Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Transitioning to Minimalist Running

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been asked by many runners for my advice on the proper way to transition to more minimalist running. It seems to me from all the stories I've heard that many of them are convinced that running with a more barefoot/forefoot gait (and less with a heel strike) is the more "natural" and efficient way to run. Yet very few of them actually know what the best way it is to accomplish this. As a group they resist the notion of removing their shoes and going on a naked barefoot run. Many of them have personal anecdotes from others who have tried such an experiment and ended up injured and had given up altogether. They all want some assurances from me before they spend the big bucks on a new pair of Nike Frees or Vibrams or the latest minimal shoe that they will not end up on the PUP (that's Physically Unable to Perform, for those are unfamiliar with the football euphemism) List. Unfortunately I wasn't able to provide them with a guarantee that they will not be injured during the transition process because let's face it, injuries can happen in all types of running. However, I did give them some simple exercises and basic guidelines to follow to make the transition a bit safer and easier for them. In a nutshell, I told them that the key to learning how to run more forefoot and more efficiently is to learn how to perform speedwork more effectively.

Now you might ask, as many of them did, what does speedwork have to do with running footfoot? Doesn't doing speedwork just make you faster? You might also say as some of them also did "I am slow. I am not fast like you. I don't do speedwork. I don't want to get faster. I just want to run" (If you're shaking your head, believe me, there are many runners who feel this way!) But what if I told you, as I did to them, that speedwork isn't even really about building speed at all? What if I told you that getting faster is only a secondary consequence of running with speed? The primary objective, as those who regularly engage in speedwork knows, is to train the body to run more efficiently. Whenever you stress the body and ask it to perform at a faster than comfortable pace, you are essentially asking all the bodily functions involved in running to work harder, quicker and more effectively than they do when you're running easy, slow, and suboptimally. Picture a little kid learning how to ride a bike for the first time. At first, he is uneasy and is peddling very slowly. The bike is wobbling from side to side threatening to topple over at any minute. Eventually though, he gets the hang of it and peddles faster, The bike is able to stay in a straight line without much effort needed to sustain movement. I liken those who don't engage regularly in speedwork to the kid wobbling from side to side with the slow bike. They not only will not get any faster, but they will also likely never uncover the inefficiencies in their own running style. This is important for those aspiring to be forefoot/barefoot runners because (unless you overstride) you will always naturally land more on your forefoot when you're running with speed. That's because the heel isn't involved when you're sprinting. (If you've ever watched elite runners in a race up close you'd see that their heels rarely if ever touch the ground when they're running.) So for those who are already engaged in weekly or bi-weekly speedwork sessions, you're likely already running more forefoot/midfoot than you realize. The thing to do then is to invest in a pair of racing flats/minimal shoes and practice with these on your speed sessions and short races. As long as you keep your strides short and small and increase only your leg turnover to compensate for the speed, you should be able to transition to running only in minimal shoes and racing flats relatively quickly. Just be sure to allow adequate time for recovery in between these speed sessions.

For those who are not doing speedwork and are on the fence about it, what are you waiting for? Remember, it's NOT about running fast. It's about learning how to run more EFFICIENTLY.


B.o.B. said...

I tried on the Vibrams and ran around the store in them. I am going to give that whole "minimalist things" a try after MCM. Don't want to mess up anything else right now. Great post though.

NY Wolve said...

I just wrote a post about my own thoughts on this. I am not going to try to change my footstrike per se, but rather avoid overstriding. I have noticed that results in less heel strike, and it does feel differently. One other benefit of sped work (which I have speculated also benefits form) is not just that it forces efficiency, but rather that it forces an increase in foot cadence. For me, that foot turnover naturally decreases the stride and forces better form because of a better lean, faster feet and a different feel. The problem I have is that when I stop a speed workout, I will literally lean back to compensate and that reverts back to old patterns.

I have no great insight into this, and I am not even looking to change my footstrike, much less become a Vibram type. I am interested in efficiency and injury prevention and eliminating overstriding is a subset of that debate.

