If you’re new to natural running one of the first and most noticeable things is how your calves and achilles are engaged differently than before. In this video, Danny explains why this is and how to move past it. Enjoy!
By Danny Abshire, co-founder, Newton Running
Whatever your body type, fitness level or experience, the two biggest changes you can make to improve your running performance and reduce the likelihood of overuse injury are:
1. Wear shoes with a nearly level profile
2. Learn how to run naturally
How an Elevated Heel Affects Running Form
For the past 30 years, running shoes have been designed with thickly cushioned, built-up heels. This type of shoe forces the body to balance itself in an unnatural, backward-leaning position. Your toes are pointing downward, your weight is shifted rearward, and your back is slightly arched. Basically, your body struggles to maintain balance while compensating for the lifted heel.
If you’ve been running this way for years — and most people have — it’s likely the muscles and other soft tissue in your feet, lower legs (the Achilles tendons in particular) and core need to adapt to the proper body position that comes with running in flat shoes.
The Achilles tendon acts like a large rubber band that stretches and recoils with every stride. If you’ve been wearing shoes with an elevated heel — including your everyday work and casual shoes — your Achilles tendon has a shorter range of motion. When you begin running in a level shoe like a Newton Running shoe, the Achilles tendon needs to stretch to accommodate for the 10-15 mm distance that used to be taken up by an elevated heel.
How to Make the Switch
If you abruptly transition from an elevated heel to doing all your mileage in a level shoe, you’re likely to feel some Achilles and calf muscle soreness. Instead, make the transition gradually: run less than a mile at a time a 2 or 3 days per week. Work on your form and build strength in your feet, ankles and lower legs with the following tips:
Work on strength and balance:
Increase the flexibility and range of motion in your feet and lower legs:
Focus on form:
Take it easy!
Danny Abshire is the author of “Natural Running” (VeloPress, 2010) and the co-founder of Newton Running, a Boulder, Colo.-based company that makes shoes that promote an efficient midfoot/forefoot running gait. He has been making advanced footwear solutions for runners and triathletes for more than 20 years. For more, go to newtonrunning.com.
Newton Running co-founder Danny Abshire is in Miami this weekend to present two natural running form clinics at FootWorks Miami:
March 5th at 8:00-9:30 a.m.
March 6th at 9:00-10:30 a.m.
Learn how to run without injury, faster and with less effort than ever before! Learn from the expert Danny Abshire (co-founder/designer of Newton shoes and author of Natural Running) otherwise known as the foot whisperer.
Danny will be signing copies of his book from 4:30-5:30 in the store Saturday March 5th. Come pick his brain about the Newton technology and proper running form.
Also, take advantage of a 15% discount on all Newton products from 9am to 6pm on Saturday March 5th.
No RSVP or registration required.
5724 Sunset Drive
Miami, Florida 33143
While in San Diego this morningfor a Natural Running Symposium, Newton Running co-founder Danny Abshire stopped by the Fox 5 studios for Morning Show appearance.
Running-injury prevention leaders from around the globe are gathering in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for a three-day conference to discuss best evidence and best practices to prevent and treat running injuries. As part of the gathering, the group will meet the local community and share stories, experience and knowledge.
“The Re-Evolution of Running: Discover Pain Free Movement for Life” will be hosted by Two Rivers Treads Center for Natural Running and Walking, the Bavarian Inn, and the Running Clinic Canada on Friday night January 28, 7 to 9 p.m. at the Bavarian Inn.
Guest panelists include leading clinicians, researchers, teachers, writers, athletes and footwear experts from around the globe:
Dr. Craig Richards
Jay Dicharry, PT
Dr. Peter Larson
Blaise Dubois PT/Sean Cannon, PT
Ian Adamson, MS Sports Med/BS Biomechanical Engineering
Dr. Daniel Kulund, USAF
Dr. Mark Cucuzzella,
Speakers will share their most important discoveries and then allow questions and conversation with the audience.
