What is Natural Running?
What is Natural Running?
Natural Running is the way nature intended us to Run, with quick reactive feet, landing on the mid foot or close to mid foot, using gravity as a forward force.
At Salming we would like to help you Run Naturally, more efficiently and injury free. We focus on Running form and technique and design shoes that facilitate for you to run in a Natural Running style.
Traditional foot landing analysis is over simplistic and an outdated approach. We believe in a more holistic approach with a Full Body Running Analysis (Salming Full Body Running Analysis – RunLab powered by Qualisys) is more adequate. What happens at foot landing can normally derived from somewhere else and should be corrected at the source.
If you were to start playing golf or tennis you would go to a golf/tennis pro to get lessons and tips to help you get a good swing or serve, however when it comes to Running most people just assume they know how to Run injury free, purely and efficiently. Rightfully so many people would, if they just took their traditional Running shoes off and ran on a grass field or on the beach without shoes. Unfortunately, running under these circumstances is not the case for most people.
Most people get into a traditional Running shoe and start to Run on man made materials such as asphalt and concrete, which could be a risky activity. In fact, research shows that 40-65% of all Runners get injured at least once a year.
If running is part of who we are and running is a natural motion for us human beings and we have been doing it for the past 2 million years – then why do so many Runners get injured?
Outdated approach – Corrective shoes
Running started to get complicated some 40 years ago when the “modern” Running shoe was developed. Shoes progressively incorporated more cushioning and new cushioning technologies and the heel was raised more and more above the forefoot (called Heel to Toe Drop).
The raised heel had running technique implications. The Runners started to strike the ground with their heel first. Heel striking hurts, consequently even more advanced cushioning technologies were needed to decrease the pain at heel strike impact. Further, the stride length tend to increase when running with a heel strike, called over striding, which means landing with the foot/heel in front of the body. Over striding is particularly bad for two reasons, 1) it means running against gravity and actually puts braking force to every stride 2) the likelihood of getting injured is particularly high if over striding (extra load on the lower extremities, knees as well as hips).
Unfortunately, the sad story about “modern” running shoes and heel striking does not end here. If a runner strikes the ground mid foot under the center of mass, then the ankle is locked. However, when heel striking the foot becomes a loose adaptor when it hits the ground. Consequently, with heel striking runners started to over pronate and supinate more regularly.
Footwear industry’s response to this was Motion Control shoes. Consequently, the key role for “modern” footwear over the last 20 years has been to provide support (duo density midsoles) to guide your foot towards a neutral gait, which has been believed to make you less prone to injury. However, a built-in mechanic solution to fix an already unnatural “modern” running shoe did not help. Injury rates have not been reduced.
Runners were advised to buy shoes based on foot type – low, medium or high arch. What most people do not realize is that there is no evidence-based research existing on recommending one particular shoe model over another for given foot type or injury history, despite what some manufacturers claim. It is an over simplistic and outdated approach to select a shoe according to arch type (flat, normal or high arch).
It is becoming evident, in a new approach based on research, that treatment and prevention of Running injuries need to focus on Running technique/form analysis – a Full Body Running analysis.
New approach – Full Body Running Analysis
The New approach is holistic and includes a Full Body Running analysis, rather than just focus on foot landing filmed from rear view. Learning and understanding the cornerstones of natural Running and improving your running form through a Full Body Running analysis can make a difference for preventing injuries and improving your running performance.
The New approach is;
- Full Body Running analysis vs just Foot landing
- Preventive vs Corrective
- Form vs Footwear
- Proprioception (sensory feedback from feet to brain) vs Protecting the feet
- Lightweight performance shoes
No Nonsense Products for No Nonsense People
Benefits of Natural Running technique
- Your body’s own natural cushioning anatomy can be utilized to a full extent.
- Minimal energy loss on footstrike, as footstrike occurs under the center of mass. Use the “free” energy - gravity to your advantage.
- A better running form, Natural Running can be effective in preventing injury.
- Happy strong feet – (if you use naturalRUNNING shoes) – foot receives less guidance and support, so it has to utilize the entire foot muscles instead. The arch is constructed with a flexible and elastic web that consist of 26 bones, 33 joints, 12 elastic tendons and 18 muscles that all tense and stretch together and functions like a spring when Running naturally.
- A “new authentic” and immensely enjoyable feeling when running.
Salming - Full Body Running™
Running should feel light, balanced and comfortable. We know from experience that most Runners feel when it is right. Dare to trust your own feeling; it is your most valuable instrument if you want to shape a running form that is right for You.
