Nearly everyone I meet who is, either interested in, or has started running, has asked me some of the following questions;
* “How far should I run?”
* “How fast should I run?”
* “How often should I run?”
* “When should I run?”
* “What should I be eating?”
* “Where should I run?”
* “What kind of shoes should I wear?” (Yes, people actually ask me that!)
Yet very few runners actullay seem interested in learning “HOW” to run.
Invariably, How we run will be the single most important factor, ultimately, in whether our running will be filled with success (enjoyable), or failure (chronic pains, injuries, frustration, etc.). As Gordon Pirie suggests, if running is a lifetime goal, not just a means to physically and emotionally rip yourself to shreds, then it really is important to, FIRST, learn how to run!
Let me first note that these descriptions of how to run, are not intended to be, in any way, shape, or form, a precise mechanical model to follow blindly. In fact, quite the opposite of running blindly, one of the greatest benefits of running barefoot, is a regained awareness, the ability to listen to your body, particularly your soles, to FEEL how one is running, every detail of how our soles are touching and interacting with the earth, rather than simply learn by rote a mechancal movement and repeat it endlessly, despite changing condition, or chronic pains muffled by shoes, knee braces, or drugs.
More importantly, the way I am going to describe running, is the best way I know how, which is from the runner’s (my own) point of view. What I describe, may, or may not, match up exactly with what we observe in another runner, or even what someone observes when watching me run. But, it is what I feel my body doing, while I am running. Any point of view, other than the runner’s individual point of view, is interesting, but from a practical standpoint, somewhat useless in learning to run better.
And finally, before I get started, a word on video analysis, and photographs. These are both ways of capturing a moment in time. They do not show actual motion. Even video, especially home video, and even more so, the low quality video we often see on the internet, does not capture enough frames per second to show exactly how the body is moving.
Our mind plays tricks on us, when we look at a still image. We assume we know what position follows in the next frame, but we are often basing that assumption on what we already assume to be “normal” running form. Therefore, for example, when we see a still image of a runner, in mid-air, with one leg forward, and one back, we erroneosly assume that the runner will remain in that same position until landing. However, if the runner is using good running technique, the motion is not necessarily like a long jump, except maybe those jumps where you see the person “running” in air.
The body is actually moving forward faster than the front foot, and the rear foot is moving forward faster than the body. By the time the runner lands on the ground, if all is going well, the front foot will have actually stopped, met the ground (which, if we didn’t have too much to drink, is also at a standstill), and our foot on the ground, then begins accelerating backwards (in relation to our body. In relation to the ground, the foot is still still, err… I mean stopped), while the body continues traveling forward at several miles per hour.
Well, enough about that for now… let’s start talking about running.
My bias, is of course, to start barefoot. Our feet, after all, are our best coaches. They will remind us immediately, and persistently, when we are running badly.1 And, when we are running well, our feet will enjoy the run, as much as the rest of our body, expecially, if our feet are not being imprisoned inside shoes!
It is possible to learn to run correctly, while wearing shoes. It is also possible to learn to speak and understand speech while deaf. My wife, is deaf, and she learned to speak. But it is a time-consuming and frustrating chore which requires an almost full-time commitment, as well as having someone else observing, and providing constant feedback, to let us know if we are doing something correctly or incrorectly. Invariably, most coaches will not spend the time and attention to teach us how to run. Many coaches simply weed out those of us who aren’t fast enough to be competitive.
While running fast enough to be competitive, may not even be our personal goal. But, running for the shear enjoyment should be!
If, instead of being held prisoners, we allow our to feet run with us, along with the rest of our body, improvement will be much more obvious. Much like the ability to hear, allows us to realize when we pronounce a new sound correctly, or incorrectly, our soles, when allowed to feel the ground, will remind us with every step, if we are running correctly, and especially when we are not running correctly. And you probably thought God was just being cruel by making our feet so sensitive and tiklish!
