Throughout the Olympics, we'll look at the various questions that spring up and answer them for you. Got one that's perplexing you? Drop us an email and we'll set you straight. Today: speedskating.
Why do speedskaters put their arms behind themselves during their runs?
Here's a little experiment for you. Get up from your computer or put down your phone, and start running. Pump your arms, the way you've always done since grade school. Now, while still running, put your arms behind your back. Tough, isn't it? (Especially if you're still trying to read this.)
Pumping your arms adds to your momentum and balance while running. Why, then, don't speedskaters do it throughout their runs?
For a few reasons. First, when you're running, you're responsible for creating and maintaining your own momentum. Speedskaters can use the ice to maintain momentum, and thus the arms aren't quite as important.
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Plus, there's the aerodynamic factor. Skaters wear skintight suits and hunch over to reduce wind resistance, and tuck their inside arms. They swing the outside arm during turns, using it for balance and direction, and tuck it during straightaways.
Finally, the best way to prepare for the last laps in speedskating is to conserve energy during the first ones. Tucking the arms allows you to save energy for when you'll need it in the final bell-lap sprint of that 5,000-meter speedskate. The finishing stride involves swinging both arms to give the skater an added boost of momentum, but there's only so long a skater can go with such a move.
So there you go. And you can stop running with your arms behind your back now. Speedskaters look cool doing it. You just look silly.
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