Better form won’t happen overnight

I will go down as a staunch believer in the benefits of less/no shoe and mid-foot striking, that is for certain. But I am going to perhaps go against the grain a bit here and say that, while yes, it’s more natural for us to run this way, it doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially if you have been a heel striker for a long time.

We all want to think that, by changing our shoes, or doing 100 ups, or taking a class in chi running, we’ll suddenly be done with bad form. All those things help, of course. But our bodies can get pretty conditioned to bad habits and undoing them takes time.

The shoes are only one piece of the puzzle

It might even come with some pain. To change your form, you’re going to use your muscles differently and that can translate into some soreness. Your calf muscles are going to be tight, as are your Achilles. Even your feet are going to feel some hurt, because you are going to awaken muscles that haven’t had to work in quite some time in the big clunky heels of traditional shoes. The upside, I have found, is that once that form change is made, you won’t have tightness is many of the old places. My hamstrings used to be perpetually tight, and now that’s gone. I also find I recover faster from long runs than I used to–at age 46, that’s saying something!

So–what’s the best way to go about it? Slowly, slowly, slowly. Don’t run out, buy a pair of low heel-to-toe drop shoes and leave your old shoes behind for good. You need to ease your way into it. I also swear by pure bare foot running to really make your form change. Your bare feet aren’t going to let you heel strike. But again, tiny, and I mean tiny, bits of bare footing to begin with.

Perhaps the best way to completely make a change is to just run that tiny bit barefoot, and nothing more–pretty much starting from scratch with your mileage. I know very few who are willing to go that way (myself included), but those who have will tell you it pays off.

There are plenty of good resources with far more knowledge than what I can offer that you can utilize–the Natural Running Center is a great place to start. I certainly am not here to discourage anyone from trying to make the change to better form; in fact I encourage it. I just think it’s worthwhile to be honest and upfront about the process. Sometimes it ain’t pretty and if you can wrap your brain around that ahead of time, you might be better off.

Have you made a change in form? How easy/hard was it for you?

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  1. says

    Whilst still enjoying running in the great outdoors, I’ve been unable to retrieve any racing fitness since breaking ribs in a fall four months ago. My shoes (New Balance MTE101’s) are fairly minimalist though I wear orthotics in all my shoes and have no problems with them. My next shoe will be the NB Minimus MT10
    Maybe I was clutching at straws when I recently bought Danny Dreyer’s book – Chi Running – with a view to using the technique described in the blurb that enables one to run farther, faster and with much less effort – AT ANY AGE. At my time of life those last three words are important. I can see the logic in all Danny says but, so far, haven’t managed to master the technique, though I’m still trying. Maybe there’s some truth in the old saying – You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
    Runningfox recently posted..StrugglingMy Profile

  2. says

    Really good post! I’m really lucky I suppose since I’ve always been a natural forefoot striker and run in natural shoes since day 1. Over the years I’ve also been extremely lucky with injuries. I still believe that the fact that I walk barefoot a lot and also did so as a child play a big role in this.
    Johann recently posted..Long Live The Cotton T-Shirt!My Profile

  3. says

    I agree, Amanda…it definitely does not happen overnight. I made the huge mistake of getting a pair of minimalist shoes and after a week or so of low mileage, felt okay, so immediately hoped right back to high mileage. Not pretty. I went back to my old shoes and have been tentative to start again until just recently. I still do my long runs in my usual shoes, but have started doing a few miles (I’m up to 6) in a low heel-to-toe drop shoes to get comfortable!! Thanks for the website link – I’m going to check it out now!
    Michele @ nycrunningmama recently posted..New Feature coming soon: The PR Spotlight!My Profile

  4. says

    It has been 5 months since I started running in the 4mm drop Brooks Pure Flows and I still rotate them with the Launch (9.5mm drop) and Hokas (4mm drop) as I believe to not be fully ready for the Flows full time yet. I have run up to 18mi in the Flows and have been putting more and more miles on them each month but will continue to take it slowly. Your message of being patient cannot be stressed enough as I have seen too many people get hurt by not doing so!
    Jeff Irvin recently posted..Ten Days …My Profile

  5. says

    Dammit woman – you stole part of a post I have been composing! Getting out the MZ Voodoo Doll post haste.

