Minimalist Running Technique

How to Run Using Your Forefoot

A good minimalist running landing should feel gentle, relaxed, and compliant. Professor Dan Lieberman of Harvard University suggests trying these two phases to learn the recommended forefoot technique:

Phase 1

Vibram FiveFingers runners typically land on the ball of the foot towards the lateral side. Aim to land with the foot nearly horizontal, so you don’t work your calves too much.

Phase 2

After the front of your foot lands, let the heel down gradually, bringing the foot and lower leg to a gentle landing. (It’s like when you land from a jump, flexing the hip, knee, and ankle.) The landing should feel soft, springy, and comfortable.

Heel Striking Force Curve

In this video you will notice a force curve showing the amount of force transferred to your skeletal system when the foot impacts the ground. With a traditional heel striking form, the force curve shows a significant impact on transient force when the heel lands. In layman’s terms, heel striking impacts the body as if you were stomping all of those miles as opposed to running. Over time this continually jarring impact becomes magnified and has the potential to contribute to common running injuries.

Proper Barefoot Form

With proper barefoot form the force curve has a smooth line indicating a natural transfer of energy to and from the body. You will notice unlike in the heel striking video above, the impact transient force is nonexistent when the runner utilizes a proper barefoot running form.

Barefoot Running Pointers

Do not over stride (this means landing with your foot too far in front of your hips). Over striding while forefoot or midfoot striking requires you to point your toe more than necessary, adding stress to the calf muscles, Achilles tendon, and the arch of the foot. It often feels as if your feet are striking the ground beneath your hips. It is similar to the way one’s feet land when skipping rope or when running in place (as runners sometimes do when waiting to cross a street).

Not sure if you’re landing properly?

Try running totally barefoot on a hard, smooth surface (e.g. pavement) that is free of debris. Sensory feedback will quickly tell you if you are landing too hard. Conversely, if you run barefoot on too soft a surface, like a beach, you might not learn proper form.

Trouble landing mid-foot?

Here are a few pointers to help with learning proper mid-foot running form:

1. Walk backwards, leaning slightly forward. Then try to do it faster, making sure there are no obstacles in your way
2. Walk or run (slowly is okay) up a steep-ish hill. Your feet will naturally adapt to this challenge
3. Jump on two feet and see how you land
4. Run in place. Make an effort to lean forward a little and lift your thighs up
5. Always be patient and build gradually. It can take several months to a year to make the transition to running in Vibram FiveFingers. It takes time for your feet and lower legs to increase strength and mobility.

It’s important to remember that a gradual transition doesn’t mean a setback in your training. Running in Vibram FiveFingers requires a significant increase in lower leg and foot strength. A gradual transition is critical to avoid overuse injuries. If running is your primary form of exercise, gradually increase the proportion of forefoot or mid-foot striking by about 10% per week over the course of several months as you reduce running in traditional running shoes. Remember, this is an journey to find something that suits you. To make a clean break from traditional heel striking and squished toes, supplement running with biking, swimming, cardio machines, and fitness classes to maintain your fitness level, while giving primary running muscles a chance to recover.

Good luck and have fun!