Having said this, Running is also a very complex motion and we do run with our whole body and all parts interact with one another. Human beings comes in different shape and form, differences in our biological make-up means what works for one runner will not necessarily work for all and we will not all run alike no matter how much we would like that. Our advice and guidelines below are important technical details for a good Running form – try to get close to these.
Lately, there has been a lot of focus on foot landing, we do however advice you to turn your focus to what leads to a good foot landing and end the running cycle with a pre-tension in the foot just before footlanding right under your centre of mass (body). Where you will strike your foot is by a great extent determined by how your body moves up to foot landing - you ripe what you saw.
If a golf player hits a slice, then one would not start by isolated look at the ball strike, but rather look at technical details earlier in the swing that leads to the slice, same is true for your Running cycle.
Full Body Running™ - One hub – Five spokes
The Hub – Pelvis (hip)
- Pelvis interacts with your all of your body’s running movements
- Mobility and flexibility around the hip area is essential for good running mechanics.
- Hip is the centre of the mass for human body, it`s therefore critical to position the hip correctly for effective running.
Pelvis is the Hub in Running and utterly it is from the pelvis that all movements in your body can be derived. A correct and well-executed movement in pelvis in interaction with your other body parts is the key to holistic Running, i.e. Full Body Running. Posture, lean, arms and cadence are technical details which correctly executed helps the pelvis to move in an effective manner, which eventually results in a correct foot landing underneath your hips, i.e. your centre of mass.
If you push to hard with your quads without right hip position, you will most likely end up over striding with a heel strike. In order to generate a long powerful stride without reaching forward with your leg and over striding, you need to focus on your hip position. Push hip forward do not sit back.
Hip extension, is when you drive your upper thigh (and leg) backward after your foot makes contact with the ground. Hip extension acts as a throttle how fast you are able to run.
- Stand tall
- Feet straight ahead
- Knees soft (not locked)
- Relaxed shoulders
- Use gravity to help create forward movement
- Lead with your chest and push hip forward
- Keep balance
To get the body in a right alignment is the foundation of a good running posture.
Good posture is essential to create the right conditions to move in an efficient manner through the running cycle’s all stages and enable forces to flow through the body without energy loss. Correct posture aim to maintain optimal balance, where gravity works in your favour.
In most disciplines there is no ”free lunch”. Everything comes at coast. The good news for runners is that for running there is actually free energy – gravity is the free energy source – you just need to learn how to best use it. You want to shift your weight forward from the ankles in order to capitalize of the forward falling motion and transition that gravitation. Make sure that you do not bend at the waist. The lean should start at the ankle and involve the whole body. Let the free running gravity work its wonders to your running and you run more efficient and effortlessly than ever before. In you forward falling motion it is essential to maintain balance in each and every part of the running cycle in order to keep a good posture. Posture and lean create conditions for a correct foot landing.
When you get tired you want to avoid starting slouching. Think about yourself as having strings attached to your body being pulled up almost like a puppet. Run tall, run strong, keep balance and use gravity to your advantage.
- The arms interact with your body to create balance.
- Use compact arm swings, avoid crossing the body centre line that help your to keep your body (thoracic spine) in a right position.
- In the forward arm swings, keep the arm closer to your body and decrease angle and in backward try to keep arm swing high up.
- Arm swing should feel natural keep shoulders and arms relaxed.
The body’s interaction with the arms is of great importance to make use to torsional movement and find the right balance. The angle you have at the elbow, and how far you swing your arms in front and to the back of your body are technical details that has great impact on your running form in your whole body.
You would like to avoid a locked angle or too large angle between the upper arm and forearm. It demands muscle power to keep this position, which normally results in too stiff arms and arm swing. It might also lead to that too large share of the arm’s mass gets too much in front of the body, which in turn bring the upper body forward, which then ends up in too forward leaning position. The arm swing should be relaxed and natural. It is ok to decrease the angle of the forearm during the forward arm swing and keep the arm close to the body, please see pictures above.
The arm swing sets the pace for the stride frequency (cadence). In addition, a larger movement in the arms allows for a greater rotation in pelvis and thereby enabling a longer step length. Letting the arm swing higher up behind the body primarily enables the larger movement.
