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Barefoot and Natural Running Form: How Do I Know If I’m Doing It Right?

Posted by on Aug 14, 2011 | 9 Comments

Here a few quick, simple methods to check your running form.  If you’re brand-new, check out this article:

http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/barefoot-running/

-or-

Check out my book, which is available as a free pdf here:

http://robillardadventures.com/2011/06/14/the-barefoot-running-book-ebook-giveaway/

-or- 

Buy the dead tree version here:

The Barefoot Running Book: Second Edition

Anyway, let’s assume you’ve learned the basics.  How do you know you’re doing it right?  Here are the “tests” I use to make sure my own form is good.  The first six can be done with minimalist shoes or barefoot.

  1. Vertical movement:  Ideally, your body should not bounce up and down when running.  If your body is bouncing up and down, you’re probably overstriding (your feet are landing in front of your center of gravity instead of under.)  If you’re wearing jewelry, have a pony tail, or breasts (thanks Kate Kift), you can use these to monitor “bounciness.”  Ideally, you want as little bounce as possible.  If you are overstriding, the solution is simple- take shorter, faster steps until bounciness is reduced.
  2. Sound:  Good form makes little or no noise.  If your feet are hitting the ground with too much force, you’ll hear a loud WHACK!  The goal is to run softly.  Pretend you’re a cat.  Or a ninja.  Whatever.  If you’re hearing two thuds with each foot landing, you’re probably heel striking.  You hear the thud of your heel hitting followed by the slap of your forefoot.  If this is the case, shortening your stride and speeding your cadence usually eliminates the problem.  It’s hard to heel strike if your feet hit under your center of gravity.
  3. Shock:  This one seems obvious, but most people don’t immediately recognize it.  If you are using a soft, shock-absorbing landing, there should be no jarring shock.  If you are not running “soft” enough, you will feel a shockwave, usually in your lower back.  This problem can be manifested in several other ways, usually involving pain.  The solution is to use your feet, knees, and hips to absorb the shock.
  4. Tension:  Ideally, your arms and legs should be relaxed.  Your core muscles should be engaged to maintain posture, but not consciously tightened.  The best place to monitor tension is in the shoulders.  If your shoulders are tense or hunched up, you’re not relaxing enough.  The solution- relax!  Imagine something floppy, try progressive relaxation, or enjoy a glass of wine.  ;-)
  5. Shin Splints:  Shin splints are caused by overstriding and the forces exerted on the shin while your foot is in a plantar flexion position.  The solution, like many other problems, is to shorten your stride so your feet are landing under your center of gravity.
  6. Overly sore or tight calves and/or Achilles tendons: This is usually caused by “running on your toes.”  Not allowing your heel to touch the ground is a recipe for serious injury.  Your Achilles and soleus muscles are not designed to maintain constant tension.  This causes premature calf muscle fatigue, calf tightness, Achilles tendonitis, and possibly plantar fasciitis and hell bone spurs.  The solution is to allow the heel to softly touch the ground immediately after the ball of the foot touches.

If you’re running barefoot, there are a few other “tests” that can be used.  The most useful involve the soles of your feet.  If you develop abrasions, hot spots, or blisters in one particular area, the location can be indicative of flaws in form.

  1. Blisters on the tips of the toes:  This is almost always caused by “pushing off.”  The best solution is to focus on lifting your foot off the ground the moment (or even before) it touched the ground.
  2. Blisters on the front or side of the ball of the foot:  This is caused by overstriding.  Your foot hitting the ground creates a shearing force, which causes the problem.  The solution is the same as above- shorten stride and increase cadence.
  3. Blisters on the heel:  Blisters on the heel are caused by heel striking.  To fix this problem, focus on landing on the ball of your foot followed by your toes and heel almost immediately after.  Note- this problem almost always occurs in conjunction with overstriding.

Hopefully these tips will help you learn to analyze your own form, which is a great advantage of minimalist and barefoot running.

Feel free to share this post with anyone that has just started!

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9 Comments

  1. Paul Wallis
    August 17, 2011

    I just wanted to say you should link your videos on youtube Jason. They helped me hugely to correct my form.

  2. Patrick
    August 17, 2011

    Thanks for the form tips – really great for us new guys –

    Downhill – do any of you guys have good pointers for that – especially on asphalt – any technique tips?

    Keep up the good work – love the site!

  3. Jesse
    August 15, 2011

    As someone who runs on busy bike paths occasionally, your attempts to rid the world of bouncing boobs goes greatly unappreciated.

  4. StephenB
    August 15, 2011

    Very timely. Number 6 described me to a tee, including plantar fasciitis and “hell bone spurs”, which is exactly what it feels like ;). The Bob Saxton ‘bend your knees more’ advice really helped me here. To start feeling better, a rolling pin/the stick on the lower calves, and taking vitamin K2 was a godsend for the heel spur and PF pain relief. Getting a pair of mocs for the office helped with foot strengthening; I was very surprised to see how much form adjustment I needed before being able to walk (!) smoothly and quietly in these.

  5. Pete Kemme
    August 15, 2011

    Perfect timing Jason. I just started actually barefoot running without doing Push-ups or anything! I know…it is weird. These tips are a perfect help, as I am still checking on my form.

    I’m glad you still look out for us newbies!

  6. KittyK
    August 14, 2011

    It’s been well over 2 years and it seems by main contribution to the Barefoot Running World is “Boob Wobble” and “wine iskiate”. And here is me wondering why no-one takes me seriously! :D

    The first 6 points can be condensed to the one word – Cadence. Increase the number of strides per minute and everything else falls into place, (or at leasts stops wobbling as much) ;)

  7. corey
    August 14, 2011

    Shin splints can be caused by tight overworked calf muscles pulling on the tibia.

  8. Aaron H.
    August 14, 2011

    Great list of tips. I’ve seen them all before but this was just the right time to take another look at everything.

    BTW, I love this blog so much. Thank you for making the effort to write it.

  9. Aaron
    August 14, 2011

    Jason,

    Go on man, keep making me feel good about my form! :-)

    Gracia y paz,

    a