Sunday, September 11, 2011

Visualization of Barefoot Running Form

So, last post I gave some tips on getting started with barefoot running.  I hope that you have tried a little barefoot walking outside and downloaded Jason Robillard's book (or at least read his ABC's post).  This time I want to dive in to the mechanics of the gait a little bit and give you the visualization clues I used to help me.

Foot Landing (Foot Strike)
The foot strike should be gentle, as light as possible.  Watch a cat walk or run, or study a ninja that lives in your neighborhood.  They hit the ground quietly, and sneak up on you.  In barefoot running, the natural way we run, we land on the ball of our foot first then the heel and toes come down as the calf stretches.  Sometimes it looks like your foot is landing completely flat.

I use this visual for the foot landing:  Picture how your feet and ankles move as you go up a flight of stairs.  You typically touch first at the ball of your foot, but as you load the leg, your heel comes down as the calf stretches.  There is a reflex that happens as your calf stretches to help turn on the quad and glute muscles to keep the knee and hip from collapsing.  When running, this same process happens but it happens a lot faster and is a little less exaggerated.

A few other visuals that might help:
  • Pretend that you are running on hot coals, it will help decrease the force of your landing.  Same thing goes for liquid-hot magma.
  • Concentrate on the foot that is moving up, and the force on the landing foot will decrease (not my favorite way, but its an option).
  • Pretend that your running surface is loaded with springs and they push your foot up as soon as you set it down.
Knee Bend
To have the right knee bend, you should bend your knee.  How's that for you?  Not enough?  Fine.

The knee should never be completely straight in barefoot running.  As you land with your foot right below the hip, the knee is already bent to reduce force and it stays bent through the foot lift.  The knee bend is a major element of the shock absorbing system. 

What helped me:
  • Pretend that as you are running your butt is getting lower to the ground like you are going to sit on an imaginary chair.
  • Increasing your foot strike cadence will help with this too.  It decreases the amount of available time to straighten your leg out.  You can't straighten the knee if doing so will make you fall over.
Foot Lift
This is a simple idea, but is difficult in practice.  If you use your foot to push off and try to propel yourself forward you will get blisters and have a bad time.  This one took me a while to understand.  You have to lift your foot nearly as soon as it touches down on the ground.  Notice I didn't say you have to rock forward onto your toes and push off of the ground.  You have to literally pick your foot up off the ground in a fluid motion before you try to use those toes to push off.  Don't worry about what is moving you forward.  We will get to that.

My visual:
  • I don't have one.  Just pick your foot up.
  • The "running on liquid hot magma" visual may help you.  You don't want to keep your foot on liquid hot magma for very long.  
  • Think about (or find a video on You Tube) of someone walking on hot coals.  If you step lightly and pick your foot up quickly you don't get burned.  If you dig in and try to propel yourself forward quickly, you get burned.  If you try to push off with your foot when running, you get blisters.  Same concept.
The Forward Lean
This is how you move forward when you can't push off.  Jason Robillard teaches a drill where your stand slightly away from a wall, keep your body straight, and lean forward at the ankles until your head touches the wall.  That teaches you a little about the forward lean.  This is another concept that I had a little trouble with until I realized that if everything else is correct, this one happens on its own.

What to do:
  • Make sure you have a high cadence, your feet are landing below your hips, and you are stepping softly, and the forward lean will take care of itself.  If it doesn't, you will quickly realize you aren't moving forward.  You will either fix the problem or run in place.  Either way, have fun!

Have you tried barefoot running or do you have tips of your own?  Leave a comment below or put them on Facebook!


  1. Hi...Your post really got me thinking man..... an intelligent piece, I must say. We provide best Best chi service.

  2. Thanks for reading, santosh! Glad to get you thinking about barefoot running!