Monday, 28 January 2013

Bare Foot Running Part 2: The Best Technique.

This post follows on from Bare Foot Running Part 1 which introduced the concept of Bare Foot Running and laid out exercises to build up the foot muscles in preparation for starting your natural running.

(Slight side note, while doing some researching into barefoot running, I came across the theory that it is supposed to be very good for you because it allows free radicals and pent up energies to be realised into the ground... Really? Really? Just to state, I don't support bare foot running for these reasons. Also, she was still wearing Vibrams, so how many more free radicals can escape through those compared to normal shoes? I'm sure they have an answer, but I think my mind might cry hearing it.)

So, today we are going to look at the necessary changes in your technique to run injury free while bare foot.

Most people think that running is a very natural movement that doesn't need to be trained or taught. Well, just stand by a jogging track and watch people go by for long enough and you'll realise this isn't actually the case. There are lots of variations on 'how to run' and some of them look really painful. (I can't stand watching people run with their shoulders up around their ears, it makes even my muscles ache.)

Further, even if you have been trained in good running posture and technique, there are a lot of adjustments that need to be made when reducing the cushioning in your shoes (which is a good thing in the long run (pun was not intended! I'm not becoming my dad!)).

I'm going to outline the basics, and then if you have 10 minutes free I highly recommend the video by Terra Plana I've added below. They are makers of a minimalistic shoe, so do have a vested interest in promoting the method, but they give a lot of good advice and some exercises to do before running to prep you with appropriate posture, etc.

1. The Foot Strike.
The biggest difference that needs to be made (and almost automatically will be made because it's rather painful not to) is that you stop 'heel striking'. When you jog in shoes, you lengthen out your stride and hit the ground with your heel first. However, without the cushioning, this becomes very jarring, and you should move to a mid-foot or ball of foot strike. Just think of when you jump off something, you try to land on the balls of your feet because they absorb the most shock, you wouldn't try to land on your heel.

This photo from Science Daily demonstrates the difference in movement.

2. Length of Stride
One of the consequences of striking with your forefoot is that you will need to shorten your stride. Barefoot running requires faster, more dynamic movements than a lot of people might be used to. The aim is to keep the movements light, easy and fast. Initially this can add extra strain on your Achilles tendon and calves, so be wary of overworking these. However, once they strengthen up, you will have much stronger legs.

3. Posture.
A lot of people lean forward when they run with shoes, but with the shorter strides of bare foot running, it is always best to be as vertical as possible, which also allows you to breathe better. Your foot should be hitting the ground almost under your hips, which will be in line with your shoulders.

Those are the big three. I highly recommend you take the 10 minutes to watch this video, which will give you a much better idea of what to do:

Next time we will look at the various products you can get to help you go barefoot.

Other resources you might want to check out:

Science Daily. Barefoot Running: How Humans Ran Comfortably and Safely Before the Invention of Shoes. This article looks at the research into heel versus mid-foot strikes, and how running without shoes encourages a more natural gait. 

One Life. Is Barefoot Best? The Truth About Running Techniques. This offers a balanced view from a physical therapist who doesn't recommend barefoot running for everyone.

BareFootRunning. Running Barefoot, Forefoot Striking and Training Tips. This covers the same information about heel verse forefoot striking, but has some very useful tips on transitioning to barefoot running. 

BareFootTed (the whole blog, basically). Anyone who has read Christopher McDougall's 'Born To Run' will know of BareFoot Ted. He is a big advocate for barefoot running. In his blog he covers all the different issues you might face trying to transition. (By the way, if you haven't read 'Born To Run' and are interested in natural running, I highly recommend it.)

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