Taking Control of the Motion of our Feet

Blog entry posted by Barefoot Ken Bob, Aug 4, 2010.

I'm not really a big fan of drills. Most are designed to train our body to move in a specific way – the way that our coach believes to be the only way to move. This can be a double-edged sword. Yes, if you are learning better technique, it may be helpful to replace dangerous movements with safer movements. On the other hand, our motions should not be based solely (pun intended) on the way we have trained ourselves to move… we should also be flexible, and responsive to varying conditions, both in the terrain, and within our own body.

That said, as I was bicycling to work today, I noticed a couple of different ways I could peddle.

One; and perhaps the most common among occasional, or rare cyclists – is to just push the peddle down, and let the motion of the pedal control the movement of our foot (in a circle).

Two; to take control of the motion of our feet, and move them in a circular motion WITH the pedals.

The first, results in a rather jerky, uneven, let's say, “forced” peddling feeling.

The second, results in a smoother, more fluid, graceful peddling feeling.

The goal of this drill, is not to memorize these motions, but rather to be responsive to following the motion of the pedals.

How do we apply this lesson to running?

In running, there are no pedals, no cranks shaft keeping the pedals in a circular motion. But, there is the ground, and we definitely do (especially if we're barefoot) want our feet to land on the ground at precisely the speed and direction the surface is traveling underneath us. To do otherwise, is to create sole-rending friction.

NOTE: all motions described below are relative to the runner – ie: the ground is moving backwards under the runner.

So, in running, we also want to take control of the motion of our feet – rather than just letting the surface push against any contrary motion of our feet. As it turns out, the way to accomplish this, is to move the feet in a smooth curving motion – not really a circle – but more of a flat bottom oval.

Basically, and obviously, when we are running forward, at the bottom of this oval, our feet should be traveling backwards at precisely the speed the surface is traveling beneath us.

As we lift our foot up, we want to avoid pushing back, or dragging the foot along the ground, so we will start to lift our foot UP – the momentum of our foot moving backwards (in relation to our body) while in contact with the ground, should continue, but start to slow, and after our foot is clear of the surface, start to move forward, while continuing up.

As our foot accelerates forward, we are falling toward the earth (due to gravity). Now it is time to begin to lift our foot before it lands. Since we are still falling, and it takes some time to reverse the direction of our foot, it continues to travel towards the earth, but in relation to our body, the foot is beginning to move up, towards our body (bending the knee). This lifting also starts our foot moving backwards – the direction the running surface is traveling beneath us – and our sole should gently and gracefully touchdown, and move backwards with the running surface… and there we are back to where we began – except two steps (the other foot is also moving similarly – 180 degrees out-of-phase) advanced in the direction we are running.

But, again, the goal here is not to try to rigidly, or robotically drill the above-described motion into our running, but rather to FEEL how we are moving, and respond by making adjustments, fine-tuning, so that within several steps we have progressed to a much smoother, less-jerky, more “curvy” motion.
Barefoot Ken Bob

About the Author

Webmaster and founder of the Original Running Barefoot website (1997) - BarefootRunning.com, President Los Angeles Chapter of The Barefoot Runners Society (2010), Co-author; Barefoot Running Step by Step (2011), Barefoot Running Guru (1997-present), completed more than 400 races barefoot (as of 2012), including 79 marathons (26.2 miles each), and one ultra-marathon (50 kilometers+)