Shoulder Rotation: The Secret to Longer Stride, Faster Running

Back in 2009, I wrote about Arm Action in Sprinting on how you can gain a full meter with the same number of strides by proper shoulder rotation and hip rotation.

This article is guest blogged by two authors:  movement specialist and Track and Field coach Adarian Barr of Next Level Athletics and Fitness, and Alysson Bodenbac, a 5th year senior 400m runner at Michigan state, majoring in Kinesiology.

Adarian Barr’s other contributing article were Staying Low on a 40 Yard Dash or 100 Meter Start and Lolo Jones & Justin Gatlin: The Jamaican Toe Drag Revisited.

Shoulder Rotation for Longer Stride Length, Faster Times

Core stability in relation to shoulder rotation has been a hot debate amongst coaches and runners alike, especially during this Olympic season. Whether or not core stability is directly related to shoulder rotation is something that coaches will debate over for years to come, but unfortunately our likely source of information, scientists, aren’t always our best answers to our questions. In the past scientists have said that it was impossible to run under a four minute mile and running faster than 9.69 seconds in the 100m dash was out of the question. However, athletes around the world have been breaking barriers left and right proving scientists wrong.

When it comes down to running fast the preference of a longer stride length or faster turnover is often in question. If we take Usain Bolt for example you will notice that his stride length is predominantly longer than the average sprinter. Of course he is tall which is to his advantage, however, the length of his strides are truly what gives him the edge over his competitors. He is able to cover the same amount of ground (100m) with fewer strides than his competitors. Now of course frequency plays a role, but nothing is more significant that his stride length.

So, how does one go about achieving a longer stride length? The perfect examples can be seen in slower races such as the 800 where body position and rotation can easily be scrutinized. Not every runner will practice this technique, however, in elite runners such as Alysia Montano (800m) her shoulder rotation is most definitely visible. Some will argue that the amount of rotation in her shoulders is due to a lack of core stability but it’s hard to argue core instability when she is running a personal best of 1:57.34.

800m runners aren’t the only athletes to use shoulder rotation to help propel them forward. If we were to slow down the 200m dash you would see the same thing happen. Shoulder rotation works in direct relation with hip rotation which is directly correlated with speed. You can either let your arms swing back and forth and neutralize the torque created by your glutes or you can use the torque created to enhance the power created by your glutes. Our arms may act as a counter balance but we don’t want them to work as a counter balance against our hips.

When discussing the alternative option of pumping the arms back and forth we are ultimately looking to increase stride frequency. Stride frequency alone is not enough to increase speed, but when paired with shoulder rotation in the correct amount an increase in speed is likely. Take for example Allyson Felix: she in an excellent 200m runner but struggles in the 100m. Her problem relies on the fact that her stride pattern is simply too long for the 100m, but for that exact same reason her stride pattern is perfect for the 200m. Finding the perfect balance is the key in any race.

Runners such as Bolt and Montano have inevitable perfected the utilization of shoulder rotation, bypassing any knowledge set forth by scientists. They have broken down barriers and for that have been rewarded. Now obviously shoulder rotation is not the cure-all to all speed problems, but this minor change in a runners form can go a long way when executed properly.

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
    • @Derek, yes, it’s mentioned in my original article. If I remember correctly, we were in the same conference together!

    • @ Derek: Correct, you can read the full explanation with pictures in the ebook version “Key Concepts Elite Edition” published by the great Charlie Francis!

  • Very interesting and a good article. However, it isn’t mentioned exactly what shoulder rotation is. It’s hard to picture without description and video/footage, particularly when most sprinters have never been taught this.
    Such explanation would be much appreciated. Thanks Jimson

  • I think shoulder rotation means the slight forward movement as the sprinter runs. I have noticed in some sprinters when front side mechanics are good, especially the forward swing of the quadricep there is a slight rotation of the shoulders according to the above definition. Thoughl, I also beleive that proper mechanics and position of the arms throughout the arm swing plays a role in the shoulder rotation.

  • The counter balance effect of the arm/shoulder rotation plays a huge role not only in stride length but also frequency. Try sprinting with your arms lock behind your back? For sports outside of track, gaining control/focus over the shoulders does more for body control and footwork, then any other drill/ladder/jump roping/dots can do to improve over all agility. Charlie hit this on the head. The way I look at arm/shoulder action is that of the alignment of a car, if it’s off the efficiency at which the athlete can sprint will greatly be diminished as it disrupts rhythm/sync/pattern to their race. Great article none the less to bring up a areas that lacks attention.