- Legs and arms run together
- Target 180 steps per minute
- Right stride frequency (cadence) give stability
Legs and arms run together, if you increase the pace of your arm swing, then the turnover of your feet will also increase and vice versa. Cadence increase when the pace increases, but the difference should be relatively small and the guideline should be 180 steps/min. The right cadence give you the right condition to turn you stride in time at the front of the run cycle in order to have time to get your foot strike at the right place under the centre of mass (underneath your body). This will help you find balance and right timing in the run cycles all phases from air flight to stance phase and create stability for your running.
Turn over the feet or cadence is essential part of correct running technique. A quicker turnover means a more efficient run. Less friction and impact forces, which makes it easier for the muscles and joints.
You want to avoid overstriding, where the foot comes into contact with the ground well ahead of the hips. In addition, overstriding is most commonly combined with a heel strike and a too straight knee causing greater braking forces and excessive impact forces.
Maintain a high Cadence is also the key to improve your uphill, downhill and cross-country running.
- A correct running technique (Posture, Lean, Arms, Cadence) enables a correct footlanding and not the other way around.
- Contact ground ideally with midfoot (ball of foot) or close to midfoot softly with pretention just before landing.
- Initial contact should be underneath the hips, i.e your centre of mass with a bent knee
- Landing midfoot makes best use of your body`s natural cushioning anatomy and spring energy – recycled energy.
- Run light, avoid pounding – focus on short contact time.
Posture, lean, arm swing and cadence are all important factors that in fact determine how the foot strike will be at foot landing. When the foot strikes the ground it should have a pretension right before it strikes, which leads to a more stable but also softer landing and importantly the elastic energy is used to its full extent. Approximately 52% of the energy at foot landing can be recycled through the arch and Achilles’ tendon.
Even though the preferred foot landing is on mid foot or close to mid foot, we believe discussions about whether the heel slightly strike the ground first or not should be toned down and rather the focus should be shifted to what leads to a correct foot landing – a correct running technique with an optimal pretension in the foot before foot strike. A heel strike that lands close to the hips (your centre of mass) and on a bent knee causes no significant over-braking or over-loading to the knee. By this way on looking upon running, a holistic approach, one can see how all parts interacts with one another and help each other through the whole running cycle – Full Body Running™
Remember, you take approximately 1000 steps per kilometer and each steps takes a load of approximately 3 times you body weight, consequently an error in foot landing has huge impact over time for your long-term running health.
Salming Natural Running shoes – Rule of 5
In our holistic view on running – Full Body Running with its hub and five spokes is the foundation when we build running shoes. The design and construction of our shoes can be derived from the natural running technique and the biomechanical laws that govern how the human movement when running, this is the last piece in the jigsaw-puzzle to make the “Salming Running wheel” roll as frictionless and balanced as possible.
Natural running shoes should be designed to facilitate for you to find the right running technique/form.
At Salming, we apply what we call the “Rule of 5”
The shoes should be;
- Light - Improves running efficiency with approximately 2-3% per 100 g reduction in shoe weight. Lightweight shoes will cut minutes away from your PB on a half marathon.
- Flexible – Flexibility should imitate the foot flexibility in order to mimic the barefoot running technique. The result is happy strong feet - as you will improve training of biological structures with a flexible forefoot shoe design.
- Flat - Low Heel to Toe Drop facilitates correct foot landing at the ball of the foot. In addition you become more naturally balanced with gravity without adjusting body position. The arch area of the shoe should not be pushed up too much as it prevents the arch’s natural cushioning and spring function.
- Thin - Improves sensory feedback from feet to brain (proprioception – see explanation below). The foot automatically senses information from the ground contact with each and every step. With this data, your brain responds accordingly. If the midsole is too thick the sensory feedback gets distorted – it would be equivalent to put ski gloves on the hands when typing on a keyboard.
- Comfortable - Anatomic fit. A relatively roomy toe box is preferable so the toes are not pinched together. A tight toe box will deform the foot over time and lead to all sorts of problems. We want the foot to be able to function exactly as nature intended it too.
Human motion sequences
“Gait” is the medical term to describe human locomotion. The gait can be divided into two phases: 1) Stance – defined as the interval in which the foot is on the ground. 2) Swing – defined as the interval in which the foot is not in contact with the ground. Below we will focus on the stance phase, when and how the foot strikes the ground.
Walking gait starts with the heel making contact with the ground in front of the body (center of mass), and then the foot rolls forward to mid stance and finally moves over to the propulsion phase where the foot leaves the ground off its toes.
A Walking gait is extremely efficient for Walking, hence the name - Walking gait. It does not involve all of the muscles we have in our body for running, like the Achilles tendon, and gluteal muscle (seat muscle).
