If we all grew up without shoes, cars, buses, or elevators this would not be necessary. But, when I talk with people who have never run in their entire life; when I see young healthy college students waiting for a shuttle bus to take them from the parking lot to their classes, or for an elevator to go up one floor, I have to wonder if any of us could possibly have learned to run or walk naturally and efficiently.
"There is no point in running large distances until the athlete has learned to run correctly. I cannot emphasize this point enough. An athlete who runs correctly can train hard for years without any time lost to stress-related injuries. I have trained very hard for 45 years and have suffered only two or three injuries which have stopped me from training. My longevity is a direct result of paying close attention to the way I run, and what I put on my feet" - Gordon Pirie
We Americans and Europeans can complain until we are blue in the face that Kenyans and Ethiopians have a genetic advantage over our runners. But, even if that is true, it's a little late to choose different parents. And perhaps competing with the top runners of the world doesn't interest you. But, we are not only failing to develop many potential world class runners. The path we choose in our youth may be handicapping us in our latter years. How can aged feet and legs remember how to walk, if they spent their youth propped up on footstools playing video games and watching television? How can weakened legs and pampered feet be expected to carry our overfed bodies, when we didn't train them to carry our youthful bodies? There is so much in the way we live that we do have control over that will affect our health as well as our athletic ability. Because we choose to be lazy, we are not developing the natural efficient running technique of someone, who as children ran several miles a day to school, ran to the neighbors to deliver messages, then when their chores were finshed, ran just for the fun of it.
We try to make the answers seem complicated, out of reach. That way we feel justified in not doing anything about it. If we believe the Africans have a genetic advantage that we cannot control, then there is nothing we can do about it. But the answers are not that complicated. We must get off our ever-widening asses! Sure your back and your knees hurt when you run. You're probably carrying around a lot of extra weight. Besides that, you probably learned to run with shoes on. You simply aren't using your body the way it was designed to be used or for the load it was designed to carry!
If you want to know how to run naturally, potentially for a century or more, without your body disintegrating from injuries, then look at the design of the human body, particularly the foot. Forget about the way shoes are designed. Most modern running shoes aren't made for running naturally without injury. They are designed with the mistaken concept that we are supposed to land on our heels. And therefore, that our bodies cannot run without some artificial contrivance to absorb the shock as the heel bangs against the ground. Some shoes are even designed with springs in the heels! If running naturally meant to land on the heels, nature would have put springs in our heels! The shoe companies might try to make us believe that humans aren't designed to run, at least not on manmade surfaces. But, I have run barefoot in the mountains on slabs of granite that were miles long, and as hard or harder than any man-made asphalt or concrete. And I'm still convinced that it is more comfortable and less dangerous to run barefoot, as long as you run correctly!
There are two major problems with landing on the heel. First is that the heel isn't made to absorb shock. No spring there. The impact of landing on the heel damages the achilles tendon, then the impact force drives directly up the leg to the knee, and if the knee isn't allowed to bend, on up to the back, causing injury over time. Secondly, in order to land on the heel, the foot must be moving forward while the ground is moving backward beneath us (assuming you are running forward!). So that when the heel hits, it is pushing against the ground in the opposite direction we are trying to run. We are hitting the brakes with every landing!
When the foot lands, it should be moving back, matching the speed of the ground beneath you, because we want to move the body forward when running forward. This is only possible to do comfortably if we land on the ball of the foot, the part of the foot just behind the toes. Again look at the design of the foot. It should have an arch. At least it would if you grew up without deforming your feet with shoes and orthotic inserts which prevented your feet from developing naturally. The arch is a natural spring, just like the leaf springs of an automobile. It is designed to flex, not to be held rigidly in place by supportive shoes. Let it cushion the first part of your landing, then let the heel down to give the calf muscles a short rest with each stride. Let the knee bend. That way it won't transmit the remainder of the impact through the skeleton to the rest of the body, so that your back might also stay healthy for the rest of your life. Speaking of your back, the torso should be upright, vertical with respect to the ground. Letting the knees bend, does not mean that your body should be hunched forward. Leaning forward will put a lot of strain on the lower back muscles as they fight momentum and gravity each time you land or push off. Now, your knees are bent, your ankle is bent, your body is upright, and if you straighten your leg and foot out behind you, the force will move you forward. That is the direction you want to run. So why would any runner want to slam their heel into the ground, slowing them down, wasting energy, and prabably causing injury?
Practice in slow motion by walking. Take off those shoes. Find out how the ground felt to your ancient ancestors. Let your feet get conditioned to touching the rough, uneven surfaces of sand, dirt, rocks, even asphalt. When your feet are tired, walk on some nice grass to give your feet a treat. Instead of slamming your feet into the rocks as if shoes will protect you, learn to gently set your foot on the ground so that you can move quietly and efficiently without jarring your skeleton. If you depend on your shoes to protect you from running, you cannot possibly be running naturally!
When walking is no longer a workout, start running. Never jog! Jogging is how we learned to run while wearing modern running shoes. These shoes often do not allow us to run naturally. With their raised heels, it is difficult, if not impossible to run without slamming your heel into the ground. Heels are designed for resting, not to absorb impact! I know of no other animal that lands heel first! Running should never be "jogging". Again, pay attention to the jarring as you land, so that you can learn to run smoothly, without jogging.
Run The Planet thanks RunningBareFoot.com for the permission to reprint the article "How" by Ken Saxton. Text copyright © 2001 by Ken Saxton.