Does “Lifting the Foot” Make Us Slower?

Discussion in 'Front Page News' started by Last Place Jason, Mar 10, 2013.

  1. Last Place Jason Super Moderator
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    Does “Lifting the Foot” Make Us Slower?
    By Jason Robillard

    I conducted a clinic this weekend in conjunction with Dr. Mark Cucuzzella at Two Rivers Treads, his minimalist shoe store in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I like events like this because it gives me the opportunity to learn along with teaching. In this case, I got to see many of Mark’s awesome drills and explanations in person.

    We also had a few good discussions on various elements of running form. In particular, someone asked about lifting their feet. Back in the day I used to teach people to lift their feet as a means of softening their foot strikes. It proved to be effective.

    However, I abandoned it last year as part of the simplified methods I started using when conducting Merrell Bareform clinics. It was an unnecessary step that just added one more thing for new barefoot runners to think about. I’d occasionally toss it out again if I encountered someone that forcefully drove their feet into the ground, but otherwise the learning cue fell by the wayside.

    I briefly discussed the foot lift as part of my “don’t waste energy” post a few weeks ago, but didn’t give it much thought until someone asked Mark why he didn’t teach it. His response, which is paraphrased, was:

    “When I teach running form to Air Force personnel, they actually have to get faster for PT tests.”

    In essence, if you propel yourself forward by lifting your foot, you’re thwarting the biomechanical processes that allow you to run faster.

    Is this really the case?

    I tend to listen to Mark’s advice given his medical background, collaboration with some of the most brilliant running gait analysts alive, and the fact that he’s ridiculously fast. On top of his opinion, my own observations seem to confirm this. I have a handful of really fast friend that either run barefoot or use a natural gait- Jesse Scott, Jeremiah Cataldo, James Webber, Patrick Sweeney… and a few others. Their gait is decidedly different than others that use more of a shuffle and focus heavily on lifting their feet.

    [Edit- quote added to give a description of technique as requested by comments]

    Steve Magness has a good description of what occurs during the part of the gait cycle where your foot leaves the ground:

    With the combination of the stretch reflex and the basic passive mechanical properties of the lower leg, the recovery cycle of the leg will happen automatically. The lower leg will lift off the ground and fold so that it comes close to your buttocks (how close depends on the speed you are running) then pass under your hips with the knee leading. Once the knee has led through, the lower leg will unfold and it is then the runner’s job to put it down underneath them. Ideal landing is close to the center of your body and directly underneath the knee.

    Trying to actively move the leg through the recovery phase is another common mistake and will only result in wasted energy and the a slower cycling of the leg through the recovery phase. Two other common mistakes are to try and lift the knees at the end of the recovery cycle and to kick the lower leg to the butt at the beginning of the recovery cycle. Neither idea is sound, as they are essentially like trying to push the sling shot forward in our analogy instead of just letting it go. Active lifting of the knee lengthens the recovery cycle with no added stride length benefits. Instead, the knee should be allowed to cycle through and lift on its own. It should not be forced upwards because that cycle through of the knee is a result of the stretch reflex. Similarly, pulling the lower leg to the butt simply wastes energy as the hamstrings have to be put to work in doing this action. Instead, the folding up of the leg should be thought of as a passive activity. How close the lower leg comes to the butt depends on the amount of hip extension.

    This phenomenon may seem strange and is sometimes a hard concept to grasp. After all, who has the patience to not do anything during the recovery phase? But research has demonstrated that both muscle activity during the recovery phase and energy use (the recovery phase only uses 15% of the whole strides energy) show that the leg is largely cycling through entirely because of reflex like phenomenon and passive mechanics.

    Barefoot runners are often criticized because we tend to be pretty slow. I’m certainly guilty of this. I suspect the “slowness” may be more of a function of our teaching methods rather than the limitations of our bare feet, and the tendency to teach new runners to lift their feet. I’m certainly guilty of this, too. I’m pretty sure I was wrong.

    What are your thoughts?

    http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/2012/09/23/does-lifting-the-foot-make-us-slower/

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  2. Barefoot YOW Barefooters
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    I believe "lift your feet" was a common mantra, from many sources including Ken Bob. As for being slower, I feel it has more to do with enjoyment. I find myself turning around and running through the mud puddle again. Why because it is fun. For some the finish line is the goal. For others its the sensory journey and personal connection to the ground. I think we BFRs focus too much on form and not enough on fun. For what it's worth I'm about 1-2 min slower per km vs shod.

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  3. Barefusser Barefooters

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    You could also ask; is runners using pose running slower than others? If any they are religious about the 'lift your feet'.
    I tend to tell beginning barefoot runners to lift thir feet rather than kick off as it greatly reduces the risk of blisters. In my own running i sometimes think it for two reasons; to speed up my cadency and to make me forget the landing and thus relaxing the foot more.

    On the other hand you should also take into account that barefoot runners often do not care that much about being fast. I find runners that care about that often "take the easy road" and wear shoes.
    Therefore I personally think there are a greater proportion of barefoot runners that are naturally slow runners. If you look around you will be able to find fast runners that did not wear shoes.

    I hope you get my point.

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  4. Bare Lee Chapter Presidents
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    I've concluded that while a lot of this stuff--lifting the feet, bending the knee, artificially high cadence, Maf method, deliberate forefoot landing, etc.--may work for others, it makes no sense for me. I just run and let my CNS make the appropriate adjustments. The key is skin-to-ground contact and a relaxed but athletic posture.

    As for which is faster, I know I'm about 15 seconds per mile faster bare. This winter I ran a few runs half-shod, half-bare, on the same loop, and looked at the data when I got home. I was running shod either until my feet warmed up or after my feet had numbed down too far. I wasn't testing the pace difference per se.

