Does Arm Swinging Burn Calories?


Whether it is walking, jogging, running, or stationary exercises like tai chi, arm movement is a major aspect.

Your body stance is designed for arm swinging. Bipedal movement (walking) requires it for comfortable low-impact walking.

Quick tips:

  • Keep your arms bent at a 90 degree angle when swinging
  • Try to avoid clinching your fists. Allow proper blood circulation through your hands
  • Exaggerating your arm swing (swinging too far) is not necessary, and may cause additional shoulder pain



What is the purpose of swinging arms? Naturally designed for your body’s walking movement, arms bring balance to your upper-body. When you walk, the opposite arm of your forward foot moves forward. These “counter-balances” help you stay up, and spread out the weight during movement.

While hiking, does the movement of arms burn calories?

Brisk paced walking (also called power walking) can burn 200-400 calories per hour, depending on terrain. A large portion of that, up to 50% of it may come from direct and indirect movements derived from your arm swing. When you swing your arms, it’s not just the movement in them and the shoulders, but also side and back muscles connected that are now moving. One study found that arm swinging adds 26% to the metabolic rate of an exercise. 1.

What about Mountain trekking?


Often, when going uphill or downhill, your arms may actually be more stationary when balancing the body during crawling over rocks and large bumps in mountainous trails. Hiking is an excellent activity to give your body multiple places to work its muscles. Consider using walking trekking poles, which not only bring more balance, but spread out some of the impact from your legs, to your arms. When you use these walking poles to either push uphill, or slow down your pace going downhill, your triceps and biceps work hard to push and pull. This ads to your upper body calorie burn. Build your muscles while reducing knee impact.

Jogging and Running

Often, your arm swing will become greateer during jogging and running. This is a natural reflex from your body to provide quick balance to your feet. The higher swing, and likely sharper angle of the elbow makes for fast move movement in your upper body. Continue practicing this natural movement during speed exercises.


Arm swinging while standing

Repeated back-and-forth movement of your arms is a low impact, healthy exercise during stationary positions, like small exercise rooms, work breaks, movies and more. Watch TV? Consider it an easy quick exercise during commercial breaks. Waiting for something? Arm swinging losens your muscles and give you a quick calorie burn when space and time is limited. It also helps stretch muscles in your shoulders, back and neck while helping your tendons and joints. It can be a mini cardio exercise, throughout the day.4.


Should I use weights? Holding hand weights while walking may add additional resistance when your arm swings, resulting in slightly more caloric burn. However, this often can be an excuse not to do regular walking. We recommend making your walks regular and often. Don’t complicate it.


As you can see, arm movement plays an important role in exercise. Without it, you are losing a large portion of your estimated calorie burn. The next time you go for a walk, or hike a trail, remember that your arm are making it possible for your legs get you there.


Mike Cutler is an avid hiker in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and enjoys writing about outdoor and travel  lifestyles for older adults and active seniors. He lives with his family in Reno, Nevada. Visit his author page here





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