Speed Development: The Role of Your Arms and Hands

In every sport played on two feet, there is always a need for speed.  Some individuals are born fast, with beautiful technique, but most of us can improve our speed with some good coaching.  Today we are looking at the role the arm and hands play in speed development.  These tips can be used on athletes of any age.

The Importance of Arms in Speed Development

Proper mechanics and good technique allows for smooth and coordinated movements that in turn create faster speeds.  The use of the arms is extremely important. Early in their development as sprinters, track athletes and runners begin to recognize the power of the arms and the speed and control that arm movement can bring to the process. When the arms are engaged, the body moves faster.

Proper arm form for speed developmentProper arm form for speed development

The Importance of Arm Swing

Just as important, a powerful arm swing reduces the necessary work and energy of the legs during the running process. This means the body can maintain the running motion longer. With the arms in motion, the chest opens up, the body relaxes, breathing comes more naturally, and forward momentum becomes easier to sustain.

The Importance of Arm Angle

The arm angle should be at 90 degrees and the arms need to be pumped forward and back, with the tip of the fingers moving from near the center of the hip at the bottom and coming up to the height of the nose.  Stay away from a side to side movement. Frequently, your athletes believe they are doing this motion correctly, but in reality their motion is significantly incorrect.

Speed Development: Arm Drill

A good drill to show them is to have a mirror, or a quick video on a phone, enabling them to see for themselves what their arms are doing. Another is to have them sit on the ground with their legs straight, giving them the opportunity to focus on the arm movement without the lower body engaged.

It is important that you are their eyes and correct them if they are not doing it efficiently.  Check their hands. If they are held tightly in a fist, have them open their hands to a relaxed position.  Making a tight fist tends to restrict the arm and chest movement making it harder to sprint efficiently.  You can work on these drills frequently.  It’s almost impossible to conduct this drill too many times during a daily or weekly training routine. Not to mention, the exercise actually fulfills two goals which can be adjusted based on team and individual needs.

  • First, the arms swing running drill helps athletes warm up and increase blood flow and range of motion before intense running sessions.
  • Second, it isolates the body and gives athletes a chance to focus on form and technique during the arm swing.


Once the arm motion is mastered then you can focus on combining the upper and lower body.  Focus on drills that will see the athlete increase their speed, consistent reminders on good body position, and using/feeling the arm motion as they accelerate and decelerate, which give them the kinesthetic awareness needed for speed improvement.

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