A lot of people truely believe they wear shoes for comfort. But, when we take the time, or grow up, learning to walk and run while barefoot, Running Barefoot really can be the most comfortable way to run!
Even the most nicely padded cell, if it is a prison, will not be comfortable!
Running barefoot is only uncomfortable when we do it badly! If it hurts, you should be changing the way you run, not going out to find some thickly cushioned shoes to isolate your feet from being a part of your running.
Running with shoes is only more comfortable than Running Barefoot, when we are running badly. And if we took the time to Run Barefoot, we would learn to run better. And better running technique, leads to the possibility of running for several decades with reduced risk of suffering chronic or serious injuries.
Naturally good running technique
We Americans and Europeans can complain until we are blue in the face that Kenyans and Ethiopians have a genetic advantage over our runners. The reality is that we have the most diverse collection of genetic backgrounds in the world. We also have high altitudes to train our runners. The Kenyans actually have training camps in Colorado.
But, even if the genetic difference was all there was too it, it’s a little late to choose new parents. Anyway, for most people, competing against the top runners of the world isn’t that important. If we were all “elite” athletes, then no one would be “elite” athletes.
The real reason why we cannot compete against the Kenyans and Ethiopeans, is that we are simply failing to develop the many potential world class runners in our countries. From childhood, more and more every year, we are choosing not to walk or run, while growing up. And perhaps as importantly, we are blocking the sensory feedback from our soles. Feedback which is necessary, if we are going to develop naturally good technique, as we learn to walk and run as children.
The path we choose in our youth, isn’t just limiting our competitive edge. It is handicapping our population in their latter years. How can aged feet and legs remember how to walk, if these same feet spent their youth propped up on footstools playing video games and watching TV? How can weakened legs, and imprisoned feet, be expected to carry our overfed bodies, when we didn’t train them to carry our light and youthful bodies?
There is so much in the way we live, that we do have control over, which will affect our health, as well as our athletic and competitive ability. And, because we CHOOSE to be lazy, we are not developing the natural efficient running technique of someone, who as children ran several miles a day to school, ran to the neighbors to deliver messages, then when their chores were finshed, ran, just for the fun of it, several more miles, and did all this without the “advantage” of Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Asics, or any other expensive running shoe.
We try to make the answers seem complicated, out of reach. That way we feel justified in doing nothing. If we believe the Africans have a genetic advantage that we cannot control, we can be content to sit back and watch the Kenyans run on TV, instead of going outside for a run, ourselves.
But the answers are not that complicated. We must get off our ever-widening asses! Sure your back and your knees hurt when you run. You’re probably carrying around a lot of extra weight. You’re probably running hunched over. You’re probably pounding excessively with each and every step, simply because you have imprisoned your soles, so you don’t have to listen to them try to help you run more smoothly and gently. You probably learned to run with shoes on. You simply aren’t using your body the way it was designed to be used or for the load it was designed to carry!
Learning to run with shoes on, is like learning a spoken language with ear plugs. You just can’t hear the way the words sound. And with shoes, you just can’t feel your feet touching the ground. And, as far as potential damage to our bodies, that is where the important part of running takes place!
If you want to know how to run naturally, potentially for a century or more, without your body disintegrating from injuries, then look at the design of the human body, particularly the foot. Forget about the way shoes are designed. Most modern running shoes aren’t made for running naturally without injury. Most modern running shoes are designed with the mistaken concept that we are supposed to slam our heels into the ground. And therefore, that our bodies cannot run without some artificial contrivance to absorb the shock as the heel bangs into the ground. Some shoes are even designed with springs in the heels! If we were naturally meant to strike our heels against the ground while running, nature would have put springs in our heels!
The shoe companies try to convince us that humans are not designed to run, at least not on hard manmade surfaces littered with sharp objects. The fact is that hard surfaces and sharp objects are not new, or limited to modern environments. I have run barefoot in the mountains on slabs of granite that were miles long, and harder than any man-made asphalt or concrete. I have also run barefoot through forests, on beaches, and those same mountain trails covered with sharp stones, sticks, and broken shells. Our prehistoric ancestors, apparently, managed to run barefoot across those same surfaces.
