This article is about the benefits of running with a forefoot strike, to both prevent injury and run with more fluidity and flow.
I have recently returned to running in my bare feet, and I am writing from the perspective of the benefits barefoot running can bring to a running practise, and running style rather than from a position that we must all run without shoes.
I have been running for over 55 years.
I am 58 in a few days, and I started to run when I could walk, and I haven’t stopped.
I was born in Africa, near a beach, and so my days began barefoot, but all through my childhood I don’t remember ever wearing shoes when I didn’t ‘have to’ for school or church for instance…
I continued to run in my bare feet.p right into my teenage years. All my interval training was on a grass track which meant running this way was natural and easy to carry out.
The action of bare foot running lends itself to a forefoot strike… By this I mean that each step lands on the ball of the foot and then the foot moves through so that the heel touches down lightly before pushing off into the next step…
This forefoot style lends itself to a more fluid running style, it also takes away the impact that heel striking creates.
When landing on the heel, the impact goes through the ankle, knees, hips and lower back.
So when we forefoot strike, the body is less likely to get the injuries that can occur from the impact of a heel strike.
The biomechanical and physiological strain of running with a heel strike can also cause overuse injuries from the constant pounding on the body mile after mile.
If you take a look at elite distance runners, and sprinters, their action is that of toe to heel, i.e.) forefoot striking.
I have always been a forefoot striker… it is my natural way of running, however I still found that when running many many miles when training for long distance races, when I was tired I would lose my running form and so I had sustained some chronic injuries by the end of my international running career.
I have been unraveling these injuries over the past few years. I recognised that I needed to ‘go back to basics’, and re align my body through practising the running drills of my track racing days, take up yoga again , and carry out exercises to balance my body.
More recently, I have found that running barefoot has freed me to another level, and my running action is now resembling the ‘me’ of forty years ago!
Running barefoot, asks that we listen to the foot, and go at the pace of building up the distance, only at the pace that it can run correctly and strongly.
In other words, as with anything, barefoot running as a practise must be embraced very very slowly and wisely.
It can be a way of training yourself to run well and to be able to run in lighter shoes which will allow for the forefoot / toe to heel strike.
It will strengthen the feet over time, and in my experience it is strengthening my whole body.
It is also a way to train the body into forefoot striking and so running in bare feet doesn’t have to be embraced fully in the way I have at the moment. but more as part of a way to run in an aligned and balanced way, with the foot landing naturally allowing for more freedom of movement and a lighter running style.
It is wise to combine running barefoot with foot strengthening exercise…. You can research the web where you will find many resources demonstrating exercises for the top of the foot, the sole and the toes.
Running drills, as well as strength and conditioning to improve overall strength are also something I would suggest you incorporate as part of an overall base for really quality running.
And then practising barefoot running to learn to forefoot strike can bring huge benefits to your overall foot and body strength, it can help prevent injury, and the improvement in your running form could also bring you faster times.
The key as always is to take it ‘slowly slowly to catchee monkey’ and have a deep understanding of why you are doing it.
This will both encourage you to practise, but ensure that you recognise there is no rush!
About the Author: Julia Chi Taylor
Julia is an ex international distance runner.
In the late 70’s all through the 80’s and into the early 90’s she competed regularly for England and GB at distances from 5k to Marathon. Some of her best performances include winning the 1985 Dublin Marathon and finishing 7th woman (3rd British woman) in the 1986 London Marathon in a time of 2.36.31 where she was selected to run in the Commonwealth Games.
She still competes now as a master over 55, regularly winning her age group in races around the world. She’s was also part of the winning team for the national master X country championships in March this year, 2016. Julia has coached and mentored others to achieve their dreams in sport and life for the past forty years! www.juliachitaylor.com www.runningconscious.com