I often get comments and questions on blogs and social networks about the right way to run barefoot or minimalist.
I recently completed 35,000 kilometers running minimalist and barefoot, the last 25,000 totally injury free. For this reason, I think it is a good time to share some thoughts on this way of running that is so efficient and so harmless.
I hope you find this article interesting and that it helps you to improve your running, so that you can do it more and better, away from undesirable injuries.
Biomechanics of jumping and running
It’s a good idea to start this entry by paying attention to the similarity between performing a vertical jump and striding when running.
We can see that running and jumping are two activities that achieve a different result in terms of movement. The jump produces a vertical upward shift while the stride provides a horizontal forward shift.
However, despite the difference in outcome, the procedure for carrying out both actions is otherwise very similar in both cases.
If we analyze the movements we make when we jump, you will surely agree with me in the following answers:
- Do we bend our knees to accumulate energy to propel ourselves? YES
- Are the knees in front of the body or behind? IN FRONT
- Shall we take off with our heels first? NO
- Do we take off first with the forefoot? YES
- Do we land on our heels first? NO
- Do we land on our forefoot first? YES
- When we land, is the support foot in front of or behind the knee? NO
- When we land, is the support foot just below the knee? YES
Well, these answers are also the foundation for a good running form, that is, running the right way. We are going to describe the different movements that we carry out in a precise way. To illustrate them you can help you with the following video in which you can observe the movements described when running barefoot or minimalist.
Good running form
1. Landing with the forefoot
Landing with the forefoot is the first line of stride stability. The toes, and especially the big toe, rest on the floor. This activates the arch and creates a stable base that aligns the knees and hip.
When landing with the forefoot, the ankle, which should not pass the knee, absorbs part of the impact while the heel lowers. Landing with the forefoot we get that the stride is not too wide and this favors a faster pace.
Technique and awareness
- First contact with the floor make it with the forefoot
- Keep your ankle below your knee. Don’t let the foot forward so much that it passes the knee.
- No matter what your speed, the relationship of the footprint to the body must not change.
- Shoulders always aligned with the hip; don’t tilt the torso.
2. Leg support
This is the transition phase between landing with the forefoot and the elevation of the guide leg knee. Heel support only lasts a fraction of a second, but it’s very important to do it the right way.
The leg should hold the whole body, which in turn should remain straight, without tilting the torso. This prevents excessive strain on the ankle and calf and allows for a quick transition to knee lift.
We also achieve that the muscular activation initiated with the forefoot step continues through the calf. The knee and middle gluteus are stabilized, and there is a support for the entire body, which promotes muscle balance and efficiency.
Technique and awareness
- After stepping on the forefoot, let the heel make contact with the ground.
- Feel your feet, knees, hips and buttocks stabilize.
- The support leg is held almost directly under the body.
- The body stays upright, the torso stays straight.
3. Knee Elevation
Now you have to concentrate on both legs. You push the support leg to the ground and raise the guide leg. At this stage, the whole body stabilizes and provides the energy needed to propel us forward.
Two actions have taken place during this stage:
- The support leg stabilizes and projects energy towards the ground according to the speed. The degree of inclination indicates how fast you run.
- The calf muscles of the support leg are prepared for take-off, also on the forefoot and fingers.
Technique and awareness
- Lift the knee of your guide leg up and forward. Keep your ankle relaxed and under your thigh. It should never be in front of you or your knee. The knee is the one that leads the way.
- On the support leg, transfer your weight to the forefoot and fingers with the help of the calf. This leg is now pushing against the ground to propel you forward.
- Continuing with this stage, the guide leg reaches the highest point. This height is directly related to speed, the higher the height, the faster the speed. The ankle should always remain under the thigh and behind the knee.
- At the same time, the support leg becomes almost straight. Now you’re leaning on your toes and pushing against the ground. The hip must remain open and the torso does not bend.
- Always, the upper body should be upright and relaxed, and the abdominal muscles and buttocks working.
- The calf of your support leg must be active to exert force in the next stage.
In this stage there is the jump (both feet are in the air) but in the case of the race what we get is to move forward. As in the jump you use the energy accumulated in the muscles of the previous stage.
This energy, translated into speed, is determined by the distance between the knee of the guide leg and the foot of the support leg. The greater the height of the knee in the guide leg and the greater the inclination of the support leg, the greater the speed. While the supporting leg exerts force against the ground, the guiding leg forwards the knee.
This action is similar to that of the bow and arrow. The arm that pulls the rope back is the leg that advances the knee; the straight arm that holds the arch is the support leg. The forefoot tread should always be down and always the same, whatever the speed.
