Success is simple things
practiced everyday

Advice and ponderings for swimrunners, swimmers and runners. Where focus goes energy flows.

October 29, 2023 | Tom Jenkinson

Natural Running

One of the things I share with Envol founder and head coach Nicolas Remires is a passion for natural movement

Regardless of your running background, you should take pride and interest in your movement. A running novice should treat it with as much fascination and detail as a world record holder. Taking ownership of your movement is one of the most liberating and exciting exercises you can undertake as a runner.

Cushioning and protection have their place, but we are strong believers that using minimalist shoes in our shoe rotation has made us both faster runners and helped us stay injury-free.

The Envol Natural Running Manifesto

  • Learn backwards. First, you need to develop speed, which will give you the strength to run longer. Running fast is the secret to running easy. Most go slow believing that we’ll get faster as we get better, and rarely achieve their potential. In essence, quality beats quantity; the speed at which you practice the most will be your best speed albeit with balance, speed kills endurance; endurance kills speed.

  • Adaptation over protection. Protecting your feet (too much) with cushioned shoes unlearns your brain from optimal running biomechanics. Running with the correct technique (even in prepared bare feet) on any surface is injury-free.

  • Stop fast walking and start running. Running equals springing through the air, landing elastically on the forefoot with a flexed knee (thus producing quiet feet). On landing, the foot should be directly below the body. Walking is landing on the heels with a straight leg.

  • Any and all additions to the body damage running skill. Evolution didn’t make us born to run without reason.

  • Increase your cadence. The correct running tempo for human beings is between three and five steps per second. Increasing your turn-over is one of the best ways to improve your running technique.

  • Good posture is critical to running. Don’t bend forward! Great running is a movement skill (not a “try-hard” skill) – posture is key.

Natural Running Clinic with Urban OM

Consider that…

Cushioning protects (but weakens) your feet, and also magnifies the forces to the joints.

Overpronation doesn’t cause common overuse injuries; a weak kinetic chain is the primary catalyst of those ailments.

Stability and motion control shoes don’t fix pronation; instead, they weaken and limit the natural motion of the feet, lower legs, knees, and hips, causing an unnatural gait pattern.

Good running form is facilitated by strong feet, ankles, and lower legs as well as lower limb agility, allowing knees and hips to track consistently in the sagittal plane.

An efficient running gait results in a foot hitting the ground below the body and not far out in front of it in a heavy heel-striking fashion.

Running cues for you to work on…

Running Against a Wall

Imagine there’s a wall right in front of your nose that moves forward with you as you run. Your feet will repeatedly knock into this wall unless you shorten your stride and place your feet underneath your hips instead of out ahead of your body. Leaning slightly forward at the ankles will also create a little more room to drive your thighs forward without banging your feet. This proprioceptive cue facilitates a more compact stride by correcting overstriding.

Driving the Thigh

Concentrate on driving the thigh of your swing leg forward a little more forcefully than you would normally do. A more forceful forward-upward motion with this leg will create a counterbalancing downward-backward action in your opposite leg as it comes into contact with the ground. (Think of the way your free arm moves in opposition to your throwing arm when you throw a ball hard.) This cue will enhance your stride symmetry and stiffness.

Running on Water

Imagine you’re running on water, and your goal is not to fall through the surface. To do this, you must overcome the squishiness of your running surface by applying maximum force to the water in minimum contact time, like a skipping stone. Try to make your feet skip across your running surface in a similar way: quick, light, yet forceful. This cue will teach you to stiffen your stride and minimize ground contact time.

Pounding the Ground

Most runners are taught to run as softly as possible. In fact, running speed is almost entirely a function of how forcefully you hit the ground with your feet. The typical runner – especially the typical overstriding runner – allows his or her feet to fall passively to the ground with each stride. Instead, practice actively driving your foot into the ground. If you are currently a heel-striker (over-strider), work on shortening your stride and landing fore- or mid-foot before using this proprioceptive cue, which teaches you to stiffen your stride, thrust earlier, and minimize ground contact time.

Butt Squeeze

In the moment before your foot makes contact with the ground, contract the muscles in the hip and buttock on that side of your body and keep them engaged throughout the ground contact phase of the stride. This proprioceptive cue will enable you to maintain greater stability in the hips, pelvis, lower spine, and perhaps even the knees as you run, and will minimize wasteful (asymmetrical) long-axis rotations.

Navel to Spine

Concentrate on pulling your belly button inward toward your spine while running. Using this cue will activate the deep abdominal muscles that serve as important stabilizers of the pelvis and lower spine during running. In runners that do not properly contract the deep abdominals during running, the pelvis tilts forward excessively as the thigh pulls backward. Whereas when the deep abs are kept tight, most of the force generated by the glutes and hamstrings is transferred to the ground, hence into forward movement.

Falling Forward

Tilt your whole body slightly forward as you run. Don’t bend at the waist! Tilt your entire body from the ankles. When you’re first getting a feel for this feel free to exaggerate your lean to the point where you feel you’re about to fall on your face, then ease back to a point where you are comfortable and in control, but where gravity still seems to be pulling you forward. This cue will help you correct overstriding because when you’re running with a slight forward tilt in your body, your feet will naturally land close to your center of gravity.

Floppy Feet

The human foot contains twenty-seven bones and dozens of muscles and ligaments. This complex structure enables the foot to deform in an intricate, wavelike pattern while it is in contact with the ground during running. Unfortunately, shoes greatly restrict this natural movement. You can get a lot of it back by wearing a running shoe that allows greater freedom of foot movement. You can get even more back on concentrating on running with relaxed “floppy” feet whilst running. When practicing this cue, continue to strike the ground forcefully with your feet, but use the muscles of your upper leg to generate this force while keeping the foot relaxed, enabling it to absorb and transfer impact forces in a way that will minimize stress on specific tissues and increase the amount of free elastic energy you are able to store and reuse.

Final Words

When it comes to moving as our species is intended, speed and fitness are secondary factors. Do not gauge yourself purely by these measures.

Do not think of yourself as mechanical. Think of yourself as elastic, fluid, connected, and synergistic. Whereas your current movement may not be very efficient, you will have become very efficient at doing it. Moving better takes time but is a celebration of what it means to be human

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