arm carriage. They are, in essence, trying to compensate for poor form by lifting arm weight upwards.
High arm carriage, with fisted hands and locked elbows, is symptomatic of restriction in the neck and upper back. High-handed runners are usually those with tight necks and shoulders, who lead with their chests. A runner whose forward movement is led by a lengthened spine, one inclined forwards to determine the degree of leg extension appropriate to the desired speed, will have correspondingly dropped arms (and vice-versa, as balling the hands into fists and pumping the arms will cause the neck to tighten). I think that trying to emulate Muybridge’s runner, leaning well forward and letting the arms drop, is a worthwhile way to build awareness of unwanted effort.