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Soft Touch

It's important to relax the hands when running. Careful not to crush that potato chip!

Tags: elementary school, arms & hands

Objectives Soft Touch helps kids learn to run with their hands relaxed. This learning comes as they run with a potato chip or squishy fruit in each hand, with instructions not to crush the chip or fruit.
Standards National Standards for Physical Education (NASPE)
Standards 1,2
New York State Education Department (NYSED)
Standards 1,2
Prerequisite Do this activity after Zig Zag so kids practice having relaxed hands after having learned to use their arms while running.
Time Required 15 minutes
Materials Potato chip (two per student, but have extras on hand to replace chips that get crushed). Pringles work well for this exercise because of their uniform shape and size. For a healthier alternative, you can use 6-8 raspberries (3-4 per hand).


Prepare for the Activity

  • Watch the Form 101: Arm Movements video to gain an understanding of good arm and hand movement, including using relaxed hands.
  • Use the photo provided, the video, and the "Assess the Students" section below to understand how relaxed the hands should be while running. These materials will help you recognize common errors, and provide tips on how to correct them.


Events Play

Demonstrates important elements of efficient arm swing.

Click here to access on Teacher Tube

Introduce the Activity

  • Tell your students the name of the activity and its purpose. Tell them something like “Today we are going to see how relaxed we can be when we run. Running with hands that are clenched tightly makes it harder to run. Plus running is not nearly as enjoyable when all your muscles are tensed, so we will try to run relaxed instead.”
  • Tell them you’re going to demonstrate how to run with relaxed hands, and then they will practice running with relaxed hands by running with a potato chip (or fruit) in each hand. The goal is to avoid crushing the chip (or fruit) as they run.
  • If using potato chips, tell students that chips are not very healthy and are a snack that should be eaten only occasionally. The purpose is not to give them an unhealthy snack, but to help them learn to run with soft hands.
  • Demonstrate relaxed hands while running in place. Your hands should be lightly cupped, but not clenched or tightened. Show them how your thumb lightly rests on the side of your forefinger. Show them first how to run with relaxed hands without anything in your hands, and then place a chip (or fruit) in each of your hands and show them again. (The curve of the chip should rest against your palm; see the photo.)
    *Note: Running with a chip (or fruit) in the hand is not designed to demonstrate exactly the proper hand position; rather, its purpose is to be a memorable activity that reminds kids to run with relaxed hands for years to come.
  • After you demonstrate good form, demonstrate bad form with a chip (or fruit) in each hand. As you move your arms in a running motion, clench your fists tightly and crush the chips (or fruit) and tell the students that’s what they don’t want to do.

Conduct the activity

  1. Give each student one potato chip or 3-4 raspberries for each hand.
  2. Have the students run a lap around the gym and stop.
  3. Check for broken chips/squished fruit, and replace any that are broken/squished.
  4. Repeat this for two or three more laps.
  5. See “Fun Tips” for an option to make this into a game.

Assess the Students

What to watch for:

  • Hands that are loose but not wide open. Loose is good; wide open is not. (If the chip or fruit falls out, the hands are too loose!)
  • The thumbs should lightly rest on or touch the side of the forefinger. Notice the emphasis on lightly. Thumbs should be on top, not facing the sides.
  • The palm should form a nice cup for the chip (or fruit) to rest in without being crushed. (Understand that smaller hands might be a little more open—the cup might be a little bigger—to accommodate the chip/fruit. This is okay.)
  • Students should still run with a normal stride and full arm swing. They shouldn't shuffle or hold their arms still in order to protect the chip/fruit.

Direction cues to share with students:

  • “Soft touch, not big crush!”
  • “Relaxed hands!”
  • “Don’t crush the chip!”/“Don’t squish the fruit!”
  • “Swing your arms and keep running!”


After you've finished Soft Touch, talk to your students about their experience with the activity. Consider asking them questions like these:

  • How did it feel to run with a chip (or fruit) in your hands?
  • Why weren't you supposed to crush the chip or squish the fruit? (To learn that it is better to run with relaxed hands. Clenching hands wastes energy. Clenching hands also leads to tight arms and shoulders, which makes it hard to swing the arms freely. And running tense is also not as enjoyable!)
  • How hard was it to keep the chip in one piece or avoid squishing the fruit?
  • Where should your thumbs be when you run? (Resting lightly on the side of your forefinger, facing the sky)
  • What will you remember when you run from now on? (To keep my hands and whole body relaxed.)


  • As an option, split the kids up into teams of three or four students each. Have Team A run a lap or two around the gym with the chips/fruit in their hands and then check them. Each broken chip or squished fruit counts for one point. Have Team B run, and then Team C, etc., until all the teams have run. Keep track of their points. The team with the lowest score wins.
  • After kids have practiced running with the chips/fruit, split them into teams and see if they are still able to run with relaxed hands during the excitement of a relay race.
  • As an alternative to chips, use play dough.  You can see a handprint if the runners squeeze too hard. 

Inclusion Strategies

Classrooms are filled with learners who demonstrate a variety of needs and abilities, including ESL students, those with disabilities, and gifted/talented students. Consider these adaptations as you work to modify the lesson for student success.

  • Encourage partners to run together and hold the tissue or streamer as a team
  • Remember to model or demonstrate what you want as they run—soft hands that are loose and free to move
  • Demonstrate how your hands should be held and where—many children do not know what to do with their hands.

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