Using a Walking gait (heel strike running) for running has several disadvantages, for example:
- high impact stress on foot strike (when the heel hits the ground)
- more torsional forces at the knee joints – risk for Runner’s knee
- high off-center axis load on shin muscles – risk for Shin splints
- loss of tension in Achilles tendon and ankle – foot becomes a loose adaptor – risk for over pronation
- over striding – foot strike in front of center of mass – running with breaks on - against gravity
Running gait starts with the foot striking the ground close to mid foot/ball of foot under the center of mass. The whole foot is brought down as quickly as possible – focus is on reducing ground contact time. A minimum of energy is lost as foot strike occurs under the center of mass.
Additional benefits include full use of your body’s natural cushioning and spring biomechanics.
- Your body’s natural cushioning anatomy includes the Arch, Achilles tendon, bent knee, s-shaped spine.
- Recycling is a beautiful and timely concept and in running – your body has a built-in “energy return” system – isn’t that wonderful! The Achilles tendon (biggest spring in your body) and other tendons recycle impact energy. As the foot hits the ground, impact energy is stored in the muscles and tendons. This energy is then used to spring the body forward.
There are no known disadvantages to mid foot/ball of foot strike. The effort you need to put in is reading this text, watching Salming Running Academy films and work on your running technique. This effort gives the benefit of improved running efficiency, long-term running health and more effortless and enjoyable runs.
In sprinting, the gait typically features a forefoot strike further up on the foot, than distance running. Sprinting gait is very energy consuming and demands a lot from your calf muscles. Therefore, Sprinting gait is normally used only for sprint distances up to 400 meters.
Running on the forefoot and maybe not even bringing the whole foot down is not recommended for long distance running as it puts to much stress on the Achilles tendon and calf muscles.
Concepts and definitions
Natural cushioning anatomy
The arch, Achilles tendon, bent knee and S-shaped spine are all parts of the human body’s natural cushioning anatomy. The correct running form make best use of these tools as opposed to marketing hyped cushioning materials that claim to do the job for you.
Your body recycles energy, in fact it has a built-in “energy return” system. The Achilles tendon and other tendons recycle impact energy. As the foot hits the ground, impact energy is stored in the muscles and tendons. This energy is then used to spring the body forward.
The arch is constructed as a flexible and elastic web that consist of 26 bones, 33 joints, 12 elastic tendons and 18 muscles that all tense and stretch together and functions like a spring when Running naturally. Approximately 17% of the mechanic energy when running is stored and released by this spring alone, according to Dr Lieberman.
Achilles tendon - your body’s largest spring starts at the back of the heel, runs up the leg and attaches into the large calf muscles. When Running, the Achilles tendon spring stores up and releases approximately 35% of the impact energy hitting the ground – energy for free.
This springy energy is very different from the marketing hyped rebound materials that claim to make wonders for you. In fact, cushioned midsole actually steals energy from your body’s natural elastic energy/recoil. The thicker the midsole the more energy lost.
It has however been found in a recent study that a lightweight running shoe with a thin midsole can be more efficient than barefoot running. It is believed that the reason for this is that the little extra weight of the lightweight shoe consumes less extra energy in comparison to the energy the body has to use when working with taking the impact forces when running barefoot.
Pronation and Supination
During walking and running, pronation and supination normally occur in the foot. Pronation is important for optimal movement and shock absorption. During foot strike, the foot begins to roll inward and the arch flattens. This is called pronation. It is a normal action—one that occurs in every step in every healthy foot. The purpose of this is to loosen the foot so it can adapt to the surface, especially in uneven terrain.
Following pronation, as the foot continues through its gait, supination occurs. This results in the foot turning slightly outward then changing from a flexible foot to becoming rigid so it can propel the foot and push off from the ground. During this phase the foot inverts slightly, and the arches become higher, thus enabling the foot to properly roll over the big toe.
A number of factors can disrupt a person‘s normal gait. The two most common reasons are muscle imbalance and wearing stiff, over-supportive shoes.
The notion that some people are pronators while others are supinator is a gross oversimplification and mostly a marketing hype. Everyone pronates and supinates. The reason some people excessively pronate or supinate is more often from wearing over-supportive shoes. You need to be extra careful with children; their feet need to properly develop without shoes or wearing flexible shoes.
More importantly, the shoe industry’s range of motion control shoes is an example of treating the symptom with a mechanic solution built into the footwear rather than finding the root cause of the problem. The New Approach focus on running technique and form, Full Body Running™ in order to help the runner to run more efficiently and injury free. Natural running shoes facilitate this transition.