“This is an amazing privilege to have all of these leaders in one room together willing to share and converse with the public,” says Mark Cucuzzella, MD. Over 60 percent of runners are injured every year. If the CDC were to evaluate this data they would shut down running events. Insurance companies now are reevaluating the advice to get fit if it involves running and the subsequent injuries and costs of expensive imaging studies and treatments. We need to develop entirely new approaches to running injuries and staying healthy for life”
The event is free to the public and geared toward walkers and runners of all abilities.
Free to the public. Coffee and dessert will be provided. Cash bar.
For those wishing to dine prior to the event, call the Bavarian Inn at 304-876-2551 to make a reservation.
For more information, contact Two Rivers Treads Center for Natural Running and Walking or phone 304-876-1100.
Danny Abshire, the co-founder and chief technical officer of Newton, has authored a new book titled Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger, Healthier Running. It is now available for online order just in time for the holiday gift-giving season.
“This is the single most important resource for people who want to enjoy running as nature intended while protecting themselves from unnatural surfaces,” says Abshire. “The book will teach you to run the barefoot way—with shoes—and become a more efficient, stronger and healthier runner.”
Danny is a passionate, lifelong runner who has spent 10 years designing and refining Newton Running shoes. As a longtime running form coach and injury expert, he has worked closely with thousands of athletes, from beginners to Olympic elites, helping them improve their running form and technique.
“Danny has worked with some of the best runners and triathletes in the history of endurance sports,” says Craig Alexander, two-time Ironman World Champion. “Just speaking to him will make you a better runner.”
In Natural Running, Abshire explains the posture, arm carriage, cadence, and land-lever-lift foot positioning that mimic the barefoot running style. Runners transition from heel striking to a midfoot or forefoot strike, which studies show is how the body evolved to run. So that runners can relearn this more natural running gait, Abshire offers an 8-week transition plan, complete with a tool kit of strength and form drills that build and maintain the musculature required for natural running.
The following article was written by Danny Abshire, Newton co-founder, and covers the mind-body connection necessary for natural running.
Learning to run with natural, efficient form isn’t just a physical endeavor. It is a whole body movement, coordinated by an instinctive mind-body connection. The many motions your body makes when running are choreographed and orchestrated by the brain as it continually tries to rebalance your body with gravity.
When running naturally, two major factors allow us to default to the healthiest, most efficient running posture. The first is maintaining a posture that is neutral or balanced with gravity. Stand up barefoot and notice if your feet and pelvis are level, and if you are lined up vertically from the head through your shoulders, hip and knee through the center of the foot.
Second is the sensory input derived from your feet, specifically the forefoot. The brain is a proficient computer that instantaneously responds to input from the foot by making the micro adjustments needed to keep your legs, arms, torso, shoulders and head positioned to be balanced with gravity. And thanks to the harmonious mind-body connection we have, it can all happen without us thinking about it.
Through gait analysis patterns and scientific studies we know that when running naturally or barefoot humans will instinctively touch the earth with a midfoot or forefoot landing, and we will touch with less impact than a heel-strike landing. When running naturally, your forefoot senses the ground the instant it touches down and starts a kinematic chain that propels your running mechanics into the most efficient and effective position for the terrain you’re on. Subconsciously, you alter your form slightly on different types of terrain and in different conditions — slippery, wet, dry, rocky, muddy, steep, flat. Why? Because your brain takes the sensory feedback from the forefoot’s interaction with the ground and positions your body accordingly.
Your brain helps the body make adjustments to find the proper balance with gravity, no matter what compromises it has to make. For example, something placed under a portion of the foot which puts it out of a level, balanced position will cause the whole body to react and make micro adjustments to center itself.
A common but detrimental example of this is running with shoes where the heel is lifted 12-15mm higher than the forefoot. The ramp angle caused by this lift (which can be found in most traditional training shoes made in the past 30 years), forces the body to make adjustments to become balanced with gravity. Knees become locked instead of the pliable spring suspension systems, hips tilt forward, the lower back arches and the upper torso tips backward. This results in more pressure put on the knees, hips and lower spine. In other words, the mind-body connection puts us in balance with gravity, but the whole body kinematics will be such that we’re trying to move efficiently from a very inefficient (heel-striking) position. Worse yet, the soft cushion of foam in the built up heel sends the incorrect message that it is safe to run with an inefficient heel-striking position.
