GETROLFING the Rolfing and consulting practice of Adam Mentzell

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Barefoot Running






I have been getting a ton of questions lately about barefoot running. Mostly from people who are trying to make the transition to minimalist shoes such as the Vibram 5 Finger. I have seen a number of people in my practice make some basic mistakes in making this switch. My intent here is to throw out some basic guidelines on how to more safely make this transition.

While I am a big fan of reawakening the intelligent movement and support of our feet, it seems it is not as easy as strapping on a new pair of shoes. No surprise here. We may have been struck by the romantic argument being made by many barefoot running advocates: shoes are a recent creation and over supportive, we should go back to basics and run and walk like our ancestors. Ok. I get the argument, but let’s be realistic here. Our structure – bones, ligaments, tendons, etc., are the way they are based on the forces that have come their way. While it does seem clear that a more forefoot oriented foot strike creates far less stress than heel striking keep in mind that we may not be ready for this change. The good news is that tissues (bones, ligament, muscles, tendons) will respond to new demands and become stronger. That is, if we give our body time to respond. These same tissues go into breakdown mode if we load them too much and too quickly. I am advising that the “tincture of time”, as Ida Rolf used to say, is an important element here.

From Shod to Unshod – sort of. Here are my top  tips for making the transition without injury

1. Take your time. Walk in the new shoes before you run. Two weeks at least.
2. Begin running 10% of your weekly mileage in the more minimalist shoes. Put them on for cool down or warm up miles or a short loop around the neighborhood.
3. Increase this by 10% a week. Slow, I know. You will thank me.
4. Stick to more forgiving surfaces if you can and PLEASE don’t trail run right out of the gate.
5. Pay close attention to how your body is responding to the new gait and support, which brings me to my final and probably most important tip…

6. Change your gait to a more mid-forefoot landing. No heel striking. It turns out that 1/2 of us who put on minimalist shoes go on with heavy heel striking which drastically increases the impact forces and injury possibilities. Is Barefoot Better? NYTimes

Tips on Proper Forefoot or Midfoot Strike Form

There is no single “perfect running form.” Everyone’s body is different and no single technique could be best for everyone. Here are some general tips:

  • A good landing should feel gentle, relaxed and compliant. You typically land on the ball of your foottowards 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. It’s like when you land from a jump, flexing the hip, knee and ankle. Again, the landing should feel soft, springy, and comfortable. It’s probably good to land with the foot nearly horizontal so you don’t have to work the calves too much.
  • Do not over stride (land with your foot too far in front of your hips). Over striding while forefoot or midfoot striking requires you to point your toe more than necessary, adding stress to the calf muscles, Achilles tendon, and the arch of the foot. It often feels as if your feet are striking the ground beneath your hips. It is similar to the way one’s feet land when skipping rope or when running in place (as runners sometimes do when waiting to cross a street).
  • A good way to tell if you are landing properly is to run totally barefoot on a hard, smooth surface (e.g. pavement) that is free of debris. Sensory feedback will quickly tell you if you are landing too hard. If you run barefoot on too soft a surface like a beach, you might not learn proper form.
Get some coaching on running form. 
If you are in the dark on all of this and want to get some assistance. Ask around at your local running store or running club. Finding someone who has studied the POSE technique would be a helpful way to get some feedback on your form.
Have fun out there.
Adam Mentzell

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