Most people will tell you that you should swing your arms forward for maximum efficiency. This is why they are wrong.
Take a look at these two videos:
Skip to about 1:20 on this clip:
What do you notice about these two clips? Particularly the arm swing…
Hmm, weird…their arm swing is lateral (side to side) rather than linear (forward and back).
I would say that both of these skaters are pretty good…so why in the world are (well-meaning) coaches preaching the value of the linear arm swing?
Intuitively, the linear arm swing seems to make sense, because the energy or momentum from the arms will (seem to) move linearly. A lateral arm swing will (seem to) decrease forward momentum by wasting energy that is going side to side.But let’s take a look at the role of the arms in generating linear movement.
The role of the arm swing in a running stride is NOT to generate linear displacement. The role of the arm swing during a broad jump (when both arms swing forcefully forward) is to help generate linear displacement. The role of the arm swing in a running stride, however, is to off-set the power generated by the legs. Every time your left leg drives forward, your right arm drives forward to OFF-SET to momentum generated by your left leg. Your left leg’s ability to generate power is limited by your ability to have a strong right arm swing. If you didn’t swing your right arm, you’d just end up going in a circle.
To demonstrate this, try walking at a brisk pace with your hands behind you back. Now try walking at a brisk pace allowing your arms to move naturally. Which feels easier? When your arms swing naturally, you can more easily walk in a straight line…and faster too. The same thing goes for your running stride.
So do arms all of a sudden become linear force producers with a skating stride?
Their job remains the same: to off-set the legs.
Due to the nature of the skating stride, a good portion of your legs’ force production must occur laterally (in order to grip the ice – see the above videos). As such, your arms must swing laterally with force in order to OFF SET the lateral force production of the legs.
If your arms do not swing laterally with enough force, your body will be forced to compensate by reducing the power output of the legs.
Again, to demonstrate…go grab a pair of skates, and try skating with no arm swing, lateral arm swing, and linear arm swing. Which is easiest the arm swing that makes it easiest to skate fast? The lateral arm swing! You’ll find that your body naturally dials down its power output from the legs in order to stay in a straight line if you’re using no arm swing or a linear one. (Think of why skaters with pucks are slower than skaters without pucks)
But then why do we see the best skaters come back from (a certain camp in the Okanagan) with a great linear arm swing?
I will admit that I went to this camp from Atom-PeeWee, and came back with a GREAT linear arm swing. However, I was very athletic and already a very strong skater.
I see the same pattern with other skaters who are very athletic, who go to the camp, and then maintain the forward arm swing: they are so athletic that they can maintain a completely unnatural arm swing.
If you send a crappy, unathletic skater to this camp, I guarantee that after 2 weeks their linear arm swing will disappear and they will return to a less effortful arm swing.
In my eyes, the best skaters who go to this camp and come back with the best linear arm swing were already the best skaters before attending the camp…and the only ones capable of maintaining such an arm swing. They then go back to their home associations and get looked at as the ideal by which all parents and coaches compare the other kids to.
Final Note: Path of Least Resistance vs Natural Movement
The term “adaptive” is an evolutionary term used to describe changes to a system or organism that will ensure its future success. “Maladaptive” means a change that an organism/system will make that will harm its future success.
“Path of Least Resistance” is a term used to describe what is easiest for your body to achieve. If you naturally have a pronating foot, then it is your body’s Path of Least Resistance to walk around with a pronating foot. It requires effortful attention, and usually physical effort to have the body follow a movement pattern that is different than its current Path of Least Resistance. Through habit (myelination…for those of you who have read “Talent Code”), and rehabilitation/tissue mobilization work, the Path of Least Resistance can be changed.
The “Path of Least Resistance” in terms of movement can sometimes be adaptive, and can sometimes be maladaptive. For example, if you have trouble firing your right glute (gluteus maximus – bum muscle), you will instead engage your hamstrings to help extend (straighten) your hip during a skating stride. This changes your skating mechanics in a way that makes you asymmetrical, and also less powerful. This is a maladaptation of your body to the path of least resistance. It is a maladaptation because the movement pattern is not in accordance with your body’s “Natural Movement”. Your body’s natural and most powerful way of extending the hips is by firing the glute. So when Natural Movement and and Path of Least Resistance are in discord, I consider the resultant movement pattern to be MALADAPTIVE and INEFFICIENT.
When your body’s Path of Least Resistance is in accordance with your Natural Movement Patterns, then I consider it to be ADAPTIVE and EFFICIENT. For example, as evidenced by both players learning to skate, and skilled professional skaters, the lateral arm swing appears to be most (if not all) peoples’ Path of Least Resistance.
If it is your belief that the linear arm swing is a Natural Movement Pattern, then you may consider the lateral arm swing to be maladaptive and inefficient. But I submit that because the bulk of skaters have a lateral arm swing (hockey players and speed skaters alike) that it is indeed the Natural Movement Pattern. Therefore, the lateral arm swing is adaptive and efficient.
(If you don’t agree with me, you may also not agree with what that guy Newton said about physics and stuff…)
Happy arm swinging!