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Using Sand to Analyze Your Running Form

Posted by on Mar 30, 2012 | 9 Comments

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!


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  1. Sandra
    April 3, 2012

    This really helped me. I have had tight calves and pain at the top of the foot—obviously I need to lift my feet faster or better or something like that. Thank you.

  2. Using Sand to Analyze Your Running Form | Barefoot Running University | Jogger Tunes
    March 31, 2012

    […] Jason Robillard at Barefoot Running University: 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. […]

  3. Gabe
    March 30, 2012

    Interesting. I’m curious to see what my own footprints look like now. I’ll stop and check next time I run at he beach.

  4. The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy
    March 30, 2012

    Out reading sandprints now are we Jason? Is that what you unemployed people do all day?

    • Jason
      March 30, 2012

      Yes. I divide my awesomeness equally between the beach, running in the mountains, and drinking beer.

      • Matt M
        March 30, 2012

        You don’t have a “like” button here, but if you did, I would have clicked it several times for that comment. Keep up the awesomeness!

      • Erik
        March 31, 2012

        Beach, mountains, beer–that combo sums up my life pretty well from 24-34 years of age. How I miss it.

  5. Dave Goulette
    March 30, 2012

    Very good/simple test that I have used on the beaches in Santa Cruz (I’m a norCal guy). Another word of warning from experience: if you don’t have the best form and/or you typically wear raised heel shoes, you can really strain your calves running in sand if you over-do it. Raised heels make your calves less flexible in general. But if you normally wear raised heeled shoes, when you are on sand, this will cause you to dig your heel in and dorsiflex your foot even more than normal. Bad combo. When I first started barefoot running almost 3 years ago I ran one day at the beach (in beautiful Capitola CA) and really strained a calf muscle. My calves needed more time to adjust to getting rid of raised heel clod hoppers.

  6. Ken S.
    March 30, 2012

    Nice post, I’ve written about this as well. If you’re interested –