It’s easy to see that this is not an optimal. Running from this position, your body must continue to compensate with all of its movements. With each stride, it’s trying to return to a compromised balanced-with-gravity position. The most common result is a heel-striking gait rather than the more efficient midfoot or forefoot footstrikes. The braking motion involved with heel striking allows your body to quickly get balanced with gravity, but it demands more muscular force to regain the momentum lost while braking at the start of each stride.
That’s why some runners — many whom have been running for years — will say, “I’m a natural heel striker,” or “I heel strike when I get lazy.” The truth is, it has nothing to do with being natural or lazy and has everything to do with the mind-body connection. Your body is compensating for the compromised starting position in shoes with a built-up heel, which is not sustainable for most people.
If you’re starting in a position in which you are balanced with gravity and your feet are flat on the ground (or in shoes with only a slight ramp angle – less than 3%), your body doesn’t have to compromise at all. With a slight forward lean from the center of your mass, you will start to fall forward. Lift your leg and place your foot level back under your body, and you’re running naturally. Meanwhile your uncompromised mind-body connection will position your head, arms, torso and hips so you can move as efficiently as possible. It’s what our body knows from the time we’re born and it’s the most efficient form of running. And it’s what allows our muscles, heart and lungs to exert the least amount of effort while running at any given pace.
If you happened to be around Pearl Street in Boulder at the beginning of this week, you probably noticed lots of neon green Newton bags on people’s shoulders. (A couple of people tweeted asking what was going on) Or perhaps you saw colorful armies of runners all wearing our new green or aqua trail shoes taking over the Boulder Creek bike path.
Good looking group of runners!
At the start of this week around a hundred of Newton’s retailers descended on Boulder for three event-packed days. Amidst breakout sessions, form clinics, runs, and lunchtime discussions, the highlight of the week was definitely the Natural Running Industry Panel.
The Panel included Irene Davis, Mark Cucuzzella, Danny Abshire, Zola Budd, Danny Dreyer, and Jay Dicharry and was moderated by Brian Metzler.
Zola recounted her childhood where it was normal to walk barefoot to school, the mall, etc. She suggests keeping your kids out of shoes as long as possible so that their feet have time to develop correctly.
The clinics involved plenty of barefoot drills on the track.
Thanks to all who attended this weeks events, it was even more of a success than we had hoped for!
By Danny Abshire, co-founder, Newton Running
No one has perfect running form, but everyone can improve their running mechanics. Doing so can make you a more efficient runner, which means you’ll use less energy in every stride and boost your running economy (the ability to process oxygen efficiently while running). Ultimately, improved form can make you faster and less prone to overuse injuries.
One of the primary ways to improve your running technique is through form drills. Form drills are easy to do and don’t take a lot of time, but they’re often overlooked, forgotten or ignored when a workout is completed. Taking an extra 5 to 15 minutes to do form drills a several times per week can make you more fluid, more efficient and even faster for both short and long distances.
Most drills take the aspects of good form — a compact arm swing, soft footstrikes with the midfoot under your center of mass, quick leg turnover, an upright posture with a slight forward lean at the ankles — and accentuate it in a repetitive motion that trains the body to be comfortable with that movement during your regular running mechanics. Some drills are aimed at building smaller muscles (such as the intrinsic group and lumbrical group in the foot), while others help your neuromuscular system fire quicker.
Do one set of each drill three to five times per week. You can do the drills before or after your regular workout, but doing them after a workout can be especially helpful in loosening muscular tightness brought on during your run.
1) Run in Place
This sounds simple, and it is, but it requires an adherence to good form in a semi-stationary setting while varying your cadence from high to very high. If you’re following the aspects of good form, you should be moving forward slightly because your momentum and a slight lean from the ankles will carry you forward.