Before you can understand why Running Barefoot can be more comfortable, less injurious, and more enjoyable, you must understand the following:
1. We ARE designed to run barefoot on all sorts of surfaces, even rock-hard surfaces!
2. The skin on our soles is designed to run over sharp objects!
3. We are NOT designed to run without feedback from the soles of our feet!
4. Heel striking is uncomfortable in barefeet BECAUSE we are not designed to slam our heels into the ground.
5. It is more comfortable on most surfaces and less dangerous to run barefoot, as long as we run the way we are designed to run!
What is wrong with the way we run?
1. If we were designed to slam our heels into the ground, we would have developed springs in our heels. No springs there! Instead we develop heel-spurs and plantar faciitis, even with shoes. The impact of our heels hitting the ground damages the achilles tendon, then the impact force drives directly up the leg to the knee, and, if the knee isn’t allowed to bend, the force continues through the cartilege, on up the hips, and finally, into the back and neck, causing long-term injuries.
2. The most padded, cushioned, or even spring loaded running shoes have barely an inche of cushion. In fact, any running shoe with much cushioning is going to be unsafe due to instability. By allowing my knees to bend, I have a full 2 feet (24 inches) of potential cushioning. It is true that I rarely compress my knees the full 2 feet. But, how often do your shoe soles compress a full inch?
3. In order to land on the heel first, most runners hold their foot out in front of the body and just wait to land. If the heel hits first, while out in front of our body, the force will push us backwards! We are hitting the brakes every time we put our foot down in this manner! Worse yet, the impact of slamming on the brakes jams our knees. It often seems that nearly everyone who asks me about impact while running barefoot is wearing knee braces!
4. Third; “Wider is better!” This point was brought to my attention by someone who sells running shoes, the forefoot is wider than the heel. Any side to side imbalances are amplified when heel striking, because the heel is narrower and less stable. Landing with most of our weight on the forefoot, with it’s greater width, or on the entire sole, naturally promotes a more stable landing. A canoe is easier to tip than an outrigger!
The Language of Running
I am often asked, “which part of the foot “strikes” the ground first, when running barefoot.”
And I have to answer truthfully, “The foot should never STRIKE the ground!” Foot “strike” only occurs when we are “JOGGING”, not RUNNING. And we should never “JOG“. Jogging (bouncing the body up and down, while trying to push the feet through the ground) would only be somewhat comfortable, after the invention of, and while wearing, modern heavily cushioned jogging shoes. Even then, jogging is only comfortable for a few years, until our knees blow out!
Running (moving the body forward, smoothly, gracefully, and efficiently) is something that began, long before humans had shoes. How many of your prehistoric ancestors were born with shoes on their feet?
Other names for (or methods for teaching) good running technique are:
* Evolution Running
* Pose Method
* Running Barefoot
Running Barefoot, with it’s nearly infinitly more precise feedback provided by the soles of our feet as they contact the ground while, can teach us to refine the techniques and concepts outlined in these teaching methods, to a level, far beyond that of any external coach watching our technique.
Before we start running barefoot, we should understand that a lot of the language we learned from running with shoes, perpetuates bad running.
1. Foot strike. - If you like your feet, you won’t “strike” them. Let your foot “touch” or “kiss” the ground gently.
2. Endurance. - Running Bareoot isn’t something that we should “endure”. Running Barefoot, once we start listening to our feet, should be enjoyable.
3. JOGGING! - I really hate this one! To jog something is to “jar”, to “pound”, to “strike”, to “hit”, to “upset”. Running Barefoot, will naturally be a smoother, more graceful motion, than jogging, because your soles will feel, and complain, immediately if you are JOGGING!
