The Spiral Effect of the Spine to Swing your Arms for a Healthy Stride

by | Feb 20, 2013 | Back Pain, Exercise and Fitness, Running, Walking | 0 comments

Use Spine Twisting To Improve Your Walking & Running Technique

Arm Swing, Running picThere are lots of things you can pay attention to when you walk and run that can improve your pace, stride, form and function.  A great arm swing is one of the key factors in not only freeing the arms and shoulders, but also strengthening your core support and reducing stress and tension in through your whole spine.

If your back hurts after a long walk or run or you notice more tension in your neck and shoulders before, during or after getting your miles in, there’s a good chance you’re missing out on the important “spiral effect” of the spine while you’re swinging your arms.

It’s interesting to observe bodies in motion.  And sometimes, seeing what to look for, can make it easier to feel in your own body exactly what your movement habits are.

The photo I chose for this article helps illustrate the difference between using the “Spiral Effect” and staying square to the front with your torso.

The gal on the right (with the blue top) has more of a “head-on” body position.  Her arms are swinging but her torso is held square on to the front.  Chances are if we could see her body posture from the back her shoulder blades would be pinched together and her upper back might be in extension instead of maintaining the natural thoracic curve of the upper spine.

Because of this straight on torso position there’s more tension in her back and more compression on her spine with the impact of every step.  Plus, she’s missing out on the benefits of good shoulder mechanics for her arm swing because her ribcage and upper back are not in a position in which her shoulders CAN move correctly.  The shoulders searching for a rounded surface to improve the arm swing can only go up, which compounds the tension in the neck and increases stress on the arms and shoulders.

With this type of square-on stride she’s not tapped into the “Spiral Effect” so in addition to the things I’ve already pointed out, there’s also a little more side to side action that’s happening with her upper body.   Is moving sideways when you want to go forward going to speed you up or slow you down?

The movement of the shoulders and hips relate to each other – because of the structure of the pelvis, hips and ball & socket of the legs vs. the shoulder girdle, the mechanics of movement is not exactly the same for the arms and the legs for your stride, but if things aren’t quite right at the top with the spine, shoulders and arm swing there’s a really good chance that the bottom (pelvis, hips, and legs) won’t be working as efficiently either.

Walking is the #1 best activity to improve whole-body health and utilize your muscles and joints most efficiently and effectively.  BUT getting these all important health benefits from your fitness walking hinges on having good body alignment, posture, and the right functional movement habits to be using your body as correctly as possible.

Running is great to, as long as higher impact activities are safe for your body.  Of course there are some technique differences between walking and running, so there are some adjustments to be made, but for the upper body in particular, the “Spiral Effect” still needs to happen.  (It just has to happen more quickly, and might be in a slightly smaller range of motion.)

The gal on the left (in all black) is doing a great job of spiraling.  She’s allowing her spine to rotate while one arm swings forward and the other swings back.  Not only is this helping to free up her back, neck and shoulders, but she’s getting the added bonus of a great oblique abdominal workout with every step she takes!

Even though the hips, legs and feet are the primary movers to propel us forward, the spiral action of the torso along with a well-executed arm swing can actually help pick up your pace.  By allowing the spine to spiral freely while the arms swing the whole upper body and ribcage rotates while one arm moves forward and the other moves back.  This spiral effect actually keeps your body moving forward with your legs. All of you is heading in the right direction – with a little more aerodynamics!

If you start thinking about incorporating the “Spiral Effect” to your walking or running technique, don’t be surprised if it feels somewhat odd or you find that you don’t have the endurance to keep it up for long distances.  There are a lot of muscles through your core that will be called into play that you might not have been using with your “head-on” stride.

There’s a LOT to think about and pay attention to, to fine-tune your walking and running technique for good gait mechanics.  And even if running is the sport you love for fitness, there is great value to help keep your body safe and injury free for you to learn healthy walking habits too!

Incorporate the “Spiral Effect” for a healthy stride into your workouts, and when you’re ready for more consider checking out the benefits of Pilates-Walk™ Training.  Discover simple tips and techniques to integrate better body mechanics and good functional movement habits to your walking workouts to help keep you healthy, fit, and injury free.

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


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