Is running with a hand held water bottle slowing you down?

 In Running training

On my run today I noticed another runner carrying a water bottle in one hand and an ipod in the other. What struck me about this runner was the total lack of upper body movement as he run, no arm movement, no upper body rotation, nothing.

Once the runner had disappeared from sight I imitated how he ran to see what effect it would have on my running. I found it quite difficult and unnatural to completely immobilise my upper body and the effect on my lower body was dramatic. Immediately my stride length shortened significantly and my pace slowed to a shuffle, I had no push off, no knee lift, all feeling of fluidity disappeared. I felt like a poorly constructed robot.

Try it yourself and see the effect it has. If you run holding a water bottle notice if the arm you hold the water bottle in moves less than your other arm, if it does then it is affecting the way you run making you less efficient and setting up possible biomechanical asymmetries leading to injuries. Get a hip holder for your water bottle or a camel back.

Studies have shown the energy cost of running with a camel back is far less than running with a hand held water bottle.

For those of you who want to know why read on….


Keeping your upper body completely still you effectively turn off your core muscles and significantly reduce the load on your hip flexors and glutes.

Let me explain – as your leading leg travels forward (say right leg) and your left leg goes behind you your arms go the opposite direction – ie right arm goes backwards , left arm goes forward.

So now you have a diagonal stretch from your left hip to your right shoulder. This places a tension on your hip flexors and abdominals. This tension places a load on the muscles, tendons and fascia which when released acts like a rubber band pulling your left leg forward and right arm forward. As you drive the left leg and right arm forward your left arm and right leg travel backwards which loads the opposite diagonal ( right hip to left shoulder) and the cycle continues.

Your gluteal muscles are loaded by the rotation of your pelvis. As your right foot lands your pelvis rotates to the right placing a stretch or load on your right gluteals which when released helps you drive off the right leg.

So the rotation and arm movement of your upper body effectively loads the muscles in your lower body.

Notice that the faster you go the more arm swing you have – sprinters swing their arms a lot more than marathon runners. Sprinters use more force so the greater arm swing place a bigger stretch or tension on their muscles allowing them to generate more force.

Muscles work most effectively when they are placed under a tension first, if you dont do this then then amount of force the muscle can generate is greatly diminished . Take an extreme example – say you want to jump vertically as high as possible. TO load or place the muscles of the hip and leg under tension the first thing you do is squat down which is quickly followed by your vertical jump. Now imagine how high you could jump if you werent allowed to squat down at all – you’d be lucky to make it off the ground.

This is what happens if you dont move your arms when you run – you greatly reduce the force the glutes, hip flexors , core , hamstrings and quads can generate.


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Showing 8 comments

    >Great insight! I'm experimenting with a few different hydration approaches for my ultras. I've run with a fuel belt, but it's tough to get the bottles back in the holder while running on trails.

    I've also run carrying water bottles, and that works ok…but your article is making me think harder about using a hydration backpack.

    What hydration system do you use?

  • Andy

    >I use a belt with water bottle holder for short runs and a camel back system for long runs.

    If its tough getting the water bottle back into the holder on trails then I suggest you get another water bottle holder or work on your upper body rotation to make it easier to slip the bottle back in.

  • vertical jump

    >n addition to all of the other suggestions, also try to breathe in through your nose more. I don't know if you're thirsty, perhaps its just your mouth is dry. Breathing in through your mouth dries it out, if you go in through the nose out through the mouth it won't happen as easily.improve vertical jumping

  • Reddogrunner

    Have to thoroughly agree with this .. I ended up with ‘tennis elbow’ from carrying a water bottle during a marathon because I was worried about looking silly with a pack! Mini Camelbak goes everywhere with me now, and on the longer runs I use a larger pack. On 100km+ a combo of bottles plus bladder are great for water and liquid energy. Practice being comfortable with your kit; so much time can be saved on not fumbling around or getting caught up in the masses at drink stations. Happy running!! :o)

  • Nick

    I’ve been playing around with both bottles and bladders and generally prefer bottles … but I can totally see how running with one handheld could throw your gait out of alignment. In fact, I have a few issues on my right side – hip etc. I hold my handheld in my right hand. Hmmm …
    If you like bottles but don’t like something around your waist, UltrAspire make a couple of decent bottle-specific race vests. And Salomon have a new soft flask vest coming out that can also carry a bladder.

  • Dej1967

    I run with both in long use my salomon s slab 12 which is awesome, and run with hand handheld amphipods . But find it doesn’t my arm swing , it is something I have been keeping a close I on . But thats just my experience.

    • Dej1967

      Forgot to put the word effect in after arm lol

    • Andy DuBois

      It will affect your arm swing , no question of that. The question is how much and is it significant? That will depend on the weight of the handheld and your arm swing.

      I’ve seen plenty of people running with an iphone and thats more than heavy enough to reduce arm swing

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