Barefoot Running University » The Heel Striking Experiment: Why Bad Form is Stupid
Driving your heel into the ground with every step creates a braking force that slows your forward momentum. Every step is reduced to a braking action with slows forward movement followed immediately by a pushing off force to re-accelerate to maintain pace. Here’s an experiment for heel strikers:
Situation 1: Get in your car. Go to a road with no traffic. Accelerate for one mile without touching the brake. Notice it’s smooth and seamless. This is equivalent to running with good form.
Situation 2: Now do the same thing, except this time tap your brakes about 140 times each minute as you drive the same mile. This is what you are doing when you overstride with a heel strike.
How did that work out for you? Notice a significant difference?
This is a great metaphor to explain the difference between heel and mid or front foot striking.
For years, I was a heel sticker and I still need to constantly be mindful of my form as I run. Sometimes I catch myself letting go and loosing form.
Someone in the comments of that post wrote:
Fred Flinstone used his heels to stop his car… Not speed up.
Leo Babauta at zenhabits:
Going barefoot, I realized, is a perfect metaphor for my philosophy of life: the barefoot philosophy.
When you go barefoot, you become naked, you simplify, you become a minimalist.
It’s a hard philosophy to explain, because others often judge it as weird, hippy-like (as if that’s bad), unpractical. It’s very practical, and while it may indeed be weird, it’s also beautiful.
It’s the simple life, in a nutshell.
This is a great read for those interested in barefoot running, and living a simple life in general. He describes his feelings when running barefoot and how he applies it to his philosophy on life.
I’ve started doing some research on barefoot running shoes. Or more appropriately, “minimalist’ running shoes.
I’ll post my findings here as I go about it, starting with this site that I’ve found very useful: www.barefootrunningshoes.org.
I never knew there were so many running shoe companies producing so many options for barefoot running. It’s going to take a while to narrow it down and make a decision on which shoe is best.
Regular readers will know I’ve been interested in the barefoot running movement for a while.
Today I decided to jump in and give it a go. I went for my first barefoot run. Literally. As in no shoes at all. No Vibram Five Fingers. Nothing.
It was great.
It was a short run. I’ve read it’s better to ease into it because you use different muscles, so I didn’t want to risk it. I ended up doing 4 kilometres in just over 26 minutes. I also ran at a fairly slow pace.
So how did it go?
Well, there are good things and bad things:
Barefoot Running – The Good
- It’s true that you feel connected to the ground.
- I felt muscles I didn’t know I had. Especially around the Achilles heel and the back of the calf. It felt good.
- I ran on pavement, grass, and beach. Feeling the different textures is actually pretty cool. Running on the beach barefoot is nice.
- Although I used different muscles, I didn’t feel more tired than usual.
- Changing my stride to hit the ground with the ball of the foot is actually comfortable and feels strangely familiar. This is how I used to run as a kid.
Barefoot Running – The Bad
- Rocks in the pavement hurt, but they’re easy to avoid.
- Dry, thorny leaves in the grass hurt. A lot. And they’re not easy to avoid. It’s been dry for a few days, which made it worse. I stepped on one and it was bad.
- Running downhill feels weird. Probably just need to get used to it, but I had to slow down on downward slopes.
- I was afraid of having to stop suddenly. The idea of skidding barefoot is not nice.
Overall, I liked it and I’ll do it again. I think I’ll give it a couple of weeks and see how I feel. Then I’ll decide if it’s something I want to continue and look for some barefoot running shoes to help with the “bad” parts.
On an article in The Age, an Australian newspaper:
Mr Belling recently put his old running shoes back on and said they felt like a pair of gumboots. He missed the ”dexterity, balance, and stability control” of his barefoot shoes, and doing exercise felt like ”trying to solve a Rubik’s cube wearing a pair of welding gloves”.
I can see that happening. I imagine your body gets used to not having the extra weight, so when you put them back on, even the lightest of running shoes would fill heavy.
RunKeeper, my favourite iPhone app for keeping track of my running, got a major update recently.
Amongst the changes is Auto Pause, which as it name suggests, pauses the timer when you stop. This is a great feature that I’ve wanted for a while. My house is roughly between a major park with a 5 kilometre circuit and the beach. When I run to the park, I need to cross a few streets with traffic lights and it’s always been a pain to pull the iPhone out of the pouch, unlock it, hit pause, wait, then hit resume. A few times I’ve tapped the wrong button and ended my run partly into it. Auto Pause solves that problem.
Tara Parker-Pope in an article on the NY Times titled Running in Vibram FiveFingers:
The American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit group that reports on fitness, recently sponsored a small study to learn more about the popular footwear. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, asked 16 women, all healthy recreational joggers ages 19 to 25, to spend two weeks getting used to running in the Vibram FiveFingers, a snug, glovelike shoe that weighs less than five ounces. The women were advised to use the shoes, the best-selling brand of barefoot sports shoes, three times a week for up to 20 minutes a day.
It suggests running barefoot does put less strain on your body because there’s less impact on landing. However, only if you adjust your form and land on the ball of the head instead as on the heel as with normal running shoes.
Christopher McDougall has a great article at the NY Times titled The Once and Future Way to Run. It’s about barefoot running and definitely worth a read (even if you’re not into that). He writes:
“Barefoot-style” shoes are now a $1.7 billion industry. But simply putting something different on your feet doesn’t make you a gliding Tarahumara. The “one best way” isn’t about footwear. It’s about form. Learn to run gently, and you can wear anything. Fail to do so, and no shoe — or lack of shoe — will make a difference.
In a section explaining how the Tarahumara people, who’re reknown for regularly doing 150 plus kilometre races, run, Christopher explains the technique called “one best way”.