Barefoot Running

Before roads were created and shoes were produced, humans have been running in the most comfortable and safest manner possible.

There are three ways to land when running, on the Forefoot, the Midfoot or the Heel

Studies show that forefoot or mid foot striking can alleviate injuries such as repetitive stress, plantar fasciitis and runner’s knee as less injury is caused

Heel striking is said to cause a higher impact and as the heel hits the ground 1st, sending shockwaves through the body.

We also know that forefoot running actually strengthens the muscles in the foot, in particular the arch, making it less likely to collapse. If you naturally pronate at all then it is worth considering trying forefoot running

When you spring off your forefoot you use less energy. The more minimalist shoes also weigh less so that each step will be easier than with a heavy trainer. Studies show fore/barefoot running uses 5% less energy

As long as you are careful when choosing the terrain, forefoot running can be very enjoyable as long as you are wary of twigs and sharp objects that minimal footwear will not be able to protect you from. A shoe with a flexible sole is essential to let the foot bend naturally. Though it is possible to forefoot run in standard trainers with a built up heel it is much easier in minimal footwear

To make the transition from heel striking to forefoot/barefoot running, make small changes to avoid injury. As with any changes in your exercise routine, do consult a Dr and take advice from a physician if you have had any injuries from running in the past.

Changing to forefoot or even midfoot striking too quickly can cause many problems including sore calves and Achilles tendonitis.

If you are a heel striker wanting to make the change, try a couple of minutes of forefoot running during your usual training runs. It is easiest to attempt when running up a slight incline. Try it when running at a moderate to fast speed, perhaps during a sprint session, it will be easier to pick up than if you attempt it jogging slowly or on flat ground. The incline/hill will enable you to lean into it and help your hips stay forward

If you develop lasting pain, stop and consult a physician. Attempt to increase the quantity of forefoot running by only 10% a week. Taking it slow will decrease the risk of injury. Make sure you stretch your calves out often after a run when muscles are still warm, preferably with a foam roller (self myofascial release)

There is no right way to forefoot run, but try to relax and land on the ball of your foot towards the lateral side. After the front of your foot lands, let the heel down gradually, bringing the foot and lower leg to a gentle landing as you dorsiflex your ankle under the control of your calf muscles.

Practise this by jumping off a small wall. When you land, you should naturally flex the hip, knee and ankle. The landing should feel soft, springy, and comfortable. Aim to land with the foot nearly horizontal so that the calves don’t need to work excessively. Land gently on your forefoot and gradually let the heel come down towards the ground

Next try running on the spot for a moment, or jumping with a skipping rope, striking the ground beneath your hips

Be wary of over striding while forefoot or midfoot striking. This style of running requires you to point your toe more than necessary, adding stress to the calf muscles, Achilles tendon, and the arch of the foot.

When watching a forefoot runner, the movement is far more fluid and natural than a heel striker’s laboured motion. Conserving more energy, the forefoot runner can cover more ground efficiently and can move faster with practice.

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About Nadia Tejani

Nadia Tejani lives in Surrey and works as a Personal Trainer specialising in weight management and obesity. She is also a Sports Massage Therapist and fitness model. Nadia runs marathons and does Olympic weightlifting and she has been competing nationally in Natural Figure (Bodybuilding) competitions since 2008. Nadia has a degree in Pharmacology and is qualified in Nutrition. She sticks to a strict clean vegetarian diet and practise what she preaches! Nadia has 3 dogs, a tiny horse and 2 pygmy goats.
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