Technique and awareness
- With the foot of the supporting leg you should only push slightly with your toes. The propulsion energy comes from the neutral activation of the ankle and calf at the moment they are projected onto the ground.
- The guide leg reaches its highest point and then adopts a 90-degree angle, always with the foot behind the knee and under the thigh. Don’t stretch your foot before you land.
- When the guide leg touches the ground with the forefoot, it becomes the support leg and stabilizes the body.
- Keep your torso up and your hip extended.
5. Movement of arms
Swinging the arms during the stride allows the chest to be extended and the shoulders to be held straight, thus increasing efficiency and facilitating breathing.
When movement is efficient arms and legs work in unison. This allows the stride to be fluid and the body to be relaxed while running. When accelerating you can extend your arms to leverage and increase power.
Technique and awareness
- Keep your arms bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Keep your elbows back and close to your torso.
- Don’t swing your arms too far in front. Make sure that they have a rhythm in accordance with that of the legs, swinging forward and backward.
- Keep elbows bent and arms close to the body to reduce work to a minimum.
We often see that when a runner wants to increase the running speed, he often does so by increasing the stride and thus increasing the force with which the foot hits the ground.
Really if we want to increase the speed in the most efficient way, what we have to do is to increase the pace, accelerating the movement of the guide leg. At a proper pace, your foot should touch the ground about 22 or 23 times every 15 seconds, regardless of your height.
When doing light races concentrate on your rhythm for 5 or 10 minutes. With time and practice you’ll begin to feel when your rhythm is right and you won’t have to count.
However, if you’re still concentrating on controlling the above five points to acquire a correct technique, I don’t recommend that you also try to control the rhythm. Sometimes wanting to do too many things at the same time is counterproductive.
What footwear is suitable for running?
Slippers are to a large extent the origin of many of the problems that runners suffer from. The thick heel shoes, with excessive stabilization and cushioning, are destroying you as a runner even though their advertising campaigns say otherwise.
All protection generates weakness and this reduces the strength of your feet.
Slippers with thick soles don’t allow you to step forefoot easily. This can be especially negative if you are running over uneven terrain such as a trail. This type of footwear prevents the stability and muscular activation needed in the forefoot, knees and buttocks.
Calves do not fully activate because the heel touches the ground too soon. This limits strength and elasticity by forcing the quadriceps to work harder. Calves function as springs, accumulating and releasing energy when we run and jump, but for this they need to be tensed (ie, extend to accumulate energy), then release that force that gives agility to our jumps.
Another consequence of this lack of activation is that the knee is projected to the front, which promotes muscle control of the quadriceps and prevents the correct activation of the buttocks.
Correct footwear provides us with a series of benefits such as:
- Favor forefoot landing.
- Awareness of form.
- Stabilization through the toes and the rest of the foot, and adequate extension of the calves, which allows it to function as springs.
- Also using this type of footwear will develop the strength of the foot and muscle balance of the whole body, and all because they give freedom to your feet.
Changing to correct footwear
The transition from traditional footwear to correct footwear should be a gradual process. Many muscles that are not accustomed to being activated will be activated and this will subject them to great stress if you do not proceed with caution.
During the transition he uses old traditional footwear for long runs and correct footwear for short runs. Little by little you will have to gradually increase the distances with the latter. This way you will give your feet and calves time to strengthen.
Little by little you will notice how the traditional footwear with heel and drop is more uncomfortable for you, that is a sign that you are ready to get rid of them definitively.
Never put a deadline on success. If you do, you’ll end up failing.
Running barefoot or in slippers?
Barefoot running allows you to develop endurance, strengthen legs and feet and acquire a correct and less harmful way of running. Barefoot running is a good way to feel the toes, foot, arch, and perceive how they are activated during the stride.
However, certain precautions should be taken. We must be smart, stones can hurt us. It is also very difficult to train and perform well without adequate protection.
It’s not always possible to run barefoot. Evaluate the terrain you are going to cover before making the decision to run barefoot.
If you need drop-free shoes with thick soles to run through complicated mountain terrain, use it. Just as if you run on easy terrain, smooth and without stones you can use drop-free footwear with a thinner sole. There is no one type of footwear suitable for all situations.
Consciousness is everything when we speak of form. Feel your body, live what it is doing, how long is the stride, what part of your foot is stepping on, how you move your arms, the stability of your big toe. The symmetry of your knee, hip and ankle.
Take a look at the Tarahumaras, who since childhood make extensive and continuous ascents in the Copper Canyon. In this way they gain strength in the feet and legs and develop muscular memory.
The more conscious you are of the way you run, the better you will run. Running barefoot or minimalist helps you become more aware of the way you run.
I hope this entry will help you improve your running and stay away from injuries. Greetings and see you next time.