No matter what barefoot running method you use, there are some important principles you should keep in mind. By doing so, you will run further, avoid injury, and most importantly, enjoy it.
The heel strike is the most potentially injury-inducing aspect of traditional running form. Unfortunately, you have probably been heel-striking all of your life. Now that you’re a barefoot runner, those days are done. ALWAYS land on the middle of your foot.
Your stride will probably be shorter, but that is just fine. It will take your foot and leg muscles a little while to adapt to the correct style of running, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t run as long or as far as you could before. Once those muscle are conditioned, you will be running better than ever.
In order to better understand the concept behind a midfoot strike, consider the cheetah. As you are well aware, the cheetah is the fastest land mammal on the planet. In analyzing the cheetah’s running style, we find a few interesting things we can apply to our own running.
First of all, when the cheetah’s paws make contact with the ground, it doesn’t “strike” the ground. Instead, it “skims” the ground.
As shown in the picture, the cheetah’s paw makes only light contact with the surface. We can apply this to our own running efficiency by understanding that the heel strike stops motion, while a midfoot strike continues momentum. When you heel strike while running, you kill your own momentum with each step. The midfoot strike works with your motion, rather than against it.
The cheetah, like nearly all animals built for speed, doesn’t even have a heel. None. This is because the heel is inefficient and unnecessary in any type of running. Whether you prefer long distance treks or interval sprints, eliminating the heel strike will greatly increase your speed and mechanical efficiency.
While the midfoot strike is the golden rule of good running form, there are many other technical aspects that should be considered. When beginning, it’s important that you choose a specific style (such as Pose Running) and study proper form. Ideally, you should get a certified running coach that can observe and teach you based on your individual posture and gait.
Mega bounce? Ultra-cushion? Shock absorbing technology? Just say NO! If you would like to run efficiently and injury free, you will have to ditch the traditional running shoes. These shoes promote the heel-strike and go against natural running form.
A high price does not mean better shoes. People will buy these shoes because giant and evil shoe companies (we won’t name names) spend millions on advertisements convincing people the newest shoe is the best.
This simply isn’t true.
The principle reason athletic shoes should not be word is heel elevation. A cursory glance at any typical athletic shoe will reveal that the heel is significantly higher than the midfoot.
This elevated heel causes the body to naturally compensate by striking the ground with the heel. Shoe companies have recognized that this causes a great amount of force, and thus they have attempted to reduce the impact by increasing “cushioning”. It’s not that traditional athletic shoes are designed poorly, but rather that the designers are aiming at the wrong target.
Instead of trying to lessen the total force of the heel strike, shoes should eliminate the heel strike altogether and promote midfoot landing. Barefoot running shoes accomplish just that. By way of a neutral base, the foot lands in the efficient way it was intended: on the midfoot.
Most of us run on sidewalks, public tracks, and the occasional field or trail. No matter where you run, there is a good chance there will be some unfriendly things on your route. Stepping on glass, sharp stones, or even smaller pebbles can cut your feet and leave you couch-bound until the wounds heal.
To solve this, you need to get a quality pair of barefoot shoes that protect your feet without impairing form. For beginners, we recommend the New Balance MT20 or the Vibram Five Fingers Bikila.
Pose Running is probably the most popular method of barefoot running. It was created by Dr. Nicholas Romanov, a two-time Olympic coach who was puzzled by the fact that athletes are taught how to lift, throw, and dive, but not how to run with proper form. To solve this, Dr. Romanov systematically developed a simplistic method of running that can increase your efficiency and decrease the number of injuries you endure. Pose Running won’t take a minute off of your mile time over night, but by learning the proper technique and practicing regularly, you will see a great improvement in your running.
The Pose method of running is more than a concept, it’s a scientifically tested running method. In a study by the American College of Sports Medicine, twenty heel-striking runners were taught both midfoot striking and Pose running, and the effect on bio mechanical efficiency was analyzed. The greatest advantage found in Pose technique is the drastically lower force absorbed by the knee.
