Technique > Upper Body and Waist > ELBOWS

Figure 1.
Marinelli Study
race walking in slow motion
The elbows of race walkers are bent in order to shorten the distance between the shoulder sockets and the arms' centers of mass. The arms act as pendulums, and "shortening" the arms allows them to swing faster and with less energy expended. While bending of the elbows is of little or no consequence to a casual walker, proper bending is critical for race walking at high step rates: too little bend can unnecessarily put an upper limit on one's top step rate, and both too little and too much bend can waste energy.
ELBOW ANGLE: At higher step rates, the elbows should be bent at least at a 90-degree angle (right angle). At the highest step rates, they might even be bent more. The smallest angle of value is about 60 degrees, at which point the hands are no further from the shoulder sockets than the elbows. A survey of photos of top race walkers rarely shows an elbow bent anywhere near 60 degree, and then it seems to be only when the arm is at its front-most position. Because bending the elbows too much requires more energy and it saves, it is important to use the "right" angle at all times.
Elbow angle should be adjusted as follows. The elbows should be bent more when putting on a short burst of speed to overtake, or break away from, a competitor--or if taking shorter, quicker steps while going uphill. They should also be bent less if taking somewhat longer steps while going downhill.
To determine the proper degree of elbow bend at any speed, bend your elbows to about 60 degrees and then begin to straighten them. At some point, you will notice yourself having to work harder to have your arms keep up with the swing rate of your thighs. (During this test, do not shorten your arm swing--fore and aft--to avoid the extra effort.) After several such tests, when you have determined the angle at which extra effort is required, close the elbow just a bit more (as a safety factor) and hold that angle. As you get tired in a race or training session, there is a tendency to unconsciously extend the elbows--to let the forearms fall. This is a very good time to check the bend in your elbows. Bending them more (i.e., getting them back where they should be) can often make a big difference in how hard you are working.
ELBOW POSITION: The elbows should be kept close to your sides as they pass by the body. If the arms swing at an angle to the line of forward direction (i.e., inward in front of the body and outward behind the body), do not let the elbows or arms fly out beyond the line of swing. Such "chicken winging" wastes energy, can easily cause excessive side-to-side motion in the hips, and may be a danger to other walkers near you.
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