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Perfecting Foot Strike: The Kitty Litter Trick

Posted by on Sep 14, 2012 | 11 Comments

Mastering foot strike is one of the most difficult tasks some barefoot/minimalist shoe runners attempt. Maybe you’ve been a long-time heel striker and want to move to more of a midfoot strike. Or perhaps you’ve been a sprinter and can’t shake the habit of “running on your toes.” Either way, changing foot strike can be exceedingly difficult.

In my Merrell Bareform clinics, I teach people to land with their feet pancake flat (thanks to Jon Sanregret for the idea). It works like a charm- almost everyone that tries it ends up landing midfoot first, then almost immediately allow their toes and heel to touch. Many believe this pattern fully engages the arches of the foot to maximize the elastic nature of our body.

So what if that cue doesn’t work?

I’ve often recommended this somewhat silly (but effective) trick- duct tape kitty litter in the inside of your shoe.

The duct tape-over-kitty litter provides a little bit of tactile sensation that’s fairly unpleasant. This tactile feedback will force you to alter your stride. If done for a few weeks, you’ll start developing the muscle memory for the new gait instead of the gait you previously used.

So how exactly does it work?

If you’re a heel striker, cut a 2″ piece of duct tape. Apply kitty litter (or fine gravel) to a 1″ circle on the sticky side in the middle of the duct tape. Apply the duct tape to the inside of the shoe where your heel touches the insole. When you wear the shoe, you should feel a slight “poking” sensation.

If you’re a “run on your toes” runner, cut two 3″ pieces of duct tape, then stick them together along the longest edge with a 1/4″ overlap. Apply a 1 X 2″ oval of kitty litter on the sticky side. Apply the duct tape to the inside of the shoe where the ball of your foot touches the insole. When you wear the shoe, you should feel a slight poking on the ball of your foot.

Since there’s a possibility of injury with the funky cat litter shoes, I recommend keeping the distance VERY short. Try running 100-200 meters at a time. The tactile feedback should be enough to alter your foot strike pattern. If you repeat this daily for a week or two, the new foot strike pattern should begin to feel normal.

Good luck!

[Edit- some have asked about barefoot running... the same concept applies, just find a really rough surface. I recommend new chip-and-deal asphalt. :-) ]

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11 Comments

  1. Joe Balsamo
    September 20, 2012

    Jason,

    Glad I had the opportunity to get a first had look at this form yesterday during your clinic at Up and Running. Thank you for stopping by and sharing this with us.

    Regards,

    Joe

  2. Aaron
    September 18, 2012

    This is the sort of thing I exploit when I practice on chipped limestone trails. The rocks are tolerable as longs my soles are flat on the ground by the time they have to bear my full weight. It’s a great tool for learning to maintain form when running faster paces.

  3. James
    September 15, 2012

    Crazy but it might work. I was researching insoles that work on the same concept. When I run barefoot the biggest incentive not to over pronate is the fear that I might land on a small rock with the sensitive arch area.

    Just to experiment I put a felt pad under the arch area to see if that would provide the same sort of feedback, but I think it wasn’t uncomfortable enough to cause me to make any adjustments. Kitty litter might do the trick.

  4. Tim
    September 14, 2012

    ‘chip-and-Deal’ if this was a typo, it’s beautiful. It’s exactly what I have to do: deal with chip-and-seal. Part of the reason I’m shod, not bare currently!

    • Bare Lee
      September 16, 2012

      “chip-n-deal” it is. Lovely. I think it’s when I’m on chipseal that I feel most like a barefoot runner.

  5. Peace Karen
    September 14, 2012

    But what if I’m not wearing shoes when I run?

  6. Shane D.
    September 14, 2012

    New kitty litter or my week old kitty litter out of the cat’s box? LOL

  7. Jimmy N
    September 14, 2012

    I have a tendency to overpronate. I roll over the inside of my foot so much that I’m developing pain on the inside of my ankle, just above the bony protrusion. Any suggestions for how to deal with this? Tape cat litter to just the inside part of my feet, or maybe my big toe?

    • Gabe
      September 14, 2012

      Go barefoot. My overpronation was caused because of pointy running shoes that didn’t allow the big toe to splay out and support the rest of the foot, causing the rolling over. Which was compounded by the fact that I had flat feet (notice the past tense -had-), which put naturally more weight in the mid-section of the foot. Most shoes don’t have any surface under the arch, some are aggressively shaped like a C, therefore the feet have no option than to roll in, since there’s nothing underneath the arch to hold them. Result: shin splints, ankle pain, ITB syndrome and injuries of all kind.

      Since I went barefoot about 2 years ago, the overpronation is nothing but a vague memory and the flat feet are *almost* gone for good (my *new* arches may never get as good as my wife’s, for example, but they are certainly much, much better than they’ve ever been in the last 45 years). Never had a day of IT band pain ever since.

      Gabe

  8. StaceyLynn
    September 14, 2012

    Love this idea. I’m one of those people who runs too much on my forefoot. I’ve worn holes in two pair of vibrams on the balls of my feet because of this. I’ll have to give this a try!

  9. barefoot tyler
    September 14, 2012

    Crazy idea! Good, but crazy.

    What happened to running barefoot?

    I find swinging my arms faster increases cadence, thus encouraging mid-foot strike.