Monday, July 02, 2007

More Thoughts on Running Form

A new barefoot runner posted in http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/RunningBarefoot that he sustained a stress fracture in his foot because he was trying to land on the balls of his feet without changing the rest of his form. Ouch! This is why it is so essential to change the whole running form, not just how your feet contact the ground! Here is what I wrote in response to his post:

Hello and congratulations!

You have been very effectively "taught" by your foot how NOT to run!
Barefoot running education may be free, but not without costs, sometimes.

I also suffered a stress fracture in my left foot almost identical to yours - I was doing the same (wrong) thing by trying to land "ball" first without changing the rest of my running form. This happened to me just about 7 or 8 months into my barefoot running career. I was 50 years old at the time and, like you, had to "un-learn" many years of wrong running form.

My advice, now, to you is this: Let the foot heal completely, expect 8 to 10 weeks for this. Don't push it at all during this time!

After your foot has completely healed, start back to using it very slowly. The most important thing is to NOT repeat the process that got you injured in the first place!

Yes, you can learn to run barefoot correctly. The hardest thing for me was (and is) to release from my MIND my old running form and force my new running form in its place.

When you are completely healed, I suggest you try this:

Run in place, barefoot, for some period of time before actually moving forward. The reason -- you cannot land wrong on your feet while running in place. In fact, I challenge anyone who wants to try it, to really try landing heel-first while running in place! Good luck!

While running in place, don't push off with your forefeet. Think about lifting your entire foreleg by lifting your thigh and knee straight up. Notice that your shins stay at a nearly vertical angle each time you put your foot down. Experiment with bending your knees. What happens when you bend your knees MORE than you think is necessary? Notice how easy and natural it is to land forefoot? Notice the nice stretch in your Achilles?

Implant in your mind the feel of this running form. Close your eyes and imagine you are running miles upon miles over hills and highways while using only this form. You are trying to re-train your brain to forget your old form and to accept a different form of running.

When you are ready to actually start going forward, don't change a thing about your foot and leg action. The only thing you need to change is where your hips are in relation to your shins. While running in place, your hips and torso are pretty much directly above your (nearly vertical) shins. To move forward, let your hips and torso be a little more in front of your shins. Keep knees bent. You're moving forward! Yay!

Good running form feels a little precarious at first, as if you are balancing on the edge of a forward fall. This is because your body's center of gravity IS balanced on the forward edge of your comfort zone. If you hold that feeling while running, you will have many hours and miles of smooth, effortless running in store.

As soon as you feel your form start to change (your brain is getting in the way) STOP. The problem is, IF you let your brain convince you to move more into a 'protective spot' -- that is, relaxing your form so your torso is comfortably and 'safely' in the middle of your strides -- you will no longer be running easy and your feet will take a beating for sure! You WANT to be at the leading edge of your forward stride. So correct your brain: Run in place a little bit, and start to press your hips and torso ahead of your shins again. Allow yourself to LOVE that precarious position.

I think of the difference between running in the correct zone and the incorrect zone in terms of triangles. Imagine your hip is the top point of a triangle (looking from the side), your forward foot is the front point and your rearward foot is the back point.

Poor form wants to balance your top point in the middle of the front and back points - a 'solid' 'safe' position, but terrible for your feet. In this 'solid' position, your front foot blocks your forward movement and you have to pull and push your body weight forward with your legs to get your center over the spot where your front foot first slammed down.


Correct barefoot form tips the triangle forward so the top point is over the front point and the rear point is somewhere up in the air. It feels precarious. But its very easy to lightly place your foot directly beneath your torso and you keep moving forward without any push-off. With your knee bent, your 'front' foot is naturally and effortlessly placed BHB without forcing it.



So, to run barefoot easily and safely for your feet, joints and muscles, learn to run inside of that forward, precarious balance position.

5 comments:

Andrew said...

Thanks for the tips on running form. I literally did my first barefoot run today and I think I made some of the mistakes you counsel against. I definitely had some abriason issues as evidenced by the 4 blood blisters that are now gracing my feet. Even so, I could feel the change in running style strengthening my ankles and calves. I'm excited to join the barefoot running community!

Vancouver Barefoot said...

Hey, Andrew! Welcome to a whole new world of challenge and enjoyment! I repeat the cautions so often given to new barefoot runners: Start off with short distances! Its easier to train and build-up your form and distances when you are FREE from stress-fractures and big, painful blisters! Remember the "run in place" attitude. Try to keep that form in your mind while you 'lean' into it to move forward. Have fun!

Ryan

Mike said...

i wish i had read this sooner
because my stress fracture
from autumn has returned, but
at least i can keep this in mind
because i'm going into college xc
and also presenting a report
on barefoot running tomorrow night.
good information is hard to come by
for barefoot running when every
magazine is selling expensive shoes
under the pretense of necessity.
(instead of detriment)
that being said, this has been
a tremendous help to me.
thankyou very much.

Vancouver Barefoot said...

Hello, Mike!

Thank YOU for reading my humble little blog. Its nice to know that I'm not just talking (typing) to myself here.

Let me know how your report on barefoot running turns out -- and if your professor liked it!

Ryan

Anonymous said...

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