As our foot lands, it should be moving back (in relation to our body), and matching the speed of the ground beneath us. Technically the foot will move forward above the ground. Then before it touches the ground, it should slow to match the speed of the ground beneath the runner. The foot should be directly beneat the runner as it lands. If we land with our knee bent, our weight tends to move away from our heel and closer to the balls, or front, of our foot. Coincidently, the front of our foot, where the balls are, is the widest part of our foot! , The foot will accellerate out in front of our body, but does not land until after it has slowed down and the body has moved over the foot. Rather than simply throwing our foot out front, and waiting for it to crash into the ground, we pull the foot back, matching the speed of the ground beneath our body, and increase the quickness, or cadence, of our steps.
Again look at the design of the foot. It should have an arch. At least it would if you grew up without deforming your feet with shoes and orthotic inserts which prevented your feet from developing naturally. But don’t worry, if you start walking, and later running, barefoot, you will strengthen your arch, naturally.
The arch is a natural spring. Like the leaf springs of an automobile, the arch is designed to flex, not to be held rigidly in place by supportive shoes. The arch is located just behind the balls of our feet. Therefore the balls of our foot should contact the ground first. As the balls take on the weight of our body, the arch deflects, and the heel is gently lowered to the ground. The arch cushions this first part of our landing. Letting the heel touch allows the calf muscles to relax. Do relax! Don’t fight to keep the heel off the ground, otherwise, you will end up with extremely sore calves and achilles tendons.
You probably will have sore calves, and possibly sore achilles tendons, too, at first anyway. Especially if you are new to running, or have been a chronic heel striker (overstriding). After all, your calves will be absorbing the initial shock, instead of the cartiledge in your knee joint. But that’s not a bad thing, the calf muscles and achilles tendons can grow stronger from exercise. The cartiledge in your knee joint will be damaged when it’s used as a cushion.
HINT: To reduce tension on the calves, first of all, relax, but also try taking shorter, quicker steps.
DO NOT PUSH OFF!
“What?” You ask, “How am I going to move forward, if I don’t push off?” You may be thinking that running is simply a matter of pushing your body with your foot, to move forward. After all, running isn’t rocket science!
Or is it?
Well, the fact is most people don’t move forward by pushing off. They simply move up. Then they fall back down, and slam their feet that much harder into the ground.
Most of our forward motion in distance running, comes from momentum. ‘Tis better to not interupt our forward momentum, than to push hard and hit the brakes with each and every step!
Why, then do we try to push off? I think it has a lot to do with being coached early on, to lengthen our stride. Trying to lengthen our stride by pushing harder, or stretching our legs out in front of our body, is WRONG!
In order to stay in the air longer, we must push our bodies higher into the air. This is the nature of gravity, it is constantly pulling us toward the center of the earth (see, I told you, Rocket Science). Unfortunately, this longer time rising above the earth, results in a correspondingly, longer time falling back towards the earth. The more time we spend falling, the more we accelerate towards the earth, the faster we will be traveling towards the earth, and the harder we impact against the earth when we finally land.
This whole idea of trying to lengthen our stride, simply lengthens the time we spend on each stride, not necessarily the distance of each stride. This slow plodding technique, actually slows us down, and increases impact.
So, instead of pushing off, (I’m going to say it again, and again, many times, so get used to it), RELAX, RELAX, RELAX!.
While your foot is on the ground, if your foot is not in front of your body when you land, simply let your ankle bend, and your body will continue moving forward over your foot. At this point, we are tempted to roll up on the balls of our feet and push. But DO NOT roll up on the balls of the feet! DO NOT push off! Instead, simply lift the foot. In fact, you should actually begin the foot lift, BEFORE, the foot actually touches the ground. “WHAT!”, you ask amazingly, “If I do that, my feet will never touch the ground!”
Well, you know that’s not true, since gravity will insure that our feet actually do touch the ground. But, beginning to lift the foot, relative to your falling body, by bending the knee, insures that the foot is slowing it’s descent towards the earth, much like we start slowing our car down, BEFORE we hit the car in front of us. Secondly, begining to lift the foot, before it lands, insures shorter, faster steps (less time falling, accelerating, and slamming into the earth), and it helps keep us from pushing off, which, in reality, is just an extension of slamming our feet into the ground.
