Perfect barefoot running form

I’m often asked to make a video showing correct barefoot running form.

To say that I’m reluctant to do so is an understatement. And I want to take a moment to say why I’d LOVE to point you (and everyone) to a video that shows “correct” form, I can’t… and don’t really want to.

Here’s why:

  1. There are MANY types of “good form.” How you use your feet and legs depends on the terrain, your speed, the condition of your feet, the strength of your calves,  your body type, and many other factors.If you listen to different barefoot running teachers, you may notice some of them contradict each other when it comes to “good form.” It’s not that one is right and the other is wrong, it’s that there’s not ONE WAY for everyone. So, I couldn’t point to one video, I’d have to point to a dozen.
  2. The most important skill in barefoot/minimalist running is learning to listen to your body (sensations) and to learn to make adjustments based on what you’re hearing.If someone learned “the way” to run (or even a few ways), and the terrain changed in a way that made that particular style inappropriate, and they kept trying to do “the way,” they’d be trying to fit a round peg into a square hole (or a straight foot into a shoe with a curved last, if you will).

    Think about this simple idea: The way you run going uphill, downhill, on a flat, or on a trail will not be the same. Ditto for running at 10 minute/mile pace vs. sprinting.

    Your body and your sensations are the best teacher once you know the absolute basics (think about lift your foot off the ground, try to be light and quiet, aim for landing on your mid- or forefoot, etc.)

  3. It is a VERY rare human being who can watch a video, and then accurately imitate what they see. It is, on the other hand, common for people to THINK they’re imitating it and be off base.Hell, when I’m working with my sprinting coach, he’ll show me a simple drill and I’ll be doing it right next to him and I won’t be able to replicate what he’s doing… and he’s giving me moment-to-moment feedback… and I’m a former All-American gymnast thanks to my ability to pick up movement patterns.

Remember that one of the other great things about running barefoot, or in barefoot running shoes like huaraches, is re-igniting that childlike sense of curiosity, play, experimenting, and exploring.

Don’t miss out on that opportunity by looking to imitate “the way.”

  • Kengu

    Very well written, this is so true, thanks! When I started running barefoot, I was VERY concerned if I run “correctly” or not. I tried different kind of styles for many weeks and felt a bit bad, stupid. Then I started to listen to my self and take it easy – relax baby! Now I just run and enjoy. I am sure my body and feet would tell, if I do something wrong. And my legs don’t hurt, so I guess it’s ok.

  • ingmar

    I like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9vSGdcX4yo
    Lee explains the basics of barefoot running and I thinks it is possible for everyone to do the shown drills.

  • Clint

    Great article– I couldn’t agree more! As with so many things, there is no right/ wrong way– it’s all about your personal needs/ preferences! Keep up the good work!

    Clint

  • adam

    I couldn’t agree more… I threw away the heart rate monitor, took off the watch, trashed my monthly training schedule, and started running. I ran until my body said stop. By listening to my body I’ve developed my own barefoot technique, and I LOVE IT!!! It’s so fun, don’t over analyze, don’t study videos, just run and listen, run and listen, you body will tell you what to do…

  • Ken “BFNg” Ng

    We are all an experiment of ONE. Yes, there are principles to follow (Caballo: easy, light, smooth; Saxby: footstrike, posture, cadence; BFKenBob: relax!), but it’s as easy as taking off your shoes and heading out the door. Go easy, pay attention, smile, work at it and let me know when we need to chase down an eland.

  • Great article for people that are running barefoot or with minimalist shoes. Coming down mid-foot or on the balls of your feet almost comes naturally for them. There are however those that have never had a lesson in running with the correct form and come down on their heel. These people need to be corrected. Sprinters are the fastest runners because they come down on their toes. They kick off almost instantaneously. The longer that you have your foot on the ground, the slower you will be. Strengthening of the feet is essential for all runners. Barefoot running does help to strengthen the feet. Coaches must learn to teach strengthening and correct form to reduce the number of injuries. Running has gotten a bad reputation because running is not taught correctly. let’s educate our coaches.

  • Steve

    Perfectly said Steve. Your reminders on listening to our bodies, adjusting, and not pounding our heels have been very helpful to me these past few months.

  • Craig bfrunninfool

    Thanks Steve for your guidance. I have goen from wearing severe motion control shoes, rigid orthotics to now running marathons in bare feet.
    The only problem I have is I now have a lsore, thick lump behind the 2nd toe. It is between the 2 balls on my foot, only on the left foot. BTW the second toe has now turned and is going under my left big toe.
    I have gone back to BF Ken Bob’s site and lowered my knees and increased the knee lift.
    Wow my legs are stuffed and now my right knee hurts.
    Possibly I pushed it too much, but I think that I favour my left leg to protect my right knee. I have a hole in my right knee and I have been told not to run but since going bfoot I havent had a problem with my right knee.
    Any advice??

    • Steven

      Craig,
      I mean to write a piece about what you just said, too 😉
      Namely, if you have a problem on one foot/leg and not on the other, guess what, you’re doing something different with the “bad” foot.
      Especially since I can’t see you via email, the best advice is the same as what I wrote above: Experiment.
      You have some good clues: no knee pain until you switched form (hint: switch back); foot pain on only one side (hint: try to feel what you’re doing correctly on the good side… or see what you need to do to NOT have pain on the bad one).
      Let me address that last point with a story. After my 2nd barefoot run, I had a big blister in the same place you’re describing. The next time I went out to run, the blister hadn’t fully healed. I decided that if I couldn’t find a way to run without it hurting (doing something wrong is what caused the blister/pain), I’d stop. At the 10 minute mark, it was still hurting… but then, all of a sudden, SOMETHING changed (my body got tired of doing things that hurt, and it found something else to do). I started running faster, easier, lighter, and pain-free. And I never had that pain ever again.
      I wish I could tell you what changed, specifically… but, again, what worked for me may not be right for you.

  • Richard

    Hi, my name is Richard I am a Remedial Massage Therapist from Australia, I feel confident that I understand how the human body works very well, and more importantly what causes pain and injury. I have used Barefoot running(as well as some other important training principles) to rehabilitate every injury I’ve ever had, I’ve had heaps.
    IMHO the most important thing to focus on whilst running barefoot or shod is to strike the ground with the foot point dead straight ahead, directly under the knee, with the knee directly under the hip. You need to train your body to do that. Because if you don’t your ball of your foot kicks of with a little twist, giving blisters. If you run on a surface that has sufficient grip, rotational forces will be transfered up through your body forcing each arm to behave slightly differently(motion in the limbs intrinsically balance the body), creating a twist in the trunk, and most likely a difference in stride length between R and L sides. All this greatly reduces running effeciency and creates potential for injury and dysfunction.
    I run on a treadmill and a grassy oval, you need the aforementioned grip to give enough feedback to adjust your form, so barefoot on a treadmill to start with is probably easiest. Try to strike with your whole foot.
    I felt like a robot running when I first started, or perhaps like that 200m champ Michael Johnson.

  • Richard

    I believe that as we are all more or less the same bio-mechanical machine that there is a perfect form of running for all humans, which would vary depending on previously mentioned factors, whether you can achieve that form is another story.

  • Craig bfrunninfool

    Thanks Steven,
    I really like the way you think, your last comment is exactly what i did yesterday. “SOMETHING changed (my body got tired of doing things that hurt, and it found something else to do). I started running faster, easier, lighter, and pain-free. And I never had that pain ever again.” I had one of my bes runs with no pain under the left ball of foot.
    I beleive that when I did the Brisbane Marathon a few months ago, I ran too slow (or more correctly too slow cadence) this is why the foot got sore. Also I probably have been doing too much run whilst tired and hence running with bad form.
    I havent bought any of your shoes as yet, I have been making my own. However it is getting more difficult to get the soles and I cant get a satisfactory cord/rope. So I will become of your customers very soon.

  • Joe Drag

    Steven:

    I hope it’s been a good year for you, personally and financially. Happy New Year!

    Joe

  • Steve Hoskins

    Thanks for these insights. You are so right. It’s very “American” to want to get the expert advice that I can simply follow and master in a minimum amount of time. But this is one of the things I love about re-learning how to run barefoot – there is no short cut. There is no easy answer. To master this skill is to master your own individual body and that takes time, patience and awareness. Thanks for resisting the temptation to give the “expert” formula. In the end we will all be better off for the true expertise you have shared here.

  • Randy Kreill., Beavercreek OH

    I’ve had good results using Danny Dreyer’s Chi Running guidelines. I’m thrilled with the significant progress in less than two years and after three readings of his book. I look forward to going further and faster. I’m working on the light, smooth and easy while building endurance with 5 marathons this year, 2 of them 50K’s. Since I’m going on 50, and have only been attempting marathons for 3 years, my body still needs some “rehab” and strengthening before getting serious about speed work. I may run a 50 miler before even thinking about trying to qualify for Boston.

    Chi Running principals are based on ancient tai chi martial arts concepts and basic physics to strive for the most efficient motions on any type of terrain. The basics are simple. The body becomes a straight line with ankles, knees, hips and shoulders lined up. Feet point straight forward. There’s a cadence of about 85 – 90 steps per foot per minute that’s most efficient for most runners. This is similar to an efficient pedaling cadence on a bike. Like a bike, we strive to make the body “roll” along, gravity assisted. This means we run in an easier gear up hill by taking a shorter stride while keeping cadence relatively steady, and we run in a harder gear downhills using a longer stride and reasonably steady cadence. It’s fun to get the feel of that when out running on the bike trails, as your body feels like a it’s running with a set of gears and your feet cycle like a bike tire. There’s much more to the basics of course. I’ll try to remember most of them.

    Pick up the feet, rather than push off the ground. The idea being to kiss the earth as gently as possible.

