This is the third of a three-part series of blog posts focused on how to run more naturally. In the first post of this series, Barefoot Sunday, we discussed how to strengthen your feet. The second post, 3 Steps to Picking the Right Shoe, showed you how to determine what type of shoe you need based on your degree of pronation. Now that you have the proper fitting shoe that supports good running form and natural foot-strike, you’ll want to fix that wacky zombie-like run that you do!
Patrick: In my first post, I talked about how I suffered from knee and back pain when I first started running. After whining to my coach (Ed Zerkle) about it, he said, “dude, stop running like a zombie… your mechanics are all out of wack.” You see, apparently, zombies are notorious heel strikers and over-striders – and since rigor mortis has to set in, they run stiff as a board. All of this means that for each stride you take, bone-jarring shockwaves are sent from your foot all the way up to the base of your neck. Ed set me down the path of fixing my running mechanics and I’ll always owe him a debt of deep gratitude!
Even if your running form is not as zombie-like as Patrick’s was, chances are you still have room for improvement – we all do. We describe how to improve your form in the following three sections:
On Your Mark!
Understand Your Starting Point
As a result of your gait analysis performed in 3 Steps to Picking the Right Shoe, you now know what type of pronator you are and the type of shoe you need: neutral, stability, or motion-control. Basically this means that the support in your new shoes are either minimal (neutral), moderate (stability), or maximum (motion-control).
Why might you need increased support from your shoes? The idea is that you don’t want your foot to excessively roll inward – this little movement has such an impact on the rest of your body as your foot lands and your miles add up. If your foot rolls inward too far as you run, it means that your arch is collapsing (plantar fasciitis anyone?), your ankles twerk inward, your knees follow your ankles (knee valgus), and your IT band, hips and back get jolted to the point where everything starts to tighten and swell and zombie-like rigor mortis begins to set in… In short, stop running like a zombie, it’s bad for you.
When it comes to running injuries, excessive pronation (inward rolling of the foot) has long been considered the guilty culprit. The most common approach is to put the injured runner into a stability or motion-control shoe, for extreme cases a custom-made orthotic is recommended – and a runner’s life of artificial dependency is born.
We Suggest a Different Approach
If you need stability, motion-control shoes and/or orthotics, use them. But you do NOT want to depend on this artificial support system over the course of your running life. It’s akin to being prescribed a medication (e.g. steroids) that was meant to fix a short-term problem, but you take it longer than prescribed and soon your body stops producing its natural hormones and you become dependent on it forever.
In other words, these shoes act like casts, rendering lifeless the incredible facilities of your running support system (feet, heel cords, calves). Over time, they erode, atrophy, and weaken your body’s natural ability to absorb shock. This support system, with all the remarkable elasticity that is critical to running fast, running long, and running pain-free simply rusts away.
To be clear, we DO place our runners in these shoes if they exhibit over-pronation, but we do NOT want them to STAY in those shoes indefinitely – we consider them transition shoes.
Strengthen Your Foundation
If you do excessively pronate, it means that your running support system is not strong enough to naturally support the force placed upon it for every foot strike. You need to work daily on strengthening this system as described in Barefoot Sunday – do NOT rely on shoes to do it for you. How much strengthening do you need? It depends on your degree of pronation. If you’re already in the neutral camp, chances are you’re pretty strong in these areas. However, if it was determined you need stability or motion-control shoes, you need to work on strengthening these areas diligently and immediately.
Be prepared to be in it for the long haul. According to Dr. Nick Campitelli (Dr Nicks Blog), it could take years to correct if you have an extreme case of excessive pronation. In the before-and-after photos taken of one of Dr. Nick’s patients, you can see his work.
Start the Transition
Start running in your new zero drop (or moderate drop, depending on your starting point) shoes and make the transition gradually: run less than a mile at a time 2 or 3 days per week. If your training volume is more than that, it’s fine to run in your old shoes for the remainder of the miles you need to run.
Focus on Form
After a run, use form drills to further develop specific aspects of proper running form. Skipping, bounding, high knees and butt kicks are easy and don’t take a lot of time. Watch yourself run in the mirror at the gym or have a friend video your stride in your old traditional shoes and again in your zero drops. Notice how your body moves differently in each shoe.
Take a look at our Run Naturally page and study the animation – adopt this form while you run in your new shoes.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do your feet land under your center of mass?
- Are you running with a quick cadence and relatively short strides?
- Are you running with upright but slightly forward-leaning posture?
- Are you carrying your arms close to your body at about a 90-degree angle?
Gradually Increase Mileage
If you’re like us when we first did the transition, you’ll be chomping at the bit to do long runs since you feel great in your new shoes and a proper running form makes you feel like a gazelle! Don’t do it. You need to progress gradually. Increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent per week and make sure you’re diligent about performing your strengthening exercises, self-analyzing your form as you progress completely to your new shoes.
That’s all for this week’s post and this series focused on how to run more naturally. Please comment on this post if you have any questions or need recommendations to improve your running form. By the way, after a few months of strengthening and focusing on your form – do another gait analysis to check your progress. We’ll bet that you’ll be encouraged to see that you can move to a shoe that has less stability with a more natural feel to it.
Keep on Running!
Julia, Patrick & Jo-Jo