Saturday, September 3, 2011

Barefoot Running Form - From "A" to "C"

I've wanted to do a semi-educational post for a while rather than just relaying my modest accomplishments, so here it is!  Hold on interwebs, we are rocketing to Planet Knowledge!

As is the case with all good knowledge, most of what I'll relay to you is stolen from others.  Mostly from Jason Robillard.  I hope he wont mind.  He seems pretty laid back, so we should be just fine.  You know what they say about the quiet ones though...

A couple weeks ago I got to meet Jason when he was in Rochester to present a barefoot running clinic.  I even got some proof:
Jason and I at Tradehome Shoes.

Jason presented the new, simplified barefoot instruction program he and the folks at Merrell developed.  They call it BareForm Running and teach it via "The ABC's".  You can (and should) read the post on his blog about it  here, but I'll summarize quickly:

A= Align Posture.  Stand tall with a slight forward lean at the ankles, knees slightly bent.
B= Balanced Foot Strike.  Feet land under the hips, almost flat.
C= Cadence.  180 steps per minute.  A fast cadence helps ensure the balanced foot strike.

That is honestly enough to get you started.  You can check out his book to get some more details on form and such but the ABC's will get you going.  He is still giving his book away, or you can find it on Amazon if you want the hard copy.  I have the hard copy.  I like circling and highlighting things.

So, here are some tips and things I've learned the easy way (from others) and mastered the hard way (practice).
  •  It is true that barefoot running leads to a forefoot or midfoot landing, rather than landing on the heel.  That does not mean that the heel doesn't touch the ground.  In fact, the heel and toes touch the ground a split second after the ball of your foot does.  Your foot lands almost flat.  This was a concept that I struggled with in the beginning and it caused me some problems, namely Achilles Tendonitis.  I was staying on the ball of my foot the whole time rather than letting my heel come down.  Which leads me to my next point...
  • If you are thinking about trying barefoot running, go barefoot.  Don't try to change your form while wearing the same running shoes you have been wearing, which is exactly where I went wrong.  I developed my Achilles problems after doing a 5K wearing my New Balance shoes, but running "on my toes" the whole time.  At the time, that was how I understood barefoot form.  Had I taken my shoes off, and continued to run "on my toes", I would have soon gotten blisters or some severe foot pain and had to stop running.  My feet would have told me pretty quickly that I was doing something wrong.  I had shoes on though, so I missed the message.  You should save the minimalist shoes for non-barefoot friendly terrain too.  Go barefoot and learn faster.  Once you have good form, those minimalist shoes like the Merrell Trail Glove or Vibram Five Fingers are great for hostile environments.
  • Do a lot of barefoot walking outside.  No amount of walking around the house barefoot can prepare you for the sidewalk down the street that is littered with acorn or walnut shells.  Squirrels by nature are evil creatures and they hate people, especially barefoot people.  Their primary means of attack is covering sidewalks with sharp pieces of debris.  Walking barefoot outside will help desensitize your feet to the small debris that will likely be in your way.  It may also give you a clue on routes to avoid when you are out running barefoot.  Your feet become accustomed to little rocks and debris, but not if you stay on carpet.
  • Speaking of soft surfaces, don't try to start on grass.  Find some pavement or a smooth gravel or dirt trail.  Grass is a reward for good form.  Running on a hard surface will give you more feedback and allow your form to improve faster.  I have found that when I'm running on grass I tend to start heel-striking right away.  When I got lost on a run a few weeks ago, I veered on to the grass for a bit when my feet started to get sore and I immediately started to land on my heels.  
  • Start small and work up from there.  If you are already a runner, don't go out and just do your normal mileage barefoot.  That will likely hurt.  There are a few superheros out there that can transition really quickly with no ill-effects, but most of us need to build distance and speed with a healthy dose of time.
There's a few tips to get you started.  The only way to learn is to go out and practice.  Kick those shoes off and take a walk around the block.  Bring your dog with you.  He will appreciate the walk, and you just might start to remember that being barefoot is fun!  My next post will give some visualization tips on proper running form.  I need some things explained to me a few times in a few ways before I really understand so my hope is to get you thinking about form in different ways to find the best way for you.

Questions, thoughts, or just want to tell me to buzz off?  Leave a comment below or search Barefoot Chiropractor on Facebook.  Look for the picture of my feet!