Barefoot running has been all the craze as of recent. But, just as we Americans typically do, we find the extreme and run with it. No pun intended. I’d like to address running form, good practice, and the mental advantage of having a routine.
Running form: It’s no mystery that you are more efficient, lighter on your feet, and faster if you run with a midfoot striking gate. It’s a classic “easier said than done “statement. Most things considered as conventional wisdom are. So, where did this heel striking come from? I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong if you are a heel striker, you’re just not going to be as efficient or light on your feet as if you are a midfoot runner. Look at all the best distance runners in the world, they all land midfoot and they all run 180 steps per minute. What separates runners in speed is not the amount of times your feet touch the ground in a minute, it’s the length of stride. In running it’s not the length of stride reaching in front of you, it’s the length of stride stretching behind you. Another way of understanding that is by keeping your lead foot under your hips.
To review: Proper running technique starts with a midfoot strike, 180 steps per minute, and keeping your lead foot under your hips.
How do we get there? There has been a lot of shoe companies as of recent that have come out with a “barefoot” solution. A minimal cushioning between your foot in the ground that won’t allow you to heel strike. This is to my original point of this article, which stated some have gone to the extreme. I think barefoot running is great to perform running drills, but I see too many runners break down their bodies by trying to perform distance running in barefoot shoes. It’s dangerous, and I like the comparison of running barefoot to driving drunk. “You may get away with it for a little while, but eventually you’re going to get nailed. ” And while we are on the topic, I love when I’m running a marathon and I see people without shoes. That’s my favorite. As if to say, “I’m more badass than the Tarahumara featured in the book Born to Run, gotta love it. Not to digress too much from our lesson, but am I the only person who read Born to Run and didn’t think the point was to buy five finger shoes? What I heard in Born to Run was we run because it’s fun, because we love to run, because it’s instinctual. It’s natural. Besides, anyone who’s been running for a while will tell you that the shoes don’t really matter. It’s you. Your commitment, your drilling, and your desire to run. So, Let’s take a minute and breakdown the three practices of good, natural running form.
Midfoot Strike- I don’t blame the shoe companies for putting high cushions in the heels of our shoes in the early 80s for the reason that most people run striking their heel into the ground. I have taught enough running classes to see the statistics. Most people were never taught how to run. Reason being is because running is simple. It’s accelerated walking, right? I hear that a lot. But it’s not true, because when we walk striking the heel is a very efficient stride. If all you do is speed up your walk stride, you’re striking your heel in front of your hips, going against gravity. How then, are we supposed to train ourselves to strike our midfoot first? By drilling, come to a TriJake running clinic to see drills in action. Here is one: stand upright and march in place. Notice your midfoot touches the ground first. Then use a metronome (there’s an app for that) set it at 180 beats per minute and speed up your march. Your knees go higher, and you should feel all the stored energy in your hamstrings. Go outside and repeat. This time lean forward from the ankles and take off. Keep your steps short, focus on striking the midfoot and landing at 180 steps per minute.
180 Steps per Minute- Obviously runners vary in their speed, let’s stay with the marathon example. The best runners in the world can run a marathon in two hours in five minutes. Other runners run marathons in three hours or four hours. When it comes to form, time doesn’t matter as much as efficiency. In fact efficiency is all that matters. If I am running a distance of over 26 miles, and run half of it at a pace of 7 minutes per mile inefficiently I may be slowed to a walk for the second half of the race. Not only does this make my race performance worse, it’s a huge ego shot. And nobody likes that. It doesn’t matter your time, two hours, three hours, or five hours. Good efficient running suggests your feet touch the ground at a rate of 180 steps per minute. As I mentioned before, the thing that separates speed in runners is not the amount of time their feet touch the ground, it’s the length of stride behind you. Learn what it feels like to touch your feet to the ground 180 times per minute, use the marching drill I had mentioned before. The only way to learn how to do something new is to practice, practice, practice.
Lead Foot Under Hip- I tell my runners, not to reach in front of them. It is a discipline that is difficult to grasp. Especially when you hone into the idea that what separates faster runners from slower runners is the length of stride. When you reach out in front of you you put too much stress on your quadriceps and tibialis anterior (shin splints) Your quads are not as strong as you think they are, and they’re certainly not as strong as your hamstrings. The Hamstring is one of the largest, most powerful, lazy muscles in the body. We let our hamstrings get away with murder a lot of times. Put those suckers to work. Keeping your feet beneath your hips and striking with the downward motion, as if to strike a match on the ground, will do the trick. Lastly, I want to talk about muscle elasticity. The muscles, tendons, and ligaments all have elasticity. Although we believe that what puts our body into motion is blood flow, it’s not true. What puts our body into motion is electricity. Just ask anyone who has a pacemaker. The neuromuscular system of the body is very complicated, so we are not going to talk about it. But I want you to understand that keeping tension in your muscles creates energy by storing it for quick release. If I allow my foot to strike the ground in front of my hips, then I extend my hamstring beyond the point of elasticity. Therefore releasing all potential energy stored by my lower neuromuscular reactors and thereby wasting valuable energy that I need to run great distances. Keep your lead foot under your hips.
As a coach, I have athletes ask me all the time about sports psychology. “The mental edge” they call it. My first response is this, “physical preparation, physical preparation, physical preparation, physical preparation, and then we’ll talk psychology. ” I would like, for a brief moment, to discuss how good form, routine, and consistent drilling can lead towards a psychological advantage. If you consistently practice good form with a good coach, and develop a routine which you feel comfortable and reliant on, you will have a psychological advantage because You know, without a doubt, that you are trained and able to trust your body to complete the athletic demands at hand. “The power of knowing.” Often times when I run a race, the heel strikers fly out of the gate. Many of them pass me and stay in front of me for many miles. But I have the “power of knowing.” I usually start to see them fade around mile 14, 15, or 16. I trust my process, I am not intimidated, or swayed to catch them. I know I will catch them. That’s a mental edge, that’s cut throat, that’s fun.
We have a lot of fun at TriJake. Run to be TriJake. Join the team. Contact me through trijake.com/contact