    I have been working on my form for some time now and so much goes into it: posture, lean, shoes, etc. that one thing is not going to magically give you better form. Those who think shoes are the “sole” answer are an injury waiting to happen. I am not quite there yet, but progress has been very good as of late. Slow and steady wins this particular race..
    Jamoosh recently posted..Random TuesdayMy Profile

  6. says

    I agree with you but I’m not sold on barefoot running. Maybe it’s simply because I find I run so flat. I enjoy the spring that a sneaker gives me, even though it’s a minimalist shoe. I like Newton’s the best. My last two shoes for the marthons were Nike Flys ( a little too padded for me) then Mizuno’s. I’m hoping to go back to Newton’s for this years Boston. We’ll see.
    Joanne recently posted..I lied but came clean and Spinach Lentil Soup with Assorted CrackersMy Profile

  7. says

    It’s not the shoes. Changing your form is all mental. Going barefoot helps erase heel striking, but it’s not the only answer. It’s not just how you land, but how you lift your feet and how you swing your leg. Gentle, quick and short are the things I’ve found to be the most helpful in improving form.
    Viper recently posted..Minus SecondsMy Profile

  8. Holly says

    I needed this today! I am continuing to get frustrated with myself for only being able to hold “perfect” form for about a quarter of a mile without having to reset. I needed the reminder to stay patient but keep with it. Thanks!

  9. says

    It’s taken me over a year to get to a point where almost all of my miles are in minimalist shoes or barefoot on the treadmill AND not have new tightness and sore spots. My one calf still gets angry after long runs, but I suck at rolling it, so that’s in part my fault.

    I try to run at least once a week completely barefoot to make sure I’m aware of my form.
    MCM Mama recently posted..It’s not Running’s faultMy Profile

  10. says

    I love those shoes. I have been trying to transition for a while to a more minimalist shoe….I am just very cautious as I got an achilles injury a few years ago from going too quickly. I was lucky that when I decided I wanted to learn to run that my husband had learned from his high school coach that you should run on your forefoot and so that is how he taught me. Unfortunately, I think I run too far on my toes when I am doing faster runs…..Feet, they are so fun.
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  11. says

    I tend to have the fewest issues when I stop over thinking running. When I simply go out and run every day I feel the best. I rarely have aches and pains (aside from the day after an ultra length effort and then it is simply soreness from fatigue) so after over 2 decades I might be doing it right, at least for me.
    shelly recently posted..As the Nose RunsMy Profile

  12. says

    i might recommend laying off the self-tanner… lol. i am sure it’s just the lighting but you just look a little orange! :)

    at one point i started running in vibrams – started out at 1/4 mile and built up to maybe 2 miles i think – but i’ve fallen off the wagon. i’m thinking if/when i get to return to running for REAL i may try to just do it all in vibrams since i will have to start out at 1/4 mile of running period anyway.
    lindsay recently posted..boomMy Profile

  13. says

    Great post! I made the transition to minimalist/midfoot strike, and made the all too common mistake of too much too soon, and ended up with achilles and other foot tendon injuries (all of which ART really helped with). I’m glad you’re putting the realities of transitioning out there! It’s been a long, sometimes painful road, but I’d NEVER go back to traditional shoes or a heel strike!
    GreenGirlRunning recently posted..Women’s Heart Health MonthMy Profile

  14. says

    I am buying shoes of all different heel-to-drop sizes to awaken all the muscles that way. I use them for various distances and paces and most if not all tightness has gone away nd I don’t foam roll AT ALL. Nor do I static stretch. I believe it is all in the shoes I am wearing and the fact that I work from home barefoot so my feet are not tied up all day long either.
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  15. says

    Great post. I’m trying to make a transition to a lower heel drop shoe and just today I ran in those shoes for the first time in consecutive days. That said, my legs feel great, but I certainly won’t be ditching my other shoes yet. From various shoe experiments and reading up on the subject, I think it’s a process than can take as little as 3 months and up to a year to transition, with a lot of factors to consider (weight/height, experience running, running form, etc.)
    David H. recently posted..Q&A with Marathon BrianMy Profile

  16. says

    Many of my runners ask me about barefoot running, and I always tell them: put it in your training week the same way you would anything… So yes you need a speed session, well how about a barefoot session! I do go on to tell them that maybe just walking round the house barefoot is enough for you, while other people will do there speed barefoot, and I have some who do everything barefoot or as flat as they can.

    Good luck.
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  17. Denise P. says

    Well this post is timed just right. I just finished my 6th half marathon on Sunday and my knees hurt so bad most of the way. I’ve been to 2 primary care doctors (had to “fire” the first one because he told me to stop running w/o doing any diagnostics), chiropractor, physical therapy, accupuncture, etc. And still don’t have an answer as to what is causing my knee pain.

    I took a class on form at a local running store and they mentioned that I was heel striking, but didn’t focus too much attention on me after that. (I think they thought I was a lost cause – slow and bad form – haha)

    But I think I might look into trying something from the Brooks Pure project at this point. I’m keeping my mileage low in the coming months anyways, so this is the perfect time. I’ll also try to be more dilligent with my exercises to strenghten the various parts of my legs.