How to absorb impact
The purpose of cartiledge in the knee joint, despite the opinion of your shoe manufacturer and podiatrist, is not to absorb the ompact of running. Think of it like a thin layer of teflon, keeping the bones from rubbing together as our knee bends. The knee is a joint. It is designed to bend, when we run or walk. The cushioning is provided by allowing the knees to bend. This is one of the greatest shock absorbers ever invented!
Let the knee bend. Keep on relaxing! NEVER LAND STRAIGHT or STIFF LEGGED! A bent knee is capable of much more cushioning than the most technologically advanced running shoe. If the knee bends as we land, the leg will not transmit the remainder of the impact through the skeleton to the rest of our body, so that our knees and spinal column might also stay healthy the rest of our life.
Ease up on your back
Speaking of our back, the torso should be upright, vertical with respect to the ground. Letting the knees bend, does not mean that our body should be hunched forward. Leaning forward from our waist will put a lot of strain on the lower back muscles as they fight momentum (each time we land) and gravity (all day and night). Being upright also, as Donald Sutherland, playing Bill Bowerman, pointed out in the movie “Without Limits“, makes it easier to pick up your leg.
Now, our knee is bent, our ankle is bent, our arch should actually be flattening (just another of our natural spring mechanisms that is made useless by shoes), our torso is vertical, and if we let our hips lead the way, bending at the ankle, keeping the torso above the hips vertical, our body will almost magically fall forward.
OK! I know, it doesn’t really “Fall” forward, but like I said, I’m describing how running feels from the point of view of the runner, not the point of view of some physicist, unless, of course the runner happens to be a physicist, but that’s another story, for another day. So let’s move forward…
Forward is the direction we want to run!
So why would any runner want to slam their heel into the ground in front of themselves, slowing themselves down, wasting energy, and destroy their knees and back?
Even downhill, or perhaps, especially downhill, we don’t want to be braking. We should only be braking to make a hairpin corner, or on a very long steep downhill, or, in a race, AFTER we cross the finish line!
When we run we should let gravity pull us. Gravity is free! And, unless you’re on the space shuttle, or space station, or taking a steep dive in an airplane, gravity is everywhere we run!
When we try to fight gravity, we feel a jogging sensation, immediately, on our soles. When we put shoes on our feet, the sensation of jarring is reduced. The cushioning in running shoes DOES NOT prevent jarring, it only prevents the SENSATION or feeling of jarring.
But the actual jarring has not gone away. The energy is transmitted directly to our knees and back, and often all the way to our head. I suppose that is why so many “joggers” run hunched over. Instead of letting the knees bend, they bend at the waist. This reduces the jarring sensation in their head. Running with this jarring motion is often referred to as “Jogging.” Never jog! Never tell people you are jogging! Jogging gives running a BAD name; “JOGGING!”
Either way, if you aren’t bending your knees, if you are landing with your foot in front of your body, while your body is moving forward, then your knees are still taking the impact, no matter how much rubber, or how many airbags and springs are under your heels, and your knees and back will probably be complaining loadly someday in the not-too-distant future.
Run in place
* Take off your shoes.
* Stand up… straight!
* Bend the knee on one leg, keeping your body vertical.
Notice the heel comes off the ground. It is practically impossible to land heel first, when we stand up straight, with our knee bent and with our foot directly beneath our vertical body.
Now practice running in place. Focus on LIFTING your feet, instead of pushing your body up into the air. Work on this, until you are satisfied (for now! More improvement will come with more practice), that your body is not bouncing excessively.
Practice walking in slow motion.
This is a little scary for most people, because we do have a natural fear for falling. And running, properally, is really not much more than a continuous forward fall.
