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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Running with empty hand is a better plan

Running used to be a simple effort. All you needed was a shirt, shorts and shoes. Now, it is far more complicated.

We are a nation of accessorizers,even in our exercise. We bear water bottles, music players, phones and activity trackers. And although we use them to make our runs easier, here is the bad news: They could be slowing us down.

To realize why an MP3 player or a water bottle might hinder your progress, a brief lesson in bio mechanics is in order.

Your upper body plays a serious role when you run. (That's why the bad guys never get far when they escape from police custody in handcuffs.) Both the arms and the trunk come into play, helping the legs lift the body and working together to create a smooth stride.

Good running form starts in the hands. They should be relaxed and comfortable. If you are holding something, you will create tension and imbalance in your upper body. No matter the object -- a water bottle, an iPod, a set of keys -- holding something alters your form and makes you exert more energy. And the more effort you expend, the faster you will tire.

To see how this happens, equip one to grip a bottle and move your arms as you would while running. Even without the bottle, your forearm muscles contract, or try running with your fists clenched. That tension in your hands creeps to your forearms, then your upper arms. This makes shoulder rotation more difficult, which inhibits your leg drive.

To become more relaxed, hold a saltine cracker between your thumb and forefinger, and try not to break it while running. It is easy to see how even an empty water bottle or an iPod could have a detrimental effect on your gait.

On a physiological level, when you run, your blood gets redistributed to the areas of your body that need it. As your hand and forearm muscles contract, blood flow to those places increases. But as you power up that hill, your blood has better places to be -- like your legs. To the casual runner, this diverted blood flow means a less enjoyable run.

The big problem, however, is that these objects make your form asymmetrical. Jonathan Cane, founder of City Coach Multisport in New York City and co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training," says he can always spot people holding something: "These people have what I call 'iPod arms.' One arm moves less than the other."

When one arm has less motion than the other, one stride will be shorter than the other one, hence the asymmetry.

"People always debase the role of arms in running," says Cane, who has been training endurance athletes for two decades.

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