Nobody in their right mind would wear ski gloves when typing on a keyboard. Why is it then that we should have shoes with a thick midsole when we are running? It is a myth that the feet need to be extremely carefully protected.
The ball of foot area has a lot of receptors responsible for sending communication from the foot to the brain. The brain immediately responds and the body adapts to variation in surfaces. If a too thick midsole is placed between the ground and the foot it distorts this communication. The body becomes less able to adapt the correct running technique, form and foot landing.
For example, the human body in not designed to cope with the large initial impact force created by a heel strike when running, consequently if you walk bare feet and then start to run you body will immediately adjust from the walking heel strike to mid foot strike when running. Now, if you place a really thick cushioned midsole underneath your feet you brain will not sense the initial impact force you encounter when you switch from walking to running and therefore not adjust from a heel strike to mid foot strike.
Barefoot vs Natural Running shoes
Living in the twenty-first century we do not walk barefoot all the time and we do not run only on soft grass or soft trails in comfortable temperatures. Therefore our feet are not equipped with thick skin beneath our foot sole as they used to in the past.
We run in various environments from gravel roads, asphalt and concrete to cross country trails. Our feet need protection from too hard materials sharp objects and variations in temperature. Consequently, it makes sense to wear shoes.
In addition, is has been proven by research that a lightweight shoe with some cushioning can improve running efficiency versus barefoot running. It is believed that a thin midsole, without jeopardizing the proprioception, take away some of the energy used by the body to absorb the impact forces.
Having said this, we are greatly in favor of introducing barefoot running into your training routine in order to improve feet and lower leg strength or just for the authentic feeling. Try to find a suitable place to run like a grass field, a beach or other appropriate environments.
Transition to Natural Running
If you would like to find the natural running technique, then you should also have a natural approach to what you are trying to achieve that is adapted to yourself.
With natural, we mean to find the inner core in our selves and our running – best done by trusting our own feeling. We you get back to your natural core origin, then it will feel right. Practice; posture, lean, arm swing and cadence then you have created the right foundation for a correct foot strike with pre-tension in your foot with the toes slightly pointing up (note not foot pointing up) and a landing with a slightly bent knee underneath your center of mass.
You might feel that you’re a facing a great challenge and that it is a lot to change. Sure, your body’s muscle memory is strong and persistent. Therefore, it might take a while to change your running technique. However, your biggest challenge it to have confidence your own feeling and enjoy running and develop as a runner.
The transition process can be done in a variety of ways. Below we have listed 3 alternative ways for you to get started. How you mix these alternative is for you to decide and let your own feeling ultimately decide. We are all different and we cannot know where you are with your technique, which is important if we are to suggest what your first step should be. We are all different and have different background and physical abilities if we would not take this into consideration, but rather find one single fit-all single protocol without flexibility then we would not have understood that we after all unique individuals.
Run with a lightweight natural running shoe with low drop, which gives you optimal conditions for (proprioception) a feel for the ground and how that feeling is transported up through your whole body.
If you have been running with a heel strike in a traditional running shoe with an elevated heel and thick midsole, then it is important that you do not do too much too soon.
The correct running form, naturalRunning, activates especially the calf muscles and Achilles tendon more so start out gently and then slowly increase the distance.
If you have been accustomed to wearing traditional shoes, with lots of support, cushioning and a high heel (high drop) your entire life, then use your current traditional running shoe and start working on your running technique, then slowly mix in either a short 5-10 minute barefoot session or start mixing in short running sessions with a lightweight low drop shoe.
Explore the natural running feeling and technique on your warm-up workout or end your run a few times a week with a short 5-10 minute cool down run on a grass field or similar surface. Experience exceptional proprioception and how your body will automatically adapt to a natural running technique.
Lower leg, foot strengthening and flexibility exercises will almost certainly shorten the transition period and help you create a strong foundation. Find your own mix between the different alternatives. How long it will take is of course individually, however let it take the time it takes to find your new natural running technique, it is worth the effort!
Final Question – Natural Running vs unnatural running
Ask yourself this question – if running is a natural motion for human beings, then evolution would make sure the human body is designed to endure running. If running barefoot with a heel strike is extremely painful and the only way to run with a heel strike is putting on a “modern” running shoe with advanced cushioning and motion control technology to lessen the impact shock – is this natural? Or perhaps, is there a better way to run?