It's not what you think. Not being a streaker in a crowded stadium and risk being tackled with your genitals hanging for all to see. I am talking about the craze/trend/fad of barefoot running.
So what is barefoot running?
It simply means no shoes while running. If you know abit about this topic, you know that the origins of barefoot running have dated back to the ancient times when primitive man still moved about with nothing on their feet through rough terrain. Since then, barefoot running has slowly been around till now with an explosion of the barefoot movement and to the extent where some runners are now doing marathons barefoot.
The theory behind barefoot running?
Ever noticed how you run? Whether you hit the ground first with which portion of your foot? Everytime you land while running, the impact force ranges from 4-6 times your bodyweight. What does this mean? It means alot of force is going from the bottom of your feet all the way up to your spine. However, in recent years, the new trend for running technique has looked at running more with a fore-foot or mid-foot landing than the regular heel-landing which most of us probably do. A fore-foot or mid-foot landing would mean landing on the area between your heel and the ball of your foot, generally where the top of the arch would be. What happens then would be less braking forces while running as the foot would already be in a position to push off for the next step. Hence, running becomes more efficient as the energy from braking is now converted and quickly transitioned into propulsive force for the next step/stride. With less braking forces while running, your joints have to absorb less impact while running which theoretically reduces injury risk to your lower limbs. This also prevents your muscles for wasting energy to stabilise your lower limb during each stride. Eventually, the movement of your legs are not like forceful kicking movements but more cyclical rotations of your lower limbs.
How about ordinary running shoes?
Regular running shoes are made to absorb the impact while running which hence would reduce our injury while shod running (running with shoes on). However, with regular running shoes, because of the elevated heel provided supposedly for comfort, we end up striking with our heels more often, hence increasing our impact forces and defeats the purpose of cushioning the impact forces. If you notice the studies related to running shoes, most of them are actually done with runners. This indicates that their running technique would be somewhat fore-foot striking in a cyclical manner than us regular bus-chasers with our heavy heel-striking. Hence, before purchasing an expensive running shoe with motion control and gel heel pads and that sort of mambo jambo, consider refining abit of your running technique first.
So what should you do?
First thing to understand is what kind of runner you are. Do you heel-strike more or land flatter on your foot (not a foot-slapping-on-the-floor kind though)? If you heel-strike quite abit, learn to land more fore-foot or mid-foot.
There are a couple of drills according to the Pose Method of running that can be done to help improve this:
- A simple one I like is to simply balance on one foot with the other heel pulled upwards under your hips (your support position when running) and feel your weight being distributed over your fore-foot than your heel or ball of your foot or a position similar to you about to fall forward.
- After being able to sense your weight being distributed over the correct region of your foot, next step is to practise landing on that region. This can be done by first starting in a single-support running stance (as per balancing on one foot as mentioned earlier). From that position, you drop your hanging foot down (unsupported side) and land with your forefoot while pulling your support foot's ankle upwards (not so much your knee or butt-kicking yourself) directly under your hip to end up switching feet for another single support stance. Do this on the spot as though you are hopping on the spot.
- Subsequently, you can then progress to doing the same drill with front motion. Upon doing so, it would then slowly transfer into your running technique and allow you to land on the fore-foot, making your legs move in a more cyclical motion than constantly striking your heel and increasing your braking forces while running.
- Should you need more information, take a look at the video below or visit http://trainingclinic.vivobarefoot.com/step-by-step for more barefoot running information
The Pose Method is used by Crossfitters to enhance their running technique and by many runners to reduce their injuries. Other key points of the Pose Method would be the reduction of your running stride and and increase in your cadence. The reduced stride length allows for landing on your fore-foot as you fall forward for your next step while the increase in cadence is maintain your distance with the reduced stride length.
So what else should you do?
With the barefoot movement going around, certain companies have also helped runners attain a barefoot feel while running by coming up with barefoot-inspired footwear. These products have helped runners still "feel the ground" without the risk of developing calluses or even ripping the skin of your soles. For those who know me, you would know that I have a couple of these products such as the Vibram FiveFingers and most recently the Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot EVO M. From personal experience, these shoes are good for increasing biofeedback for your feet (i.e. feeling more of how your feet move while walking/running). Combine them with the Pose Running drills, you would be able to improve your running technique quite well. However, I personally see them as a means to improve running technique. They aid in allowing you to get a better feel and once you have developed that ability to sense what's going on with your feet, it would be easier for you to use ordinary running shoes and have a decent running technique with less injuries. As they take awhile to transition into, they will need some time to get used to as well. Personally I enjoy wearing them on a daily basis as it constantly keeps me aware of my feet movements. For a review of each pair of individual barefoot-inspired shoes, stay tuned as I will post a review of each pair i own. If you want to practise the Pose Running drills and you are alright with getting your feet dirty or even blistered, you do not need to buy such shoes and simply do it on a soft ground to start with.
Disclaimer: Much of the information provided is based on experiences from running experts and other runners. However, research in this area is still very sparse. From my point of view, it is good to give these pointers a try and keep your mind open to it. Shape your opinion according to your personal experience with it before making a judgement on the topic. Till the research is published, everything is still based on theory and experience.
If you do try it out, leave a comment and let me know how you feel or what your opinion is about it! Happy running! :)
Stay Strong and Keep Moving,
The Training Geek.