The Importance Of A Good Ol’ Arm Swing

Arm Swing

Today I have a tip that can help you tone your arms, prevent low back pain, and improve your breast health and overall immunity; all by doing something that you have to do every day of your life with just a smidge more intention. Sounds pretty good, right? This magical, mysterious thing that has so many benefits for your bod is to do a slight arm swing while you walk. 

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Before I dive in, I’ve got to give props to Katy Bowman of Nutritious Movement, who turned me on to this tip many moons ago. She has a podcast called Move Your DNA; I don’t think she’s currently producing episodes but there’s tons of great stuff there to wade through if you’re loving this kind of movement-based tip, and to Barbara Loomis of Alignment Monkey who has also blogged about the importance of a good arm swing. OK, props completed!! Now on the why and the how. 

Pay Attention To Your Upper Body

This sounds so simple, but I’m gonna guess that if you pay attention to what’s going on in your upper body the next time you walk anywhere, you’re probably going to find that your arms aren’t swinging much at all. I mean, it is winter, and it’s so tempting to put your hands in your pocket in an effort to keep warm. So you’re going to need some toasty gloves, but you can handle that, right? 

Something else you’re going to need is a little confidence. Because swinging your arms when you walk is an act of confidence, and a lot of people, women especially, aren’t really taught to stand tall and swing their arms and move around the world confidently, am I right? It may feel a little funny to you to walk this way but I’m here to remind you that it is COMPLETELY NATURAL. 

In fact, we humans have evolved over millenia to walk upright and swinging your arms is an integral part of the human gait. You were born to let those arms swing, so don’t let chilly fingers or years of conditioning hold back. 

An arm swing helps you in the following ways

Now listen, I don’t mean this personally, at all, but your legs weigh a lot. They are two of your heaviest body parts, chock full of big bones and a lot of muscles. When you walk, you are pushing off the ground with your back leg. The big old heavy appendage is way behind you, and the weight of it causes your pelvis to twist in the direction of the back leg to accommodate that movement. Nature in its infinite wisdom figured out that by having your opposite arm move backward at the same time it helps the pelvis and the muscles of the lower back stay fairly straight too. 

How to Arm Swing 

You’d think if this is so natural you wouldn’t have to give it much thought but we humans also have neuroses and habits that get us out of our natural ways of being. Like, we don’t want to be seen as striding too confidently lest we be deemed too big for our britches. 

When you lift your arm behind you, the tricep muscle engages. That means that when you walk, you are essentially getting a tricep workout. Swinging your arm can really tone up those arms!

Now, just so we’re clear, the triceps are the muscles on the backs of your arms, and the backs of the arms are an area a lot of women are self-conscious about particularly as we age and they lose their tone. It’s the batwing area of the body. If your triceps aren’t very toned, you’re probably not swinging your arms while you walk

That’s not all it does

By countering the twist in your pelvis, you remove a source of tension for the muscles in the lower back. So if you’ve got lower back pain, take a look at what your arms are doing while you walk. 

AND, the arm swing also a creates a sort of massage for your armpit area. And guess what’s in your armpit area? All kinds of lymph nodes. In fact, it’s one of the biggest concentration of lymph nodes in your body. Your lymphatic system is a key part of the immune system, it’s the waste removal and antibody delivering system of the body. And unlike the circulatory system, which has the heart to move the blood throughout your body, the lymph system has no dedicated pump. It takes muscle contractions to move the lymph through your tissues.

And if you’re not swinging your arms, your armpit tissue is not being massaged and your lymph is stagnating. Guess what your armpits are right next to? Yep, your breasts. So swing your arms, massage your armpits, move your lymph, and help your breasts, and your whole body, get rid of acidic waste products that, left too long, can create an unhealthy internal environment where disease (such as cancer) can take root. 

So putting all the pieces together, here’s how you want to be moving your arms while you walk.

The natural arm swing is a lift backward and then a release so that gravity swings your arm forward. NOT a lift forward. Because your arm swing is countering the effort of the back leg which is pushing off the ground, remember? You’ve got to balance effort with effort, and if you’re lifting your arm out in front of you, the effort’s in the wrong plane. 

You want the lift to happen behind you, on the arm that is opposite the leg that is currently moving backward. Then you release the arm and let it swing forward with gravity. You want your arms to move straight back and straight forward with your elbows straight. If your arms only want to swing side to side, you’ve probably got really tight chest and shoulder muscles. You’ve got to stretch those suckers out in order to get back to more natural movement patterns–I’ll talk about how ways to stretch this often tight area, thanks to all the computing and hunching over screens we do– in a future episode. 

One final thing

You may realize that you’re not swinging your arms because you’ve got stuff in your hands–maybe a dog leash, or your kid’s hand, or, ahem, your phone, or you’re keeping your arm still because you don’t want your purse to fall off your shoulder. It’s ok to carry stuff and it’s certainly ok to walk the dog or hold your kid’s hand, but see what you can do about getting more hands-free walks into your life. Your arms, backs, boobs, and immune system will thank you. 


That’s it from me today. Enjoy your walk!


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