Snobs ….waving snobs – they don’t wave back! Does their refusal to return the wave make them a “running” snob?! Is it not an undefined rule that passing runners should exchange waves…….? An unreciprocated wave can leave a sort of an empty, maybe even a bit of an embarrassed feeling inside. But maybe a person who is focused on running shouldn’t be considered a snob if they don’t wave back. It’s not a rule, there are always runners who stare straight ahead avoiding eye contact and then zoom on by without a hint of acknowledgement. These non-wavers probably aren’t being rude on purpose. Some people go into kind of trance or meditative state as the miles pass by, and may not even realize someone has greeted them. Or maybe, they’re just not accustomed to being saluted by strangers and are too rattled to reciprocate. The running wave has a very short window. Blink and you’ll miss it. I always try to acknowledge other runners in one way or another in passing but I don’t expect them to return the favour. There’s always that decision point a couple seconds before: Will we or won’t we? The anxiety builds….. Will they reciprocate ……will it be awkward? I usually make it a point to greet other road runners, whether it’s with a wave, a nod or even a quick “Good morning.”
But waving is not the only thing you use for your arms whilst training. Humans naturally swing the arms while running. The main function of arm swing during distance running is to balance the momentum generated by the swinging legs (Hinrichs, 1987). Our arms tend to swing out of phase with our legs, the right arm swinging forward with the left leg and vice versa. It was hypothesized that in addition to helping maintain running posture and balance, arm swing may increase the vertical ground reaction force to lift the runner, giving runners more “bounce” (Hopper, 1964). Smooth, synchronized movement between the upper and lower limbs, for most people, is taken completely for granted. The arm and leg motion is “neurocoupled,” perhaps an evolutionary remnant of when our ancestors walked on all fours (Balter & Zehr, 2007; Zehr et al., 2016). The arm swing works in conjunction with the leg stride to drive the runner forward. In fact runners can generate more power with their legs when they actively engage their opposite arms. But holding tension in the upper body is one of the most common problems runners have. When the shoulders inch up toward the ears, it prevents the arms from swinging freely forward and back. The arms take a less natural motion, resulting in a loss of power transfer to the legs, which cause unnecessary fatigue. As the arms and shoulders start to swallow up the neck one of the best things a runner can do is to just drop the arms, open up the hands, and shake them out for a second. The same trick applies to the clenched fists, which often accompany the high shoulders. So, if the fists are clenched, squeeze them even harder for a second and then relax.
So relax and wave, it might just help your running and not just by relaxing your shoulders, because its represents the acknowledgment that you’re both out there, putting in work. It’s an unspoken conversation about the sacrifices you made to get out the door. It’s a show of empathy and a small gesture that has larger meaning. Just because we have the same hobby, it doesn’t mean we are friends, nor should it mean that. But a “wave” is not about disrupting someone’s train of thought or derailing a run; it’s about creating more companionship in a sport that’s often a lonely venture.
Balter JE & Zehr EP. (2007). Neural coupling between the arms and legs during rhythmic locomotor-like cycling movement. J Neurophysiol 97, 1809-1818.
Hinrichs RN. (1987). Upper extremity function in running. II: Angular momentum considerations. International Journal of Sport Biomechanics 3, 242-263.
Hopper B. (1964). The mechanics of arm action in running. Track Technique 17, 520-522.
Zehr EP, Barss TS, Dragert K, Frigon A, Vasudevan EV, Haridas C, Hundza S, Kaupp C, Klarner T, Klimstra M, Komiyama T, Loadman PM, Mezzarane RA, Nakajima T, Pearcey GE & Sun Y. (2016). Neuromechanical interactions between the limbs during human locomotion: an evolutionary perspective with translation to rehabilitation. Exp Brain Res 234, 3059-3081.