The Mechanics Of Running

How to Run?

The human foot is a work of art and a masterpiece of engineering
— Leonardo Da Vinci

The fastest runners have a style quite similar to that of a person running without shoes. They absorb shock by landing lightly on their forefeet rather than on their heels, and their landing leg is beneath the torso, with the leg slightly bent to absorb impact.

We do not know how early humans ran, but research (Lieberman et al., 2010) indicates that humans were able to run comfortably and safely when barefoot or in minimal footwear by landing with a flat foot (midfoot strike) or by landing on the ball of the foot before bringing down the heel(forefoot strike).

Your running technique is the most important thing when it comes to running – no fancy pair of “running shoes” can fix that for you.  In fact, did you know that expensive running shoes are probably more likely to cause injury than if you were to run barefoot?  True story – expensive, fancy, cushioned shoes promote bad behavior.

Here’s a great video to show how your stride changes when you are running barefoot vs in shoes:

( Credit : Nerd Fitness)

Barefoot vs. Shoe Running

When you run in cushioned shoes:

  • Your ankles and arches get all of the support they need from the shoes, so your stabilizer muscles and tendons go unused and grow complacent – this is a recipe for disaster
  • Your tendency will be to run with your heel hitting the ground first (a heel strike, as they say), which means your leg is completely extended, which means that the impact of your step will send shockwaves through your ankle, knee, hips, lower back, and so on.  Not good.  Multiply this jarring impact by a few thousand steps every day, and you WILL get injured.
  • Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of ankle sprains, either by decreasing awareness of foot position or by increasing the twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble.

What this means is that it’s time to start running like you’re barefoot..

The scientists at Harvard has come up with the below benefits for barefoot running :-

  • Barefoot running lead to lower impact forces which may lead to lower rates of injury.
  • Forefoot or midfoot striking can help avoid and/or mitigate repetitive stress injuries, especially stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and runner's knee.
  • It strengthens the muscles in your foot,especially in the arch.
  • Barefoot running feels great! Your feet have lots of sensory nerves. And because there is minimal impact forces on landing it can be very comfortable provided you develop calluses on your feet

So, no matter WHAT kind of shoe you’re wearing, it’s important to stop stomping your heel into the ground, and instead focus on having your foot strike the ground more towards the middle/ball of your foot. 

                                                        Forefoot Striking Barefoot

                             Kenyan Adolescent Who Has Never Worn Shoes


How to improve your technique

  • A great way to learn to forefoot strike is to try it first barefoot on a hard but smooth surface like a tennis court, a track or even a smoothly paved road. Your body will quickly tell you what to do! But until you develop good form and build up calluses on your feet, you’ll want to wear minimal footwear to forefoot strike.
  • Start by walking around barefoot frequently.
  • First week: no more than a quarter mile to one mile every other day.
  • Increase your distance by no more than 10% per week. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a general guide. If your muscles remain sore, do not increase your training. Take an extra day off or maintain your distance for another week.
  • Be patient and build gradually. It takes months to make the transition.
  • Listen to your feet. Stop if your arches are hurting, if the top of your foot is hurting, or if anything else hurts!

Barefoot Shoes

Please do not overdo initially with your barefoot shoes. It can cause foot injuries. Also, sharp debris can cause injury to your foot. There has been a class action suit against Vibram for these issues. More details here.

  • Merrell Barefoot Tough Gloves
  • Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves
  • New Balance Minimus

Spend as much time each week completely barefoot to strengthen your feet, ankles, and calves, while making sure to get in a good barefoot run here and there.

How to warm up properly

Before you take your first stride as a runner, you need to be properly warmed up. When most people think of warming up, they probably think of standing there and doing some static stretching for 10 minutes…you know, to make sure you don’t get injured!

Wrong! Fail!  Stretching BEFORE running can actually increase your risk of injury.  Instead, try a dynamic warm up -  get your body properly warmed up and prepared for the rigors of running.

Coach Jason has compiled a list Standard/Dynamic Warm-Up and Warm-Down.

This usually takes about 8 minutes and it consists of:

  • Walking Dead-lifts (Drinking Bird) – 10 reps (repetitions).  Take a step forward with your left leg, bend down while keeping your left leg fairly straight and touch your left toes with both hands.  Keep your left leg slightly bent and your right leg parallel to the floor. Your right leg and your torso will be parallel to the floor.  Repeat on your other leg

Cool down  – whether you just finished sprinting, interval training, or closed out a big 28-mile run, it’s important to cool down properly – spend some time bringing your heart rate back down with a slower jog (while maintaining good form) or walk.  You can use the above dynamic  warm up steps for cool down or this one here.

References :-

A Beginner’s Guide to Running | Nerd Fitness, (accessed May 6, 2014)