I have spent the last year studying minimalist running and proper running form, which I have written about previously on this site, after making a transition into this more natural form of running due to injury. In the past, I suffered from terrible shin splints and always ended up with sore hips and legs after running anything upwards of 5K. So after a short-term hip injury earlier this year, I made some changes described in Ken Mierke’s book about Evolution Running and everything seemed sweet for a few months. Those months were the best running I’ve had for ages, but it was not to last. And it is only in the last couple of months, during a long break from the road due to several irritating injuries, that I finally found some information which demystified it all for me. This was thanks to another book called Natural Running by Danny Abshire, one of the co-founders of the Newton Running Shoe Company.
Newtons And Natural Running Form
Danny Abshire started out working to help people with their skiing in Aspen, Colorado, by enabling clients to find their balance in their ski boots, but his understanding of the mechanics of the foot also gave him the realization that his experience would translate very well to all other sports, especially running. Having moved to Boulder later on and started a company called Active Imprints which specialized in foot supports, it was an obvious progression to get involved with sports injuries caused by badly balanced feet during the running stride cycle. This eventually led to the Newton Running Company, as Danny had been a lifelong runner himself and saw the benefits of getting people to run in a more natural way so they could prevent injuries, which in his experience were often caused by the shoes that many runners used. Newtons are now a very popular running shoe option particularly among triathletes, but they are gaining wider appeal among other athletes too.
The book Natural Running gives some more detail on Danny’s background before discussing natural running and the evolution of the running shoe over the last few decades. This was a very interesting chapter and I had never even considered the role that a built up heel could have on form. As time has gone by, most shoe makers have concentrated on developing new technologies to buffer the heels of our feet from the ground, but this is sending out the wrong kind of message. It encourages heel-striking and at the same time, because of the thick midsole there is little or no feedback from the ground via the foot.
The next section of the book deals with analysing your own running form, together with an examination of gait, foot biomechanics and whole-body kinematics. This section will be an eye-opener for many runners. For heel-strikers, the main learning point is that you are ‘running’ with a ‘walking gait’. When we walk, it is perfectly natural to land on the heel because the forces are far smaller than those produced during running. For me, there was no room for smugness as I was ‘running’ with a ‘sprinting gait’. I was way too far onto my toes and was pushing off the ground with all my might – and calves!
So onto the next chapter about running injuries, and my problems were concisely explained by overuse of propulsive muscle groups. For other runners, there was a description of which other forces might be taking effect, including impact and rotational forces.
The remainder of the book gives some insight into how to self-diagnose any problems with form. My diagnosis was that I was probably ‘a shuffler’ especially when fatigue set in. Although I’m a forefoot striker, I’d do it with very little knee lift, but a powerful drag and push from the calf – hey presto, now I’m injured! And then the rest of the book is dedicated to form and strength drills to work on, to get you ready for natural running. It is set out over an 8 week period to make sure you go slowly enough to stay safe. Do not be tempted to rush through this change, particularly if you start out as a heel-striker. I’ll be going slow as I rehabilitate myself after injury. Remember to use – or at least strive to use – perfect form when doing the exercises in the book. In particular, the one-legged squat exercises do not have the greatest photos to exemplify how to do them. I have shown the exercises to my physical therapist to ensure I won’t flare up my injuries, and he pointed out that when you do squats, it is important to keep the hip and knee in line over the second toe; do not let your knee collapse inside the line like the guy in the pictures. (In fact, this type of misalignment is something I also exhibit and am working with my physio to get rid of!)
Correct Running Form Videos
So that’s a lot of talk about a book which has made a big difference to how I’ll run once I’m back on my feet. Definitely worth a read. In the meantime though, the Newton Running Youtube channel is an excellent place to visit for some tips on natural running form, and I thought I would feature some of their Running Form Friday clips here to give you a taster – but I’d urge you to have a delve over there on their channel, as there is a lot of good stuff from running conventions with advice and opinions from running experts and world champions to interviews with pro athletes about their experiences with Newton shoes and natural running.
Correct Running Posture
Avoiding Shin Splints
Importance Of Cadence
Step-Over Drill And Avoiding Overstriding
There’s plenty there to whet your appetite, and undoubtedly the guys and gals at Newton will be adding more tips and form drill as time goes by. I don’t intend to keep updating here with their latest vidclips, as you can go on over to their channel on Youtube and see them for yourself, or get notified directly about new clips via the Newton Running Twitter feed if you follow them.
Maybe in the future I’ll get my hands on a pair of Newtons myself, but in the meantime I think I’ve got some more work to do on my form to make sure I prevent over-propulsion when I get back on the trail. Run natural, guys!