    I have no idea why bare should be faster for me, but I think part of it is that my form is better bare, and so I may enjoy slightly greater efficiency, but more likely it's because I enjoy running more bare, and the greater exuberance probably translates into slightly faster paces.

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  5. Antonio Madriñán Barefooters
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    I think the main thing is to listen to the sense of the natural, the body is very wise and always says how we have to act, there barefoot runners that are slow and some that are quick, as there are runners shoes that are slow and others are not. Without going any further I am convinced that I have improved in terms of speed, and I guarantee that big stride can run barefoot, some use a technique almost manual, when nature is flexible we are not.
    I think I'm fast and I enjoy both of them.

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  6. Backfixer Barefooters

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    I do not believe one running style fits all based on the way we are built which is unique to us. The problem is what is the right equation for you? Some of us are built to run barefoot and I have no doubt that we will naturally develop good form which may be tweaked by some running training or coaching. Others, may do well and best with a shoe with some correction at the hand of an orthosis.

    I am a huge advocate of improving the efficiency of how someone runs and while we do focus on foot strike, those who are built asymmetrically have a tendency to hunch their shoulders and bring the forearms across the chest, a huge waste of inertia that also has consequences such as increased over and understride, harder heel strike and a shorter overall stride.

    I usually recommend as a training exercise to relax the shoulders and wear a heart monitor. The heart monitor will register up to 20 beats per minute faster when we lift our shoulders and work harder. That signals us to relax the shoulders which allows for improved running mechanics. I am not sure why this compensation in the shoulder exists, other than to slow down someone with asymmetry so they do not fall over sideways from cetrifugal forces. This is a great tip, barefoot or not.

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  7. Pjruns2 Barefooters
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    Damn-it Jason, can't I just run without more to think about? Last year I posted one of my usual smart ass responses to your 180 cadence post. Smart ass because I don't even wear a watch when running anymore so had no idea of my cadence. Well, this past winter I have been barefoot on a treadmill quite a bit and was able to check my cadence; what do you know? when running at my most leisurely pace I was right at 180. Guess you were right all along.

    Interestingly, as I increased speed I found that my cadence increased but then seemed to level out in the 190's.

    Thanks for the good information. I guess I'll think about the foot lift, but as usual I'll realize the advantage much later than most others. Guess I live on the back end of the curve.
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  8. DNEchris Chapter Presidents
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    I think this is advice for beginners rather than a directive for all to follow in perpetuity with the idea being to de-emphasise "push-off" and reduce the incidence of blisters or worse [IMG]

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  9. Pjruns2 Barefooters
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    Well, can't seem to post a pic I had from a few years ago. I'll try later...
  10. stjohnthegambler Barefooters
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    Thanks for this post Jason. The only reason I thought telling people to 'lift' was that I've seen people, minimalist runners actually, especially in VFFs, running like they were in 'regular' shoes and slamming their heels down, but yes, I think going pure BF, the body tends to take over.

    That said, I run slower BF. And, at the end of my first BF marathon in Detroit, I did a balls out sprint to the finish and scraped the hell out of my feet. So, I'm not sure I'd ever recommend full on sprints BF, but who knows, I saw a video on YouTube of some guy sprinting BF on pavement (I forget what the title is).

    And, also, I am older... :) This big advantage of running (and this may just be my imagination) is a faster recovery time after long runs.

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  11. NickW Guest

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    Not sure in what world you're older.... You're probably barely older than I am...
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  12. murls Barefooters
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    I am real barefoot beginner just switched to barefoot just a few months ago. One of my inspriations from my research was Zola Budd. For anyone who thinks you can not be fast barefoot watch this!

  13. Fatty Barefooters

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    Only my opinion, but I agree that beginners need to practice the "lift the foot" in order to reduce the amount of friction they're used to being able to have in shoes. Obviously thats the main cause for so many blisters, after that, I feel the form evolves to what its meant to be over time.

    This was my initial problem when going from vffs to barefoot.
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  14. happysongbird Chapter Presidents
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    This is also true for me -

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  15. happysongbird Chapter Presidents
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    This is magnificent to watch!

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  16. Barefoot TJ Administrator
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  17. Barefoot TJ Administrator
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    My son has a couple of kids in his class, 4th grade, that are always trying to be the best at basketball, running, etc., and they act controlling over him, knocking the ball out of his hand...when they are on the same team! They have been running inside the gym because it's wintertime. My son's always coming in third place. And I know my son is really fast because I have run with him. Well, they had a really nice day the other day, so the coach decided to take the class outside to run. They were running laps around the track. He told my hubby, "Mommy told me to conserve my energy on the long runs and then kick it at the end, and I did, and I won!" He said he could tell the other kids were struggling and breathing really hard, and that's when he decided to go for it! :cool:

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  18. migangelo Barefooters
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    now to just get you back to running would be great.

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  19. Barefoot TJ Administrator
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    I'll take walking at this point. :sour: But thanks for the love.

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  20. Barefoot TJ Administrator
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    So the "bully" (I hesitated to use that term to describe this kid earlier) struck again today, knocking the ball away from my son when it wasn't even being used in any game and bossing him around. It appears there's two or three kids that mess with other kids. I have asked my son if he wants me to get involved, and right now, he said he wants to stand on his own and handle it his way. I asked him what he would do if he was "touched" by this other kid, and he said he'd walk away. The little guy is growing up to be a real man. I asked him what he would do if the guy came at him again, and he said he would stand and defend himself. The little guy is growing up to be a real man. I am proud of him. Needless to say, I am waiting for a call back from the local Karate studio. :nailbiting:

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