While you’re doing this drill, think about each element individually — a compact and consistent arm swing, light, mostly flat, midfoot/forefoot footstrikes, a steady but relaxed head, jaw, neck, shoulders and torso — and how each plays into the bigger picture of your running form.
This drill is especially effective in teaching your body to increase leg cadence (optimally to 180 steps per minute) and learning how to lift your leg to start a stride instead of pushing off. Do three 15-second sessions per set.
2) Jump Rope
Jumping rope is simple, but as a drill it’s not going to help your running unless you’re doing it right. Jumping rope can instill the soft, midfoot/forefoot landings we aim for while running. Your body will naturally not let you land on your heel — especially if you’re jumping rope barefoot — because landing on your heels would inflict too much force on the bones, muscles and other tissue in your heels, ankles and legs.
It can also emphasize elastic recoil, as your heel settles on the ground before a new stride begins. Jumping rope also reinforces the notion that a new stride should begin by lifting your leg instead of pushing off. As you jump off the ground, focus on lightly lifting your feet off the ground instead of forcefully pushing off the ground.
Alter your tempo between slow, medium and fast speeds, all while concentrating on the tenets of good running form. Each set should be 15-20 seconds in duration.
3) High Knees
Running in place with high knees is another drill that accentuates lifting your foot off the ground instead forcefully pushing off to begin a new stride. This is essentially jogging in place, alternately lifting your knees to a 90-degree angle with your thighs parallel to the ground.
As with the jog in place drill, your slight forward lean and the momentum gained in this drill will gradually move you forward. Be sure to focus on soft, run midfoot and forefoot footstrikes, using your core to lower your leg down slowly instead of letting it crash to the ground.
This drill requires and also helps instill a compact and consistent arm swing, even though your arms might cycle slightly slower to coincide with the longer hang time of your legs. The motion of your arms will actually help you lift a foot off the ground to start a new stride and keep you balanced. (Briefly try this drill with your arms stationary at your sides and you’ll find yourself forcefully pushing your feet off the ground and you’ll have a more difficult time keeping balanced.)
Keep your torso, head and shoulders relaxed and fairly still during this drill and avoid too much vertical oscillation with your center of mass. Each set should consist of 20 high-knee thrusts or 10 elevations of each knee.
4) Butt Kicks
Butt Kicks accentuate the recovery portion of the running gait phase. Instead of using your hamstring to lift your leg off the ground, think about alternately flicking your lower leg backward with the use of your quadriceps and hamstring muscles then dropping it back down to the ground under the center of your mass.
The movement should be quick and pronounced but relaxed so that you’re able to return your foot to the ground softly at the midfoot. As with High Knees, a compact and consistent arm swing is crucial to keeping your balance and maintaining a high cadence. Each set should consist of 20 butt kick strides or 10 elevations of each leg.
5) Skipping 1 – Quick Skip
The goal of this drill is to quicken the timing of your neuromuscular system so you can increase your running cadence to 180 steps per minute or slightly faster. As you quickly pick up one leg off the ground with the start of a stride, the other foot skips off the ground with two small and quick hops before the legs alternate.
There is a staccato sensation to this drill when it’s done correctly, but the more you practice it the easier you’ll fall into a consistent rhythm. A compact and very quick arm swing is crucial to keeping your balance and maintaining a high cadence. Each set should consist of about 15 to 20 seconds of skipping.
6) Skipping 2 – Slow Skip
Unlike the previous drill, this is a slow-action skipping drill that accentuates the high knee action of the lifted leg during a running stride. With this drill, you’ll practice lifting your leg off the ground to being a new stride instead of pushing off the ground. To extend the duration of the lifted leg in the air, you’ll skip with the opposite foot.
The rhythm of this drill will also have a staccato effect, but it will be much slower in nature. A compact, slow arm swing will keep your balance and allow you to maintain a high cadence. Each set should consist of about 15 to 20 seconds of skipping.
