Since we’ve been hanging out in the San Diego area, we’ve spent ample time at the beach. Part of the fun has been watching runners, both barefoot and shod, running down the beach. It’s fairly easy to identify the people that have good form and… well… form that could be improved.
Interestingly, you can also analyze their form by their footprints left in the sand. This could be useful to you for analyzing your own form. It could also make for a pretty nifty parlor trick. You know… to impress the ladies.
So let’s get to it. Here’s the first picture- a chronic heel striker:
Notice the divot where the heel struck. This was the first point of contact. The body rolled over the foot, shifting the weight from the heel to the forefoot causing the pile of sand under the arch. Finally, there’s a divot under the toes indicating a strong push-off. In all likelihood, this heel strike was combined with a serious over-stride.
This form can usually be corrected by increasing cadence or decreasing stride, whichever is easier to conceptualize.
This next picture features no heel divot, which indicates a nearly-flat foot landing. That part is good. Unfortunately, the deep divot under the toes still indicates excessive pushing off. This is common among new barefoot runners, and exasperates physical problems like pain on the top of the foot and calf/Achilles tightness and pain.
This problem can be remedied by actively focusing on picking up the foot with each step. The goal is to limit the time the foot is in contact with the ground. I found it useful to imagine running over hot asphalt.
This final picture represents great form. There are no noticeable divots at the heel or under the toes. The foot landed flat and was lifted without a hard push off. The slightly deeper divot under the big toe indicates that as the last point of contact, which is exactly what is recommended by experts like Mark Cucuzzella, Jay Dicharry, and Lee Saxby.
There you have it- a quick analysis of footprints in sand. Next time you hit the beach (or bunker if you’re a golfer), check your form. It can give you an objective measure of your running form.
Worth noting- sand may be an excellent way to check form, and can be a great training tool once you learn better form. HOWEVER, I do not recommend running on sand extensively when learning to run with better form. Since sand is relatively soft, it can hide bad form by short-circuiting the tactile feedback your brain receives. Start on a smooth, hard surface instead.
Know someone that’s working on improving their form? Please share this post!