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What is the Role of the ‘Key Shoulders’ in Outdoor Trail Running?

When we discuss technique and specific training for trail running, the trunk, core, and lower body tend to be what most people focus on. But when we consider the integrity, we will find that the drive and strength of the upper limbs also play a key role. If we lack the cooperation of the shoulders during mountain trail running, we will not be able to turn every corner fluently. It was impossible to continue running on steep slopes even after crossing the tangled roads. In this article, we will share some information about the role of shoulders and upper limbs in trail running, and how to maintain and properly strengthen them.

balance and cushioning

The upper body swing of a cross-country runner is the biggest characteristic of a cross-country runner’s personal style. The swing of the arms is extremely important in cross-country running. As the environment and height changes, the cross-country runner’s arms will coordinate with the changes in the body to maintain a neutral center of gravity and trunk.

When our center of gravity and trunk are not in a neutral position, we will lose balance, tilt or fall during running. Opening our arms and waving our hands in a timely manner can help us stabilize our body. This is why rope walkers open their arms to maintain balance.

In addition to hand swings for balance purposes, cushioning is another reason for larger arm swings during trail running.

When we fall from a height, the normal human body reaction will extend the arm in the opposite direction, resulting in an upward pulling action. The greater the drop, the greater the arm pull-up action. The most important purpose of this is to keep the trunk neutral and keep the spine in the best posture possible.

Under the acceleration of gravity, if the spine withstands the impact of landing in a bad posture (such as bending over), it is very easy to cause injuries to the 3 to 5 segments of the spine. Protecting the spine is often the main purpose of the human body’s subconscious protective actions.

When watching, people can’t help but wonder whether he is cross-country or “surfing”. In fact, in this regard, the same principle applies to surfers swinging their arms.

Theoretically, these arm-swinging movements do not require special teaching, but people may need to develop such instincts due to acquired habits, deterioration of motor abilities caused by sedentary inactivity, disease, etc. Further training, adaptation and learning.

What is the ideal downhill arm swing?

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the main purpose of waving hands during the downhill process is to stabilize the trunk and balance the body. In other words, if you can stabilize the body on a rugged mountain trail without swinging your arms, then whether to wave your hands or not is not necessarily a problem.

No matter which running method you are more suitable for or prefer, there are still a few guidelines to follow for the swing of the upper limbs. The following key points are provided for your reference:

No need to raise your hands often

It is easy for beginners to see experienced runners raising their hands high, and mistakenly think that they need to keep their hands raised like this when running downhill. Just like the point of the previous paragraph, if we can stabilize within the range corresponding to our own running ability The center of gravity is the trunk, so it is not so important whether you can swing your hands or not. The downhill speed and amplitude of masters will be faster and stronger, so if you are not within the same ability and difficulty range, there is no need to waste your physical energy excessively.

Cross-country masters can go downhill like flying. Their flexibility of footsteps, body control, and confidence in landing are all the result of accumulated experience and ability. They are not achieved overnight.

Timing to increase arm swing

Generally speaking, our running posture on highly runnable cross-country sections will be similar to that of road running. As the complexity of the road section increases, runners will balance the body by increasing the arm swing range and extending at different angles. , and produce corresponding gait changes.

Reduce energy consumption as much as possible

Although keeping the arms raised and swinging wider will make the runner feel more secure in the short term, momentum and energy consumption will also increase, and it is not a beneficial strategy to extend the distance. As we become more and more familiar with the rhythm of cross-country running, we will better understand when to swing our arms reasonably. Reasonable distribution of physical fitness is also a must-do for experienced cross-country runners.

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Relax your shoulders

When we first enter the mountain trails, the ever-changing environment can easily make people nervous, especially for novices. At this time, it is recommended to slow down so that you can run forward relaxedly. Stiff shoulders will also affect the chest, back and neck. As a result, you will lose good coordination and natural cushioning ability. In addition to not being able to run fast, you are also more likely to be injured.

Assists power transmission in uphill running and provides extra momentum

The drive of the shoulders can increase the efficiency of the body moving forward and upward after pushing. This is the concept of kinetic chain and fascia line.