In the above graph, eccentric work simply means the force exerted in extending the knee. Although there are other factors to consider, the Pose method exerts considerably less force than other methods, and thus there is less impact on the knee upon landing.
There are many drills and practice exercises you can do to enhance your Pose running, but first you should start with the basics.
For barefoot running using the Pose method, it is important to keep your body in an elongated “S” shape (the pose in Pose Running), as shown in the diagram below. While running, you should lead with your torso and sternum.
Your body should be in this shape throughout your run. Remember keep your back straight and lean forward slightly when you begin to run, and maintain the same lean as you continue. You should not be leaning back at any point during a barefoot run with the Pose Running technique. The one except to this rule is regarding hills.
When running down hills, you will have to minimize forward lean and align yourself vertically in order to keep your balance. Still, you should not be leaning backward. Also, notice that the ankles, hips, and shoulders are vertically aligned. Your weight should be on the balls of your feet, and not the heel or the toes. Your body should be loaded like a spring (think potential energy).
When Pose running, you should always be landing on the ball of your foot, never the heel. When you heel-strike, you are essentially “putting the brakes” on your momentum and forcing your joints to absorb the impact.
In contrast, Pose Running emphasizes lightness. Instead of typical thudding and pounding, proper technique mandates tapping the ground. The less contact you make with the ground, the more efficient you will be. This is one of the reasons competitive cyclists use very thin tires.
While one foot is down, the other foot should be “pulled” straight up near the butt. The upward motion of the heel is known as the pull in Pose Running technique. According to certified Pose Coach Ken Schafer, the pull is one of the toughest and most important concepts in Pose running.
He advises that the height of the pull should be determined by the speed in which you are running: a slower speed should have a shorter pull (just a few inches from the ground). Conversely, if you are sprinting or doing some other kind of high-speed running, pulling your feet higher will be the most efficient technique.
Important tip: Your heels should be underneath your hip and never further back than your butt. This is essential to keeping balance during Pose Running, as you will be leaning forward.
As for your stride, think short. Runners have been traditionally coached to lengthen their stride, but running in barefoot shoes requires the opposite approach. Utilize a short, choppy stride, lean forward (falling), and you’re off. Make sure that you’re not reaching or grabbing the ground.
To check yourself while you run, make sure you’re not making any of these major mistakes:
Reaching your foot too far ahead
“Planting” your foot on the ground (instead, let your foot fall)
Keeping your feet on the ground too long (pull your foot back up quickly).
Pose Vs. Midfoot
If you’ve been reading about barefoot running styles, you’re probably a little confused on the difference between a midfoot strike and Pose technique. Really, they are only slightly different, and they accomplish the same thing. A midfoot strike simply means a greater length of the foot is permitted to touch the ground, whereas proper Pose form dictates that only the ball of the foot should make contact with the ground.
Also, runners using a midfoot strike often have just a slightly longer stride, as they are able to “reach” more with their feet.
It does not matter which method you choose. The main tenet of both concepts is the elimination of the heel-strike. All else is secondary in running form. Therefore, it is important to focus on proper foot landing first and foremost when considering how to develop good running form.
Additionally, each runner needs to find the style that best suits their individual body type, as some may experience better results with one or the other. Ultimately, however, the goal should be the same: no heel-strike. With this as a foundation, our running can be more efficient and less prone to injury.
Barefoot Running Exercises
After your first barefoot run, you will be sore. Barefoot running requires the use of different leg muscles than those of traditional running techniques. Your muscles will adapt over time, but here are some awesome exercises that will speed up the process and get you running strong.
This exercise was actually developed by a chemist, W.G. George. Even though he was a scientist by trade, George loved running and even recorded one of the fastest mile times of the 19th century.
To do the the 100-up, first place feet flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Raise one foot until the thigh is parallel to the floor, and then lower the leg, touching the ball of the foot to the ground. Alternate legs at a steady pace.