So we’ll start slow, just walking, for now. This should allow you to feel a little more in control to start with. Later when you get used to falling forward for miles and miles, you should enjoy, falling forward I mean, running, with hardly any impact at all!
1. Stand up.
2. Move your hips forward, under your body.
3. Keeping your hips beneath your torso, bend (Relax, Relax, Relax) your knees and ankles.
4. Lift one foot (keep your knees and ankles bent)
5. On the leg of the foot which is still planted on the ground, let the ankle bend
6. Let your hips fall forward.
7. As your body falls forward, set the lifted foot down directly under your body (you’ll probably have little choice)
8. Lift the trailing foot (keep your knees and ankles bent)
9. On the leg of the foot, which is now planted on the ground, let your ankle bend
10. Let your hips continue falling forward
11. Now lift the foot which was planted on the ground (still keeping your knees bent)
12. As your body falls forward, set the lifted foot down directly under your body.
13. letting the ankle bend, Let your hips continue falling forward.
Repeat steps 5, 6, 7, and 8 until you get where you want to be.
Don’t try to reach out in front by extending your leg. Stride length will increase as we lean further forward, and consequently move faster, covering more ground with each step. NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. When we try to increase stride length by stretching our leg out in front, we end up doing a series of long jumps, with a stop at the end of each jump, as our foot smashs into the ground in front of us, and we slow down!
Our foot should match the speed of the ground under our body, as it lands slightly behind our center of balance. This allows us to continue falling forward with the next step. The ball of our foot should be supporting our weight on initial touchdown, as our heel gently touches to the ground. This gives the achilles tendon and calf muscle a short rest with each step.
The next step is simply to pick up your other foot and set it down as I have described, BEFORE landing on your face! As you pick up your rear foot, the heel will leave the ground first. Followed by the ball of the foot. Since we landed on the ball of the foot, we call this Ball-Heel-Ball running. To sum up, the ball of the foot lands, the heel is set down (gently), and as we pick our foot off the ground, the ball of the foot follows the heel.
As we learn to run barefoot, our calves may hurt at first. There are a few reasons for sore calves.
* We our using our calf muscles in a way they haven’t been used since we first became addicted to wearing shoes.
* Trying to push our body forward, instead of simply falling forward.
* Our calves are not relaxed.
* We are trying to make long strides.
* Our achilles tendons are straining, because, over the years, they have shortened from wearing shoes with elevated heels.
The calf muscles will build to what is necessary, as we learn to use them correctly. If we let them relax, they will stretch more easily, and build faster with less risk of injury.
As our calves strengthen and our tendons are restored to their natural length, it will be possible to sprint by pushing off from the ball of the foot. This is where running becomes sprinting. Sprinting is not an aerobic exercise and we can not sprint for long distances, without gasping for air. Any running program, even if our goal is to be a great sprinter, must be based in aerobic exercise. That’s why most trainers, professionals, and elite runners do about 90% of their running at a pace they can sustain comfortably, while conversing. A conversational pace, is something we can talk about, while we are running. It is not something we talk about after we catch our breath!
For now, save sprinting for that last 100 meters at your next Olympic event!
Discover how the ground felt to your ancient ancestors. Let your feet get conditioned to touching the rough, uneven surfaces of sand, dirt, rocks, even asphalt. When your feet are tired, walk on some nice green grass to give your feet a treat. Instead of slamming your feet into the rocks as if shoes will protect you, learn to gently set your foot on the ground (preferably between the big sharp rocks) so that you can move quietly and efficiently without jarring your skeleton. If we depend on our shoes to protect us from running, we cannot possibly be running naturally!
No sense using only our feet and legs to run. As our right leg moves forward, our left arm moves forward and visa-versa.
Trying to hold the hips and torso rigid during these motions is a waste of energy, and creates unnecessary tension. Let the body twist. It’s kind of fun. Think of the song “Twist and Shout” while running. Be cool. Don’t force the twist. Just let it happen.
When our hips and torso twist, our legs act like they are longer.
