Updated: Nov 16, 2019
For as long as I can remember now, coaches in any sports realm have been advocating keeping the elbows tucked to run faster. Unfortunately, this information is both misleading and counterproductive when the goal is faster. Last night, I had the mom of an athlete I train encourage her daughter to practice an elbow tuck, per the request of her club track and field coach. I will be honest that I'm still a little amazed that this kind of information is being passed around, and right now, I would like to quickly clear this myth up for you once and for all.
So where exactly are the arms suppose to go when we sprint? In the video of Zach below, take note of how his arms separate from his torso as they wind up for the next arm drive. The reason this is important is that the action will direct arm action forward during the follow-through, and it results in the immediate recruitment of stronger muscles (pecs, lats, etc.). A simple analogy that I use to paint a clearer picture is envision someone performing a standard bench press versus a closed grip variation. Which is stronger? Obviously, the standard variation by at least 25-50% if you track athletes lift numbers. If we take that information and apply it too sprinting, it will yield far greater force output and effort from the arms, which will drive the athlete forward much faster than with the elbows in.
Secondly, it requires far too much conscious effort to be effective. Athletic movement is raw, natural, and highly intuitive. There are times where we want to modify the way an athlete moves, but this isn't it. Let the arms go where they naturally wish too and strengthen the muscles that are doing so in the process, and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Last but not least, our body has a built-in power reflex called "The Cross Extensor Reflex." CAR is the action of the arms in legs moving in opposing directions of one another. So as you feed the arm in one direction, it will create a mutual reaction from the legs plus the individual legs effort. In other words, more arm action leads to more guaranteed leg action and faster-running speeds. An athlete can attempt to stay in as much as they want, but ultimately sprinting is a sub-conscious task when it counts. And that time is on the field and in competition in the face of high stress and opposition. For more detailed information on arm drive mechanics, check out my book which has an entire section dedicated to arm drive and a dozen other essential sprinting techniques: