A friend and colleague of mine, Robert, reached out to me recently to ask for tips about barefoot running. He’s trying to increase his passion for running and thinks that going back to basics will help him stop fighting with his form and I think this makes a lot of sense. If you’re going to do it, do it old school.
There’s a lot of good content out there for barefoot running including but not limited to the godfather, Barefoot Ken Bob. While I stopped running barefoot not long after I started due to a tendency to re-injure a tendon in my foot, I learned a lot from the experiment that I still use to this day. Here is the advice I gave Robert.
I don’t run for distance much these days because I’m working on increasing the strength and power in my legs and long distance running is known to drastically undermine leg strength. When I do run these days it tends to be sets of 100 meter sprints or 25 second sprints and I’ll use a minimal shoe like New Balance Minimus. Sprinting, in fact, is a good way to inform your barefoot running because there’s no way you can sprint landing on your heels unless you really want to hurt yourself. So simply slowing down your sprinting stride can really help improve your proper distance running form.
There are a few specific things I learned from barefoot running that I still remember and use when I do go out for a 5k:
- “Sit back” into the run, not dramatically but try to drive more from your glutes and hamstrings. The angle of your upper body will likely continue to lean forward a few degrees simply to keep moving forward.
- You hear the mid-foot strike a lot which is key, but I found that when I got used to running barefoot I was landing first with the outside/middle part of my foot. I think this is key based on the anatomy of the foot and the leg. If you look at a footprint in the sand it’s clear that the outside middle bears more weight than the inside arch and trying to land on the inside/middle or center/middle of the foot could inwardly rotate your knee and that is very bad.
- “Scan the horizon” is one of my favorite cues. This is a difficult one for people to do as our gaze tends to wander downward but if you do this one right, a lot of other cues fall into place naturally.
- “Shoulders low and loose” is also helpful especially for men who tend to have our shoulders in our ears.
My last piece of advice to barefoot runners is to get a good foot soak: your feet will need it.