Barefoot Running: Perfect Form and Key Exercises

Getting Started: Exercises

“You need to take a few steps back from where you are now,” says Lee Saxby. “As a baby has to learn to walk, so you need to acquire – or regain – new motor skills before you are ready to run barefoot.” Here’s how...

1. Barefoot walking

Why: It hones proprioception and starts to ‘wake up’ those dormant muscles in your feet. Backwards walking also develops range of motion in the foot and ankle.

How: Spend as much time as you can – at home, at work and outdoors – unshod. Play with different surfaces and incorporate backwards walking.

2. Barefoot squatting

Why: Studies show that the distribution of force under the foot in squatting is similar to that in barefoot running – the weight is mostly on the forefoot with heels on the ground.

“If you can’t do a barefoot squat, you shouldn’t be barefoot running,” says Saxby.

How: a) Stand tall with your feet wider than hip-width apart and your knees soft. Make sure your weight is more on the balls of your feet than your heels.

b) Squat into a sitting position, keeping your weight off your heels, but with your heels still in contact with the floor. If you can’t make it all the way down without them lifting, hold on to a support and gently rock up and down from your end point. Do this for 30 seconds a few times a day.

Once you can keep your heels down, progress to squatting with a weighted bar (5kg is fine) balanced across your collarbone with your arms outstretched in front. The final step is to squat with perfect posture and the bar raised overhead.

3. Barefoot jumping

Why: Natural running requires higher cadence. “We want to keep ground contact to a minimum, which we do by making use of elastic recoil instead of muscle action,” says Saxby.

To get a feel for the difference, try doing four jumps a few seconds apart. Now try four consecutive jumps with no break. You should find the second round easier because the quicker rhythm allows you to utilise elastic recoil from the previous jump to contribute to the next one.

How: a) Mark a straight line on the floor and line your toes up with it. Check your posture (head above hips, feet below them, knees unlocked and weight more towards the front of the foot than the heel).

b) Now start to jump on the spot, keeping the jumps quick and just a few centimetres high. After 10 jumps, check your position in relation to the line. If you’ve travelled forward or back, you need to adjust your posture. “When you’re perfectly aligned, you will stay on the spot,” says Saxby.

Good Running Form

1. You should feel as though your feet are landing underneath you,” says Lee Saxby. “The footstrike should be as quiet as possible, without slapping or scuffing.”

2. When you land, your shoulders, hips and ankles should all be aligned.

3. Your trailing leg should bend swiftly. A long, lazy trailing leg causes two undesirable outcomes: either it tilts the upper body forward or it allows the leading leg to travel too far forward, increasing the chances of a heel strike.

4. Look at the horizon. “If you are looking straight ahead of you, you’ll be less likely to ‘bend’ at the hip,” says Saxby.

5. Your arms should be bent to 90 degrees or less. “Your arms should also match the rhythm of the feet, and a greater bend at the elbow joint is desirable,” explains Saxby. Remember to also keep your arms ‘loose’.

Catch up with the footwear vs form debate and read our essential barefoot Q+A.