In particular, the increase in forward efficiency caused by shoulder driving and arm swinging is especially obvious in short-distance sprints, jumping and cross-country uphill running, which require greater force output. This is why we see sprinters sprinting There will be a cycle of “shrug, relax, shrug again, relax again”.

Of course, to be able to make such smooth and powerful upper limb movements, you must have good joint mobility, specialized training, high stability of the core and coordination.

In addition, another thing to note is that the force driven by the shoulders is proportional to the power output. As the exercise time and distance are lengthened, the intensity decreases. At this time, of course, there is no need to frequently and deliberately use the strength of the shoulders. In fact, even during the driving process, the shoulder muscles are definitely not in a tight state all the time. Just like the leg swing cycle during running, there must be a relaxation stage, and it is impossible to push hard all the time, too Overly tight shoulder and neck muscles will affect the smoothness of breathing, which will have a negative impact on sports performance over time.

In addition to the use of shoulders in running movements, the Power Hiking skills of brisk walking uphill, the use of trekking poles, rope climbing, and even the handrails of indoor climbing competitions… all require assistance from the shoulders and upper limbs. If you do not perform targeted exercises at ordinary times, The training and skill practice will be very difficult in actual combat. Not only will it be uncoordinated, but the muscles around the arms and shoulders will be extremely sore, and you will even be more breathless than walking normally, completely unable to achieve the expected results.

How to maintain and strengthen our shoulders

The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the human body. High mobility means lower stability. When engaging in cross-country running with frequent upper limb activities, the maintenance and strengthening of the shoulder joint is a must. First of all, although the mobility of the shoulder joint is high, based on the author’s long-term teaching experience, it has been observed that most people in society do not have good enough/healthy mobility of the shoulder joint. The main reason is related to years of poor work and rest and lack of exercise.

Share the shoulder joint internal/external rotation (rotation) mobility testing link. You can try to test it yourself:

Attached test method:

If the detected mobility is insufficient, how can it be improved?

Ways to improve joint mobility include massage, stretching and strength training. What I want to emphasize here is that we don’t just want the joints to become “soft”, but we must strive to improve the strength and functional performance of the entire activity. This is of real significance.


The muscles in the shoulder joint are not as strong as other large joints. Pay special attention to the strength and depth when performing massage and relaxation. It is recommended to use softer equipment for massage, such as yoga foam rollers, softer massage balls, Or ask professionals to do manual massage, etc.


Static stretching after massage can enhance the effectiveness of stretching. In addition to static stretching, dynamic stretching with elastic ropes/wood sticks is also a great option to warm up and increase range of motion. Special attention should be paid to slowing down during the warm-up phase, matching your breathing, not forcing angles that cannot be passed, and gradually challenging more balanced and accurate movements.

Strength training:

Muscle strength training is a deep and broad topic, and it is difficult to explain it to you in a small chapter. Here are some general directions and possible training for your reference.

First of all, we must first know what is the ultimate purpose of our strength training? Should I prepare for a general cross-country race? Or a competition mostly involving rope climbing? Or a climbing competition in a building? This is specially prepared during the strength training cycle There will be considerable differences. Make sure to carry out targeted training in the future.

Taking long-distance cross-country running as an example, we need to use our shoulders to improve the efficiency of uphill running and maintain balance when going downhill. We also need to use Power Hiking techniques and even the use of trekking poles. At this time, in the early stages of muscle strength training, we can directly use elastic ropes to perform some functional training to improve stability and balance after dynamic stretching.

After establishing basic muscle strength and muscle development, kettlebells, dumbbells, horizontal bars, parallel bars, push-ups, etc. are also good training options.

After all, the training of shoulders and upper limbs is still auxiliary training. In addition, our usual muscle strength training schedule does not only include upper limbs. In fact, these muscle groups are exercised during the process of holding equipment, bar plates, etc. It is recommended that a single It is better to repeat the movements 10 to 15 times and perform 3 to 5 groups. It can be combined with the training movements of the lower limbs to form a complete set of training and performed crosswise.