Remember to LET the legs (don’t force them to) stretch out BEHIND, not in front of, your body. This will not work if we run, as I see thousands of people doing, hunched over at the waist. Our hips should be under our body, supporting our body as we run.
Again, this takes the strain off our back, and lets gravity keep us upright, as well as pulling our entire body forward, not just our chest and face.
When can I run?
After several hours, days, weeks, or months, depending on our initial condition, of walking barefoot, we can start running. By this time we should be comfortable walking ball/heel/ball. And, our the soles of our feet should have begun to toughen up a bit.
Don’t expect thick calluses to grow on your soles. If you are walking, running, and landing gently the skin on your soles will toughen, but not harden. The biggest problem many beginning barefooters have, is with sensitivity.
Our feet need to feel the ground so we can walk and run naturally. When we block this sensation by wearing shoes, our feet try even more to feel the ground. We develop an ultrasensitivity in our soles. After years of being blocked, we remove the shoes, and our feet are over stimulated. And we think, how did we possibly run around and play barefoot when we were kids?
It takes several years to get comfortable wearing shoes, assuming we ever really can be comfortable with our feet imprisoned! Watch any child after a parent puts on their first pair of shoes. Watch a cat or dog, after you put booties on their feet. After a few awkward steps without the natural feedback from their soles, they’ll want to rip those shoes or booties off their feet!
Never jog! Jogging is how we learned to run while wearing running shoes. Shoes often do not allow us to run naturally. With their raised heels, it is difficult, if not impossible to run without slamming our heel into the ground. Human heels are designed for resting, not to absorb impact! I KNOW OF NO OTHER ANIMAL THAT LANDS HEEL FIRST!
If you feel some jogging in your feet, your body, or your head, don’t panic. You didn’t get comfortable walking with shoes in a day (if ever!). And you won’t get comfortable running barefoot in a day. Pay attention to the jogging motion. Check your form frequently. Make sure you are doing all of the following;
* Weight on ball of foot, or flat footed (on rougher surfaces or at slow speeds)
* Let heel down gently
* Bent ankles
* Lean forward from ankles (not waist)
* Bent knees
* Hips under body
* Torso vertical
* Lift foot
* Swing left arm with right leg
* Allow torso to twist
* Swing right arm with left leg
* Elbows approximately right angles
* Did I tell you to relax your shoulders?
Make sure you relax, not just the calves, but all of your muscles. Extra tension, is extra work, and increases risk of injury.
Start slowly. You should not start out any faster than you can run for 30 minutes while breathing comfortably. This is what we call a conversational pace, because you should be able to maintain a conversation comfortably. Do the conversation with a friend. If you do it alone, you’ll look even more silly than just for the fact that you are running barefoot!
Soon you will be running smoothly, quietly, and efficiently, without jogging or pounding. By soon, I don’t mean within a few minutes. Remember how long you have been wearing shoes! You are undoing a lifetime of bad training!
One more time
Key points for Running:
1. Vertical torso, but allow it to twist. Hips rotate with your legs, shoulders rotate with your arms.
2. Bent knees, ankles, and hips
3. Pull the feet up, quickly, 180, or MORE, steps per minute!
4. Hips fall forward, while tucked under the torso. Lean from the ankles, not the waist.
5. Relax, relax, relax…
everything else will follow…
The first key, is to get into correct alignment, or posture so that we don’t need to use our back muscles to hold our body up while we run. In escence, our torso will be balanced on top of our hip, which should be tucked in, under our torso, not sticking out behind, like I see so many joggers doing.
Secondly, ankles, knees, and hips, should be slightly bent and RELAXED.
