Changing Footstrike in Running

Post originally written in April 2017.

At the American Physical Therapy Association’s Combined Sections Meeting, I attended a full day course on gait training for runners. It was a great review of running literature and the presenters have put this research into clinical practice rebuilding the technique of a variety of runners.

One of their guiding principles is that forefoot striking is the most efficient form of running, compared to midfoot or rear foot striking. Another is that barefoot or very minimalist footwear is necessary to do this. For the rest of this post, I will use the term barefoot running. Though I am using this term to describe true barefoot running or using minimalist footwear that mimmicks barefoot running.

I have run over 17 years at varying competitive levels. I will say right now I am training at a more casual level currently, with only a couple races in the last year. I do plan on doing some low key track races in the near future.

I figured now was as good a time as any to transition myself into a “barefoot” running. My ultimate goal is to become a more efficient runner. I have been a heel striker for many miles over the years. As a result, I imagine it will take some time to overhaul my mechanics.

At the continuing education course, they promoted their own program (though it is designed for injured runners) where they stop all running and start a PT program where they restore mobility and motor control necessary for barefoot running. Only then after hitting certain return to run criteria, patients will start running at a limited frequency and always monitored by a therapist. This running retraining boot camp takes weeks.

First of all, this is an incredible program that even has research to back it up. Limitations also exist. Most people do not have access to gait training monitored by a physical therapist. There is a long stretch of time required for participants to not run at all and another long stretch of time where distance is strictly limited. Runners do not have the greatest reputation for giving up or limiting their running.

Since I am one of those impatient runners, I thought it would be a good idea to modify this program to independently and gradually change my foot strike. As any good neurotic runner would do, I also do not plan on significantly curtailing my current mileage levels. Essentially, I am your ideal case study.

In order to carry out this modified program, I need to add some corrective exercises before starting the barefoot running. I have foot and ankle mobility deficits. My foot intrinsics, supinators, and everters, and plantar flexors lack motor control. In addition, I have hip and core mobility and motor control deficits. Corrective interventions will obviously vary from person to person, but everyone needs to make sure they have the range of motion and muscle control to take on this challenge. If you do not have the required attributes to perform a task, it can end badly. This is similar to starting mountain biking while using a road bike.

Post corrective exercise, I will gradually initiate barefoot running as part of my daily (maybe a little less than daily currently) run. It will start as little as performing just striders (easy short intervals) barefoot. From there I will continue correctives as I gradually increase the proportion of barefoot to cushioned shoe running.

It sounds good. I am pumped. I will let you know how it goes.

Hope that helps,

Steve

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