7) Donkey Kicks
It seems like a silly name, but it looks just like it sounds like. Begin with a straight, slightly forward-leaning posture, a compact arm swing, level hips and flexed ankles and knees of the athletic “ready” position. Pull one leg backwards as if you’re kicking something behind you.
While balancing on the midfoot area of the stationary leg, repeatedly pull the kicking leg backward, then allowing it to recoil forward. This drill accentuates good hip extension and teaches your body to make footstrikes under your center of mass. Do 10 kicks with each leg per set.
8 ) Arm Pull Backs
This drill accentuates the proper motion of the arms during the gait cycle by highlighting the posterior portion of the compact arm swing. Begin with a level head and shoulders, keeping a straight spine with a slightly forward-leaning posture between the chin and hips. Alternate pushing your arms backwards as they are held at 90 degrees (or less).
The key is keeping your arms swinging in a plane parallel to your torso and not rotating your body to assist the movement. Do a total of 20 alternating pull backs per set, 10 with each side.
Danny Abshire is the co-founder of Newton Running, a Boulder, Colo.-based company that makes shoes that promote an efficient midfoot/forefoot running gait. He has been making advanced footwear solutions for runners and triathletes for more than 20 years.
People have been experimenting with barefoot running for a long time, but in recent years the activity has gained mainstream notoriety and science-based credibility.
Most coaches, elite athletes, physiologists and other medical experts agree that running barefoot in very small doses on soft surfaces can help improve your running mechanics and teach your body to land lightly at your midfoot, but they also agree that you should wear some kind of running shoes most of the time.
“Throw your shoes away for good? Sure, if you have perfect mechanics and you’ve been living barefoot all of your life,” says Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, a West Virginia University professor and 2:25 marathoner who has studied barefoot and minimalist runners in relation to running injuries. “But that’s not the majority of runners. Most runners absolutely need to wear shoes when they run.”
What Shoe Type is Best?
If you’re used to running in a traditional training shoe with a built-up heel, running barefoot can be a fascinating experience of freedom and can be the first step in developing natural running mechanics. Running unshod your foot naturally seeks out the ground by landing at the midfoot/forefoot, where it receives sensory interaction, or afferent feedback.
This sensory input immediately tells the rest of the body how to move efficiently with light footsteps, a high leg cadence, a relaxed but consistent arm swing, an upright posture and a slight forward lean from the ankles. This same feedback can be gained while wearing some types of lightweight shoes, but traditional trainers with thick levels of foam dampen the sensory interaction and make it much harder to interpret the ground, especially with the heel-striking gait those shoes promote.
How Run “Barefoot” in Shoes
Landing lightly at your midfoot and picking up your foot quickly to start a new stride is the most effective way your body knows to propel and protect itself while running. Conversely, your body generally doesn’t allow you to land on your heel if you’re running barefoot (especially on a hard surface) because it isn’t engineered to accommodate the blunt force trauma of repeated heel striking.
True, the calcaneus (heel) bone is a large bone, but it was designed to take the lower impacts of a walking gait and help balance the body as it rolls forward, as well as to help support and balance the body in a standing position as the rear point of a tripod.
Accepting large impacts on the heel bone from heel-strike running on the roads barefoot sends tremendous shockwaves (or impact transients) up your body. Those impact transients can have numerous negative affects upstream as your body tries to offset that force and remain balanced, including various forms of tendinitis, illiotibial band strains and adverse sheering in the pelvis and lower spine.
“It’s no different than somebody hitting you on the heel with a sledgehammer with 300 to 400 pounds of force,” says Dr. Daniel Lieberman, the Harvard University evolutionary biologist who concluded in a study released in January 2010 that running with midfoot footstrikes, either barefoot or in shoes, is better and less impactful than heel-striking. “So if you’re going to do that, it makes sense to wear shoes. A shoe makes that comfortable. A shoe essentially slows that rate of loading enormously — by about sevenfold in a typical shoe — and that’s what makes it comfortable and that’s why a lot of people can wear shoes and heel-strike.”