“Run on Your Toes” and Four Other Dumb-Ass Bits of Advice Given to New Barefoot or Minimal Shoe Runners
1. Run on your toes. This may be the most damaging advice I hear. New barefoot or minimalist shoe runners (BFR/MR) are told to “get up on their toes.” This idiotic advice is simply wrong. By not allowing your heels to touch the ground, excessive stress is placed on the Achilles tendon and calf muscles. This stress causes Achilles tendonitis, muscle or tendon tears, plantar fasciitis symptoms, and a host of other problems. If you like like a prancing princess, you’re doing it wrong.
If your calf hurts, it’s probably a result of not allowing a brief unloading of the calf muscles by keeping your heel off the ground. The solution- let your heel touch.
The lone exception is sprinting. When running as fast as you can, your heel will not touch the ground.
2. Start on grass (or sand). This seems reasonable. After all, grass and sand are soft. Soft stuff will make it easier. Or will it?
Soft surfaces hide bad running form. It’s better to start on a hard, smooth surface. I recommend sidewalks, asphalt roads, or tracks. If you can drive your heel into the ground and it feels good, you’re running in the wrong place.
3. Lean forward. Ah, the forward lean. Thanks to Pose and ChiRunning, the forward lean has become an apparent staple of learning better running form. And I think that’s a HUGE mistake.
First, the need for the lean is often described as capturing the power of gravity to pull you forward. That’s just bad science. If take a vertical object and push it over, the force exerted on the bottom of the object move it in the opposite direction as it falls. Gravity does not provide “free energy” as I’ve heard some
morons people for whom I disagree that are of obvious inferior intellectual ability and/or blinded by unverifiable pseudo-scientific statements haphazardly posted on anonymous Internet forums confidently state.
Second, it confuses new runners. When you explain the lean, new runners bend at the waist. This throws off their posture and causes all sorts of problems- overstriding, strained back muscles, shin splints, etc.
The solution- don’t teach people to lean. The body will automatically lean as we run. The faster we run, the more we lean. If we’re shortening our stride and our feet are landing under our center of gravity, the lean will take care of itself.
4. Run through the pain. Pain is the body’s alert system. It tells us to stop what we’re doing. Listen to your body. When something hurts, you’re probably either doing it wrong or doing too much of it. Some soreness is expected, but it will be more of the “I just started weight lifting” pain. Save the ‘no pain no gain” philosophy for your tattoos.
The “just ignore the pain” advice is about as dumb as placing your hand on a hot stove and holding it there as the superheated iron sears your flesh. Don’t ignore your body.
5. You need to focus on W, X, Y, and Z. People love giving advice. They also like making things overly complex. It’s not uncommon to find new barefoot runners trying to focus on five or six different variables at the same time. For a new runner trying to learn the basics of good form, this makes the process far more difficult than it should be. I recommend one singular focus point- take shorter, faster steps. If you’re barefoot, everything else will fall in place. Simple is better.
If you need more help, seek out a qualified coach (like Jesse Scott), check out some of the great barefoot books like Ken Bob’s or my own (The Barefoot Running Book), or check out the resources I helped develop with Merrell.