Thirdly, focus on pulling the feet off the ground… quickly, at LEAST 180 steps per minute. You might even run with a metronome occassionally, so you can get a feel for how fast this is. Cadence has less to do with how fast you are running, and more to do with how efficiently and smoothly you are running. Consider that of the amount of time you are in the air each step, you are accelerating towards the earth half that time. If we lift our feet faster, and spend less time in the air, then we do not accelerate as much toward the earth, and have just reduced our impact. Now, don’t confuse stride length, with time in the air. Generally, those who try to increase their speed by lengthening their stride, end up going slower. Try it sometime, run on some sand, and take long, slow strides. Then, next to that set of footprints, run with short, quick strides, and see if your stride length is shorter or longer. If it’s even close to the same length, simply because your legs are moving faster, you WILL be going faster!
And finally, our foot should be landing under our torso, and moving behind our body, as it touches the ground.
Don’t worry too much about landing, gravity will make sure we land. If we run with our ankles, knees, and hips, bent and relaxed, and with our torso vertical, and our butt tucked under our torso, and don’t try to extend our foot out in front of our body… that is, our foot should be under, and moving behind our body as our foot lands, insuring that our forward momentum is not lost by landing heel first, or with our foot in front of our body (which is essentially hitting the brakes, and the primary cause of the “jogging” sensation, which we truely want to avoid).
Pushing off with the feet is unnecessary, if they are landing behind a vertical torso, as the torso will simply fall forward over our legs (while remaining vertical). One of the key points is moving the other foot fast enough to keep from falling down. Faster foot turnover also helps reduce impact, or striking, even more. Move our feet quickly, about 180 steps per minute (3 steps per second), or faster.
Foot strike is really just an extension of push-off. It is caused by the fact that we are trying to use our legs and feet to PUSH or body up, to facilitate an artificially long stride time. The result is that we PUSH our feet into the ground, causing a striking, and we spend an inordinate amount of time for each long slow stride.
If we move our feet quickly, the body does not need to be launched high into the air, as it is a much shorter time before the other foot touches the ground, and supports our weight.
It is much easier to lift the feet with the body, than to launch the body into the air with the feet!
Don’t try to force a ball/heel/ball landing. This usually just results in strained calves and stress fractures, since the important stuff should be happening above the feet. If you are running correctly, a ball/heel/ball landing will occur naturally.
Focus on the techniques above, and we should have little choice, if our feet are landing under our body, and our knees are bent, and our torso is vertical, with our butt tucked under our torso, except to land on the forefoot (not the toes). If we let our calves relax as we land, with our toes slightly curled up (unless we’re running in deep mud, and need to dig our toes in for traction), our heel will come gently down, and as we pull our foot off the ground (which actually should be happening just before the foot touches) then our heel comes back up, and the ball is the last part of the foot to leave the ground.
So Ball/Heel/Ball refers to the order of foot contacting or touching (NOT striking) the ground, which will occur naturally, if we had all learned to run barefoot, without shoes blocking essential feedback from our soles. This is why Kenyans and Ethiopians, and so many other people around the world, who grew up and learned to walk and run barefoot, often take good running technique for granted.
If we think of nothing else while we run, we should imagine our body FLOATING along a level, horizontal line as we run. Remember, it is easier to lift our feet, using our core (body) muscles, than it is to lift our body, using our feet!
When I apply this same concept to vertical movement of the feet, instead of slamming my foot into the ground. The ground is coming at my foot, as my foot is moving up (relative to my body) and the ground and my foot, both traveling up toward my body, meet gently.
Since the foot is being lifted, the knees, of course will be bent, and there is only a gentle kissing of the surface with the foot, and then the foot leaves the ground again.
This doesn’t seem to be a process we can rigidly program into our legs. It’s more a continuing feedback/adjustment loop. Each step we feel our foot touch the ground, and we readjust the following step to improve on the previous. So that, while we may never run with zero impact, we can continuously improve and move closer to that “goal”.
The most important thing to remember is; HAVE FUN! Have an adventure. Explore your world. Explore your body. Explore your running technique. Don’t let running become routine. Don’t just “do it!” Keep exploring. Keep thinking. Keep learning. Watch other people run. Watch other animals run. Enjoy running for a lifetime.
Explore the world beneath your feet!