“Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a sh!t how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one – you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”
-Caballo Blanco, Born to Run
While the phenomenon of minimalist running may have swept the world in 2009 when Christopher McDougall's Born to Run came out, and for a few years afterwards, it has now turned into the opposite phenomenon of maximalism. Born to Run is one of my all time favorite books for more reasons than one. It is not simply a classic tale of adventure, but a guide for life. A life centered on the purity of running, it is a guide on running and yet so much more.
While it may seem odd that I call minimalist running a 'phenomenon,' I only use that word, because for those few years it was. It took the world by storm, with many companies jumping on the bandwagon. However, people found that they were getting injured so they turned to maximalist running and companies like Hoka became quick successes. The fact that people didn't realize was that to suddenly jump into minimalist running, after a lifetime of running in Nikes, was to set your body up for injury. Your body was not used to the unfamiliar minimalist style and so reacted negatively. The more appropriate approach is to work into it slowly. Walk around at work in minimalist shoes and be barefoot as many times as you can, then progress into shorter runs in bare feet, sandals, or minimalist shoes, and then build up consistently.
While for many people minimalist running might have been an experiment, for me it is a lifestyle. It is truly the best way to run. The best way for your body and soul. The connection you feel when simply in sandals allows you to not only endure more, but appreciate more. Instead of the world being at your fingertips it is, quite literally, at your toe tips.
As I began my running I always wanted a guide to form. Not simply overall tips, but techniques for each part of the body. Over the years this is the knowledge I have gained, I truly hope that it helps.
True Running Form
Open your toes with each stride and extend them upwards, this helps direct your forefoot towards the ground.
Land on your forefoot, specifically the ball of your foot. This is the first part of your foot that will begin the process of absorbing the impact of each stride.
Keep your knees bent to shorten your stride. Pretend that you are sitting down in a chair, sit far enough down to where you might think it looks outrageous, but in fact you are not sitting back all that far. Especially on descents, bent knees and hence short strides are vital.
Pretend your pelvis is being pulled forward by a string. This will help engage your glutes and keep your center of gravity over your stride.
Engage your glutes! By bending your knees and pretending your pelvis is being pulled forward by a string you will work to engage your glutes. We forget so often, so be conscious to engage them. Pretend you are trying to hold a dime between your butt cheeks.
On ascents lean into the ascent, power hike if necessary by placing your hands on your knees. Whether you are running the ascent or power hiking remember that you are not pushing down with your hands or quadriceps, instead you are pulling back and up with your glutes.
On descents remember to sit back into your glutes and keep a short, quick stride to engage them. Do not 'pound' the descent, but flow down it.
Keep your hips squared to the trail so that you will be able to most effectively overcome what is ahead.
Engage your core! This will support your entire stride and form, just like your glutes.
Keep your back straight, but do not force it. Pretend your head is being pulled upwards by a string. By engaging your core you will also lengthen your back.
Keep your elbows in close to your body, except for when you need extra balance on fast, technical descents. Then you can extend your elbows and arms outwards for better balance at times.
Overall, however, keep your arms close to your body, loose, and pulled back a little bit. Engage your upper back muscles (trapezoids) to keep your arms pulled back a little bit. Keep your forearms/hands below your elbows, keep them low. What your arms do=what your feet/legs do. So keep your arms low, because you want your feet low. Here is a fundamental technique that no one realizes: move your arms faster, to go faster.
Do not clench your fists or hold your fingers out straight. Find a balance between, keep them loose.
Don't strain your neck. Keep it loose, but straight. Remember a string pulling upwards from the crown of your head.
Be aware of your surroundings, move your head around, be attentive and aware. Again remember a string pulling upwards from the crown of your head.
For smoother trails look about 15 feet ahead of you, as the trail's technicality increases bring your gaze in closer and closer to see more immediate obstacles.
Remember to smile! Even when the going gets tough, smile, because when you smile you can endure more.
Overall Things to Keep in Mind
- Quick step! Pretend you are running on hot coals. Tell yourself, "ooch, ouch," for a quick, efficient stride. You can also pretend that you are log rolling, this will also help you sit back into your glutes. With quick leg turnover and a short stride you will give yourself an ever greater ability to effectively land on your forefoot and run skillfully.
Remember that these are itemized tips for each part of your body, but your body will naturally do these if you run as we should (barefoot or otherwise as close to the ground as possible; so in sandals or minimalist shoes). Your entire body comes together to run, that is part of the beauty. These are simply tips to keep in mind to improve your running form. Whether you utilize all or one, remember them for when you are fatigued and distracted or for when you are ecstatic and energized. In both states you can forget form and that's when injury rears its ugly head. Live your life with intent.