Do a Google search for “hockey arm swing” and you’ll get a dozens of articles, all with seemingly different claims to the best arm swing in hockey. Some will even (incorrectly) cite biomechanics of a speed skating stride, draw nice pictures and show videos of champion speed skater, not quite getting at why their arms swing the way they do. However, the concept of the arm swing is actually quite simple and shouldn’t be overthought.
First, let’s look at what you may have been taught, and why it’s wrong.
1) Arm swing should be drive forward to generate forward momentum.
This is one of the most popular theories taught to youth hockey players, and it’s unfortunate. Driving forward will get your weight forward on your toes, bottom line. Too often, I see arms hanging, swinging hard from the shoulder joint which actually pulls all your momentum forward and inhibits good lower body position.
2) Arm swing should drive backwards just like the legs do so they work in unison.
There is no mechanical reason to drive your arms backwards. Full extension with your leg doesn’t mean you need to have equal force back with your arm. It sounds like a good theory, but basic physics dictates that you don’t want to push your momentum backwards.
3) Arm swing should swing side-to-side like speed skaters’ arms to create a perfect diagonal from your arm down to the leg that’s pushing back.
This theory states that a nice straight, diagonal line keeps your body aligned, except that it doesn’t. In order to get that arm straight and extended along the same linear plane as your leg you would get too much interior shoulder rotation, which would twist your body and really decrease your ability to get speed. And, as I’ve discussed before, your leg doesn’t actually push back, but to the side.
4) Arm swing should be side to side to offset lateral force.
Honestly, I have no idea what this means. It sounds really scientific, but it’s not. Speed skaters often will practice with both arms behind their backs at a velocity above what a hockey player can reach. In other words, arm swing isn’t as vital as hockey players are led to think.
What then, should you do with your arms? It’s not as complicated as it sounds.
Basically, you should swing your arms naturally. Your shoulder is going to naturally want to rotate a certain way to minimize unnecessary movement. Try to swing to straight ahead, and you’ll get too much external rotation. Try to swing too much side-to-side and you’ll get too much internal rotation. Look at speed skaters, half of their “side-to-side” movement is occurring at the elbow, not shoulder.
This also means you shouldn’t be “driving” your arms in any way. When you swing your arm back, it may look like you’re driving it back because your momentum is going forward and your arm isn’t. It’s basic physics. You’re essentially leaving your arm where it lands as it swings like a pendulum.
As you gain speed, your swing should minimize as you turn your feet over faster. If you try too hard to swing your arms to get momentum, it could actually slow your stride down as you subconsciously slow down your feet to maintain a more comfortable position. Thus, you’ll find it much easier to minimize the arm swing as your stride quickens.
In other words, the art of the arm swing isn’t really art at all. It’s quite simply, nature.
If you’re interested in how to correct a poor arm swing, stay tuned to part two of “The Art of the Arm Swing.”