Many athletes and coaches tend to think that arm drive is the magic solution to sprint faster. It’s not, although it does provide a strong secondary support role but nowhere close to your lower body, which is primarily responsible for speed.
You would not even move if it weren’t for your legs creating Ground Reaction Force (GRF). To illustrate the need for arm drive, just simply run with your arms behind your back. You might not hit your top speed, but you can certainly run. Enough said.
Based on my research, both Latiff Thomas and Charlie Francis have nailed down where our shoulders, elbows and hands need to be in order for us to have an advantage in speed. Our arms and legs do in fact work together, so any motion or lack of motion from your arms will influence how your legs operate.
So while arm drive isn’t the be-all-end-all for speed, a proper arm drive helps to optimize your speed. For example, if our arms rotate too high forward or too far back there will be wasted motion, time and a delay in our leg drive resulting in slower acceleration.
When we think about our arms, we need to think 90/90, meaning that our upper and lower arm needs to form a 90-degree angle at the elbow to allow for rapid and efficient arm action rotating forward and back through a sprint. This is a rough estimate for the majority of the arm swing, except when the rear arm practically straightens out prior to when it accelerates forward. Historically, coaches and trainers encouraged athletes to sprint and drive the arms and hands to eye level going forward, and making sure the elbow arrives behind the torso when rotating back. Think eye socket to hip pocket.
Next is the direction of the arm drive. Many coaches preach keeping the elbows in throughout, but it’s wrong. If you have to perform something in a conscious state, then you can be assured that it will not occur in competition when focus naturally becomes altered. This effect is natural and there is no need to mess with it. To help explain why you want the arms to cross just envision or actually practice a Close-Grip Bench Press and a Wide-Grip Bench Press. Obviously the wide grip is stronger and a more explosive pattern that is similar to the arm cross.
The bottom line: don’t focus too much on arm drive. The proper arm drive pattern is naturally ingrained into our nervous system and we shouldn’t fight it. Just make sure not to roll your wrists over like many athletes are guilty of doing, and focus on building an extremely strong and powerful upper body in the weight room. The rest will take care of itself!
For more tips on speed training, check out my Speed Encyclopedia, which features a comprehensive research-based speed training system for athletes and coaches.