Would you want to run like the guys in this picture? Many runners do. But then they try to emulate their running style, and that in my opinion is a big mistake. Now don’t get me wrong; their form is awesome and if I could run that way, I would, but trying to run like somebody else is a mistake many of us make and more times than not ends in an injury. Everybody has different body mechanics and slightly different running styles, so it’s not a good idea to try to drastically change what your body naturally does. That’s not to say that your running form can’t be tweaked a bit to make it more efficient, or improved by adding a different aspect into your training.
Running barefoot is the perfect training tool for people who are serious about running, for those that want to improve their performance and strength, or for those that are out to have a little bit of fun running through puddles on a rainy day. I challenge you to take off the shoes on a safe route and just go for a run with no though about gait and no care for speed or distance (keep it short though). I bet without even thinking, your natural stride will come out and you’ll be surprised at the results. Here’s an illustration of (and I do use the term loosely) “proper” barefoot running form:
To explain what I mean about not forcing changes on your running form, I’ll tell you about my experiences, when I started running about five years ago, I was running in your standard running shoe and it hurt me something fierce. I had joined a running group with a number of elite runners and felt that I should be able to keep up with them, which of course was a big mistake. I started over-striding, which caused me to heel strike, forced me to run stiff and leaning too far over, so I was off-balance and breathing so heavy I probably sounded like a donkey braying as I struggled along.
After a couple of months of this, complaining all the time, my very smart wife bought me some $10 water shoes and told me to go for a run. I gave her a “What – are you kidding?” look, but figured I had nothing to lose. And let me tell you, it was one of those eureka moments for me. I noticed right away the difference as I was just letting my body do what it wanted to do naturally. My stride shortened, my body and my breathing relaxed and I really enjoyed the run.
With this result, I started to research the barefoot running phenomenon. I continued to run and finally lost the shoes entirely. My body did not hurt anymore; I did not feel like I was just run over by a truck after each run, and I noticed something really strange: I had gotten faster and was able to go further. I’m still not the quickest on the block, but I have managed a 6 minute-per-mile pace for 2 miles this year for the first time ever. It’s amazing how well your body will respond when let it do what it needs to do naturally.
Now, as I say all the time, barefoot running is not for everybody, but it can definitely be used as a training tool. It’s the ideal activity for you to learn your natural running style and help improve your performance. As you run barefoot, you will notice that your stride will shorten, your cadence will increase and you’ll see increased strength in your feet and legs. The most important part? Your smile will be much more evident.
Take the time to give barefoot running a try. It might be that one thing you’re missing in your training regime.
I highly recommend you read this post by Dr. Phil Maffetone: GAIT—Why Every Runner is Different, and How You Can Go Faster, Be More Efficient, and Lessen the Risk of Injury.