Woman + Runner + Fighter

Follow a cavewoman on her fitness journey.

  • Categories

  • Archives

Barefoot Running = A Soft Dance

Posted by cavewomanrunner on August 31, 2009

Michael Sandler has perhaps the best way of explaining barefoot running I have come across: When you are barefoot, you are forced to run the way ancient man ran, which is a soft dance.” (His own amazing recovery from massive injuries to even run again, let alone barefoot, is itself inspiring).

So how do you make that soft dance? From the many blogs and forums I’ve visited, it seems that for most people, making the transition from cushioned, supported running shoes to barefoot running, Vibrams, or even minimalist running gear is difficult.  As Barefoot Ted  so nicely puts it:  “For many, the foot has atrophied and become weak from years of wearing shoe casts. Constantly supporting the foot leads to weakness. Strengthening the foot requires patience and care, but the results are so well worth it. Your foot is an amazing and beautiful piece of magical equipment that you’ve inherited from a long line of successful movement. Self-healing and self-nourishing, your feet get stronger with use…the best shoes you’ll ever own.”

More and more runners are experimenting with barefoot running and we are figuring out that we don’t have to run with a heel strike just because we’ve been told to do so. Studies have shown that heel striking is linked to injury and actually puts more stress on the body. It limits the “rebound” effect. Landing on the heel also serves more as a brake to running – if you land with straight knees on your heel, your balance behind you, where is your forward progress? You are fighting your own momentum.

I began running races in junior high and was coached to run on my toes for short distances (100 yard dashes) and my heels for everything else. It’s been ingrained in me. Yet when running barefoot, it’s almost impossible to land on your heel. Why would we do something that is not natural unless we strap things to our feet? I was also amazed at how much better you can feel the ground beneath you without shoes. They really do impede running, more than help, and I can’t wait to make my slow progression to only barefoot.

After my runs barefoot and with Vibrams, I found that I no longer heel strike even in regular shoes. However, due to doing too much, too fast barefoot I have had to back off a bit. I’m running mostly in my “running” shoes but they are an old pair, the inserts are gone, and I’m not striking with my heel. Is it as free as running in Vibrams or barefoot? No. Am I slowly going to build up to running barefoot (hopefully entirely, so I can toss the running shoes)  – YES! I have a few major runs coming up (at least one marathon, one or two half marathons) so I am taking it easy so my foot injury does not reoccur. From everything I’ve heard from others, the key is to make the transition slowly!

So now that I’m looking more closely at my form, I’m trying to find more resources on foot strike, where to land when running, how it relates to the rest of your body, etc.

Below is an interesting video from watzzupsport that shows one take on where you should be striking with your foot during barefoot running.

There are two running methods that many runners use to assist them with barefoot running: Chi Running (Danny Dreyer) and the Pose Method (Nicholas Romanov). They share many similarities and both advise against heel striking.

Here’s my quick review of  Chi Running’s take on foot strike: Avoid heel strikes. Let the feet swing to the rear, not out in front of your body. Avoid picking up your knees. Let the heels float up behind you instead. Keep your knees bent and your feet straight. Mr. Dreyer states that striking with the ball of the foot or mid-foot can depend on the purpose of running. As a paleo example, the difference would be running from a tiger (ball of foot) versus chasing down a deer for food (mid-foot).

Here’s my quick review of Pose Method’s take on foot strike: Land on the ball of your foot under your body. Keep the knees bent, lean forward from the ankles. Lift the feet up under the hips.

I also keep replaying in my head as I run the advice Caballo Blanco (aka Micah True) gave to Christopher McDougall and others in Born to Run: Run on the front of your feet, not your heels. Run light with quick steps, like you’re riding a unicyle. The speed will come later.

For further reading, here are some great sites:

Running Barefoot Diagram (Barefoot Ted)

How to Begin Running Barefoot

How Not to Heel Strike

Running Barefoot: A Natural Step for Reducing Injuries

Kick Off Your Shoes and Run Awhile


5 Responses to “Barefoot Running = A Soft Dance”

  1. athena said

    Thanks for posting information links on barefoot running style. I’m waiting for my vibrams to arrive in the mail. As my races approach, I need to move my training off the beach, where I run barefoot, and onto the pavement.

    • cavewomanrunner said

      Hi Athena, thanks for the comment. Is this your first pair of Vibrams? It looks like from your website that you are training for a half marathon? And I’m so jealous, I wish I lived near a beach so I could run barefoot!!!

  2. I’m sad to see your injury description. I have the same thing.

    I’ve been running in VFF’s for several months now, and I was running in flats using ChiRunning for a fews years already. I’ve done one marathon in flats already without incident.

    Unfortunately, I’ve got the exact pain you describe here. I went to an orthopedist today and he has no clue what is wrong. With a marathon in about 5 weeks, I’m not happy.

    I was hoping I would heal quickly, but from your description, it looks like this is weeks away for me. 😦

    • cavewomanrunner said

      Hi Jon – I’m sad to hear about your injury! Don’t give up just yet, though. I know how frustrating the “unknown” foot pain can be, especially when you are training for a marathon. I also plan to run a marathon, just 3 weeks from now. The good news is that my pain did go away and I am now running pain free and getting my mileage back up! I didn’t go to any doctors since I figured they wouldn’t be able to really tell me what was going on. So I rested, used ice, and sometimes ibuprofen. This worked for me! It took 2-3 weeks, but I got back into running (although without the Vibrams, using old flat running shoes). Is your pain in the bottom of the arch, or the top? Mine was in the top and I could never really pinpoint the exact point of pain. If your injury is similar though, with rest you should be able to get back to running. And since it sounds like you’ve been running for several years, running your marathon might still be feasible! I’ll check your blog for updates, and if you can, keep us all posted on your progress! Best of luck!!!!!

      • Thanks for the encouragement. The pain is as you described, on the top, hard to pinpoint. My only real option is rest, so that’s what I’m doing. Unfortunately, 2-3 weeks puts my into the taper, so building mileage back up may not be an option. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: