Ahhhh, moving the clocks forward givess us that extra hour of light at the end of the day. A perfect hour for an evening walk. That's what I thought as I went for my first week-night walk in the sun-lit evening. I walked instead of blogging. You can give me grief when you see me next, but, I really don't feel that badly, I hate to admit. It's hard to feel bad when walking gives me all those endorphins. You should try it. So, I'm out walking and noticing many new folks out along the beach path, good for them! After witnessing this I decided on today's topic. The arm swinging thing.
Take a closer look at the arm motion of your fellow walkers next time you have a chance. There are arms that don't move at all, and arms that swing right to left instead of front to back. There can be one tight arm that moves less than the other, and my favorite, those trying to work their arms extra hard by holding weights. Wow! It's an arm buffet, I tell you. Believe it or not, arm swing is an extremely important part of a natural gait pattern, and when digitally analyzing gait, you can tell a lot about shoulder and spine injuries-in-the-making just by watching what the arms are doing.
Why do our arms swing when we walk?
The best, most muscle-building, calorie utilizing, metabolism enhancing, heart strengthening, and blood circulating gait pattern is one that is smooth and symmetrical. All of your body mass is moving in one direction - forward. Think of the bouncy walker. It does look pretty cute, I'll admit, right up until you open up the knee and hip joints and see what that bounce does to the cartilage in the joint. Ouch.
When you walk forward, it is supposed to be due to the fact that one leg pushes off behind you (most people lift a leg out and fall forward, but that's a different blog). So now you have your right leg behind you, pushing back. That large quantity of mass (our legs make up quite a bit of our body weight) can tend to twist your pelvis around, creating torque on your spine. There needs to be something to balance out the twisting tendency walking creates on the spine. The easiest thing to do is reach the arm back on the opposite side of the body, to help balance the twist. It's called reciprocal arm swing. The opposite sides of the body reach back at the same time, an arm on one side and a leg on the other. A backward reaching arm is not only great for reducing overuse of the spine, it is a nature-designed workout for the backs of the upper arm. Awesome! Lifting the arm up behind you keeps your tricep muscles toned and the armpit lymph free. If you thought three sets of 12 tricep exercises with a 5 pound weight were effective, just wait until you use your arms correctly when walking. It tones those arms right up!
When you are out walking, you are going to see another strange phenomenon. People are lifting their arms out in front of them because they think that makes means they are working harder and burning more calories. Sorry! Pumping your arms out in front creates extra tension in the front of the shoulders, muscles that are usually already super tight and fatigued from computering, driving, and sitting all day. The tighter the muscle, the less calories it burns. This forward motion tenses the trapezius and neck muscles too. And, if you aren't swinging your arms behind you when you walk, there is nothing to help balance of the torque created by the leg moving back, either. Nothing except the muscles in the lower back. Anyone our there have weak triceps (back of the upper arm) and a tight lower back? Don't make your low back muscles do the work for your arms. You'll end up with a shoulder issues and a lumbar disk degeneration. Arms swing side to side? This is an indication that your chest and shoulders have gotten so tight, the bones have rotate forward. Really pay close attention to keeping your arm swing in forward-pointing parallel lines to your body.
One more thing. Bending the arms at the elbows to mimic speed and walkers actually reduces the energy you expend during a bout of walking. Race-walkers are trying to minimize their energy expenditure so they can go very fast for a very long time. Want to ramp up the kcals burned during your next walk? Rupunzle, Rapunzle, let down your arms.
Exercise: Stand and let your arms relax down by your sides. Lift one arm behind you, one at a time, to see how high you can get it (don't twist the hips or shoulders, that's cheating). Let it drop downforward. It will swing out a little in front as you drop it, but don't do any extra work to get it up higher. The work of your arms while walking should always be behind you. They relax when they come forward.
Really working a fully extended (no bending elbows!) arm while walking is going to change everything about your daily walk. You'll get much more out of it, including increased metabolic and strength benefits.
P.S. You can't swing both your arms if you are talking on your cell phone, now can you? HANDS FREE!