Once you have the technique down, it’s time for the advanced version. The foot placement and landing is the same, but this time you must move quicker, bouncing and never letting your heels touch the ground. This is basically barefoot running in place.
When doing this exercise, your form must be perfect. George advised that if you find your form breaking, stop for the day. Eventually you will work up to 100 consecutive reps.
Ankle jumps are a very simple exercise that will strengthen foot and leg muscles, allowing you to run barefoot longer and further.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart or slightly wider. Using more ankle power than quadricep or hamstring strength, jump as high as you can and land on the ball of your feet (as you would if you were running).
Barefoot running can reduce the risk of certain injuries. Studies have shown that people who run barefoot or with minimal footwear are less likely to develop certain injuries, such as plantar fasciitis and stress fractures.
You should bend your knees slightly upon landing in order to distribute the force evenly. Concentrate on using foot and calf muscles for the jump. The goal is not height, but rather total muscle engagement.
Do ankle jumps at a moderate pace until form breaks.
Using a jump rope in training for barefoot running will greatly accelerate leg muscle development. If you’re serious about barefoot running, the jump rope is a must.
Essentially this exercise is running in place while jumping rope. If you haven’t already done so, check out the Pose Running Technique to learn the proper form. When you barefoot run in place with the jump rope, using timed sets will be effective.
Remember: Form is the most important part of any running exercise! If your form is breaking down, stop and rest.
These exercises aren’t 100% necessary if you’d like to try barefoot running, but the will help you make progress much faster. Wear your barefoot running shoes while you do these exercises, and remember the most important thing: FORM!
Beginner Guide to Barefoot Running
If you’ve read through our articles, or listened to your barefoot friends, you know that you need to gradually adapt to the barefoot running style. Learning proper technique may be the best thing you do to avoid injuries and increase efficiency, but you won’t see the benefits if you don’t do it correctly.
Here is a simple program for beginning barefoot runners that will be an effective way to adapt your body to the proper running form.
The first week is super easy. All you have to do is start walking barefoot around the house, outside, or wherever there is a safe surface (even the sidewalk is good as long as there’s no broken glass).
Focus on feeling the ground with your feet. Much of barefoot running is based on the fact that the nerves in your feet respond to the surface you’re running on. Since there is little to interfere, you’ll know when your form is breaking, and you can adjust accordingly. Also, when you can feel the ground you’ll be able to sense oncoming injuries before they become serious.
Do this for about a week at first (feel free to continue though!)
After the first week of barefoot walking, you’ll start running lightly (this is where your barefoot running shoes come into play). The best place to do these runs is a soccer or football field, but any grassy area will do. Sidewalks and concrete surfaces will be a bit too rough to begin with, and the beach is a bad idea. Sand is actually too soft (you won’t be able to run with proper form).
Here’s what you’ll run for the first week:
- 20 yards- 3 times
- 50 yards – 3 times
- 100 yards- 3 times
Do this workout at least twice during the week (give yourself a few recovery days in between). Don’t work about speed. The important thing at this stage is that you practice correct form. Feel free to ratchet up the rep numbers after the first week as you get more comfortable with technique. Still, don’t start running full miles just yet.
You will be sore– this is a good thing. As you run more, the soreness will dissipate and you’ll be able to run longer.
After about a month (or when the soreness is gone), you can start logging some real miles. Even if you’re a seasoned runner, it’s still important that you take it slow and only run a few miles at a time.
Here’s what a sample week might look like:
- Monday- 1 mile
- Wednesday- 2 miles
- Saturday- 3-5 miles
Listen to your body. If your form starts to break, stop. It is much better to run a little with great form than to run a lot with poor form! By this time, you should be comfortable with proper running technique, and you can increase mileage as you see fit.
That’s it! It will take some time to get used to barefoot running technique, but we’re confident you’ll never go back. In addition to a plan such as this, various exercises and weightlifting routines will help strengthen foot and leg muscles.