It’s been about a week since I got on my soapbox to talk about good barefoot running form (here is that post). For those missed it, here’s the recap: in my opinion the most important aspect of good barefoot running form is how you're feet are feeling. That's it. End of post. Maybe that's all I should have written. I'm sure some of you wish all of my rants were one sentence long.
Anyway, after that post I was contacted by the folks at VIVOBAREFOOT, the makers of my current favorite all-purpose trainer: the Neo. They asked if I would write a little number on their new eBook, Proprioception: Making Sense of Barefoot Running, by Lee Saxby. They also asked that I keep it short and sweet. That's not usually in my wheelhouse, but I'll do my best.
For those unfamiliar Lee Saxby, he is a running guru. He teaches a holistic fitness system called Wildfitness, which emphasizes natural diet and movement. He knows his stuff, and he teaches it well. His eBook is a great resource for new barefoot runners.
With credentials like that, I'm certainly not in a position to critique his methods. That's okay, because I think our positions on the issue are the same. Feeling first. But what I will do is use his book as a vehicle to go into a little more depth on why that barefoot feeling is so important.
When I talk about "feeling good" while running, I'm not just talking about avoiding pain or injury to your feet. I'm actually talking about proprioception, the perception of how your body is oriented in the surrounding space. While running, the feedback that you received from your feet doesn't just inform your brain whether they are experiencing discomfort. It also tells your brain about your running form. In fact, your feet carry most of the proprioception load. As Saxby explains in his book, 70% of all proprioception feedback comes from pressure sensors located in your feet. So by tuning in to how your feet are feeling first and foremost, you're most of the way to good running form.
The converse is also true. If you blunt the feedback coming from your feet, you reduce the information that your brain has to work with, and thus decrease the quality of your movement. You don’t just do that by wearing cushioned trainers. You also do this when you divide your attention. If a new barefoot runner tries to adjust on the position of his/her arms, legs, posture, footsrike, and cadence at the same time, the brain can’t prioritize. That reduces the quality of information coming from your feet.
So when I run barefoot or in minimal shoes, do I focus only on my feet? No. I've done it for so long that it's second nature to me. My mind is free to focus on other aspects of my form. Once it becomes second nature to you, you can move on to other things. Like Saxby explains in his book, learning how to run is just like learning any other complex movement. Your brain learns it by breaking it into its component parts. Saxby suggests that you master the barefoot feeling by working on barefoot walking, followed by barefoot squatting, and finally barefoot jumping. Those movements involve the same “foot feel” you use during barefoot running.
Take that same approach when trying to master all aspects of good barefoot running form. Consider “foot feel” to be the most important one of barefoot running form. Master that before moving on to cadence, arm swing, posture, etc. Work on each of those individually. Then once your body has figured out all those parts, it will be able to put it all together into great running form.
There is your quick MGBG barefoot running lesson of the day. Happy running!