At the Asics store, I picked up the Piranha 3. It is ridiculously light (4 ounces). I can't imagine running a race in them! And, if I did, I am sure it would change everything.

Anonymous said...

very good thoughts like always. i've definitely noticed that i run on my forefoot when i'm running faster. interesting idea to buy racing shoes to train in and reinforce the efficiency of your running. now that you say it, it's like "DUH" haha

lindsay said...

I like the wobbly bike analogy. I've been thinking that part of my problems are from the past 9ish months of no speedwork. I definitely feel slower, obviously, and even less-efficient. I've been a bit too lazy/intimidated to do speedwork though, and I'm not really sure why.

Spike said...

Yes, more people should do speed workouts. Honestly, everything in running is relative to how fast you are. Speed to me is nothing compared to the super-speedies where I live. But, I still show up on the track and try to go hard. Same goes with tempo runs.
Based on my experience, people who have a strange stride/form often have the quirk disappear when they run fast.

That Shit Ain't Writer said...

Love the post - speedwork training to prepare for barefoot running is great. It's definitely important to strengthen those little muscles and ligaments in your feet and toes first too before heading out on a run. Most minimalist running injuries are of the overuse variety - Start walking around in minimalist shoes first, then slowly build mileage. My first run in vibrams was all of a block! I still haven't run more than 2 miles in them... but even adding a little bit of minimalist training can help you run more efficiently in your regular shoes.

Chris said...

it really is pathetic that any clown around thinks he or she can have a blog or podcast and think that they are so important when in reality people could care less what you think or do sir. i for one have no desire nor will i ever visit your pathetic little blog sir. i have way to much going on in my life to read or listen to little pissant podcasts or blogs such as this one and others who shall remain nameless. when you can achieve the status that i have sir then maybe i would absorb some of your info but until that point you and these other amatuer podcasts and blogs have no place on itunes or the internet. goodbye sir and good luck in the future. i hope to run against you and some of these other clowns to show you who the real runner is sir. and since i do live on the east coast it very well might happen. have a nice week but give up this joke of a blog.

Brandon Wood said...

Congratulations Lam! You just got spammed by the biggest poseur on the internet! Chris (Atkins, a.k.a. giogod45@yahoo.com) is making quite a name for himself.

Your blog is wonderful, well researched and thought out and makes me strive for quality every time I update my site.

Oh, and Chris, you wish you knew how to quit us (coward).

Anonymous said...

As always, Lam, you're wise words are informative and inspiring!

DumpRunner Matt said...

Not to harp you specifically Lam but the bigger issue not addressed with becoming a minimal runner is "WHY?"

I seen/heard/been approached by so many runners who want to do this simply because it is popular now. Not saying there aren't good reasons and it's everyone prerogative to give something a go based on a whim but your post illustrates an excellent point. There are dozens of other running techniques that runners could explore to improve their running or enjoy it more. Running is so much more than what you put on your feet.

And to be honest, I am not sure what a minimalist runner is anyway.

In any case, I think the advice is great but there have been studies proprioception in the feet decreases as speed increases. Although, I think most runners aren't going fast enough to make that much on an impact.

vibram said...

i just got my vibram five fingers pair and i can say that its really good and light..running is much better with them.

matpedw said...

I have to disagree. Inefficient runners are going to get more inefficient the harder they run. Picture the same boy on the bike trying to swim faster by just going harder even though he has an inefficient stroke. He doesn't get more efficient, he gets less efficient as his stroke breaks down further. If I write sloppy I won't write better by writing faster.
I like your premise but I think you're over looking some real world details. You would have to beleive that everyone has a natural efficient stride pre-programmed in their brain that is being surpressed. If that were true then speed work might bring it out. I just don't beleive everybody has it in them and speedwork may just reinforce bad habits.

Just my 2 cents :). I blame my insomnia for speaking up. Carry on!

Myckel J. Bodt said...

@ NY wolve to avoid comming upright keep your arms swinging at the back. Your arms are the counterbance. In fact You only neer to sw
ING backwards they just fall forward.

Dig into Chirunning if You want to run Energy efficiƫnt

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