    The chi is basicly the lower abdominals area. The basic idea of this running strategy is to run from the gut, while relaxing the feet and legs as much as possible. Feet and legs are ideally just along for the ride! Power comes from the core and from great posture, which promotes great breathing. DON’T BE A TIGHTASS. That’s part of the initial challenge, to relax the glutes, while moderately tightening the lower abs, holding a strong posture and breathing deep into those tightened lower abs. It takes practice. As most of us read in Born To Run, the only reason we have glutes is to keep us from falling over when we are upright. Efficient running is essentially a controlled fall.

    So, more basics, shoulders are relaxed as the crown of the head is always reaching for the sky. Think Olympic gymnast posture! Arm swing is front to back, with hands elbows at the 45 degree angle, using a back and forth motion that does not cross in front, while hands do not go behind the center posture line. Using the arm motion to move forward, not up and down or side to side. Hands are relaxed as though you were holding a butterfly.

    Foot strike is happening behind the front of your chest, as the feet easily swing back and up. Watch almost any small child run and you get the idea.

    Knees are always bent. This technique puts a fraction of the torque on the spine area, relative to heal striking.

    Speed comes from the all important LEAN. The lean is NEVER from the waist area and ALWAYS from the ankles! The slightest ankle leans brings on more speed, which you quickly feel in the lungs and heart.

    That’s a lot to think about, but there’s plenty more. To get a few more inches out of each stride, you relax the hips and sort of elongate the rotation in the hips.

    Yet another focus is to work on the lower spine having a relaxing twist to it. The head is level, eyes straight forward. The chin should not be too high. When all of these things are working, you can’t help but feel good. And when you feel tired, there’s a technique for that too. I think it works, but this is where it gets a little “new age” like.

    When fatigue sets in, you visualize your pelvis as a bowl and level it up by rocking it as needed. As you breath very deeply into that level bowl, you take in all the energy you can muster from yourself, your environment etc. Deep breathing repeatedly such as this has gotten me moving at the tail end of tough workouts.

    Imagine falling uphill. You can get that sensation by getting all of the above working simultaneously, while filling the level “bowl” with air, getting into an easier “gear”, leaning from the ANKLES only and falling up the hill with the body in straight line posture…arms pushing up the hill. This actually works for me. I like hills now.

    When going downhill, that’s the only time it makes sense to sort of land on the heel. While it’s more of a midfoot strike overall, while going downhill at 90 RPM’s per foot, that requires a longer stride. To do this injury free requires a lot more bend in the knees to allow the legs to act as shock absorbers, so the spine doesn’t take a beating. Light, smooth and easy. Not as easy as it sounds for someone like me who didn’t think of himself as athletic.

    Gravity is also demonstrated by using all these techniques and experimenting with the ankle lean, while visualing a rope pulling you from your waist. Heck, have someone actually pull you.

    Another great idea from Chi Running: find some soft, level sand and use your best form running over it. There should be no holes, just light foot prints.

    Run from the gut, as coach Joe Vigil would say. Chi Running teaches the basics that anybody can use in their own way.

    These techniques essentially turn your body into an efficient oxygen delivery system. With every part of the body in good form, easeir full breathing and then blood flow are more efficient.

  • william fossat

    My sentiments exactly. When I was a kid I learned to run barefoot on hot sand. I forced myself to walk on sand that was so hot that no sane human would walk on it, developing a technique called the eeyah-don’t-let-your-feet-touch-the-ground-for-more-than-an-instant tehnique, the one that the experts are promoting 60 years later. You start out walking for as long as you can stand it, then your body takes over and–Voila!–you’re running like the wind. Regards–Bill

  • Zak

    I’ve been running in xero amuri ventures for about a week now and I’m experiencing mild burning on my feet like I’ve been walking on coal. I usually run 4 miles a day, and was doing so fine in my new balance minimus trail shoes, I love the sandals and assume my stride was not as perfect as I thought. I’ve read on serveral forums about blistering and mine are no where near as severe as pictures I have seen, also this effects both feet equally, I noticed most posts I’ve seen are isolated to one foot. The main parts of my feet effected are on the front outside of my foot, there isn’t much damage done to my heel. Wondering if maybe I’m not having them tight enough? Or if this is just a stride problem I need to try to reset? Or am i overdoing it going right into 4 miles a day?

    • Hi Zak,

      So… you’re definitely over-doing it. We recommend for ALL runners to start WAAAAY slower than just switching footwear. Look at https://xeroshoes.com/barefoot-running-tips/how-to-run-barefoot/ and https://xeroshoes.com/sandals-barefoot/how-not-to-start-barefoot-running/ for guidelines.

      Secondly, the odds are very high that it’s a stride issue… and the issue is basic: friction. You’re creating more than is necessary. This can come from overstriding and/or from pushing/pulling with your feet rather than placing/lifting them.

      I can’t comment on tension without seeing pictures, but suffice it to say, I can run with my Xeros practically falling off my feet and not create problems, blisters, et cetera, because my form is good.

      Speaking of blisters, also look at http://www.xeroshoes.com/blister. Even though you may not have gotten blisters (yet), what you’re doing is the same thing that causes blisters which, again, is excessive friction.

      Let me know how that helps.
      -S