Slower pace running is one of the most natural movements for man, which has accompanied us since the start of the development of humans. Humans have been running during hunting or food gathering, but also while moving, from shorter to bigger distances. Our body has adapted to this movement, and thanks to that, running, alternatively also walking, is a basic human expression.
Evolution has formed the human foot into a perfect shock-absorber. 18 muscles, 33 joint connections, 26 bones and 12 tendons compose together a sophisticated system, whose task is to dampen the impacts during walking, running and jumping, and protect other parts of the body from the possible damages (long muscles of the legs, joints and spine).
Nowadays people run significantly less and generally speaking they also move less. Lack of active movement causes decrease of muscle mass, firmness and flexibility of the tendons and ligaments. The transverse and longitudinal arches are collapsing and the smaller joints of the foot are deforming. These insufficiencies affect the dynamics of the body during running and therefore it is good to realize, how should correct running look. We will try to explain the biomechanical processes during running in a running shoe but also running barefoot. It is then up to you what is closer to your heart.
Each of us can run with lightness and at the same time fast, everyone can achieve higher performance and simultaneously do something for their health, cope with running without any negative feelings and having joy from movement. It is important to learn the correct running and breathing technique. You just need to keep certain rules, which will protect your musculoskeletal system.
The technique is relatively new and it comes from America. It uses biomechanical principles of the foot movement, and basically also principles of the whole body, which lowers the risk of overloading the soft tissues and it has a preventive effect against the damage of the tissues and injuries during running. In fact it is a return to the natural movement and correct body posture. Ethiopian Abebe Bikila not only ran the whole marathon barefoot, on Olympic games in Rome in 1960, but he also won it in a new world record.
CORRECT BREATHING AND BODY POSTURE
Trunk should be slightly in the front. It is more of a pelvic tilt, bending and slouching in the chest. The center of the gravity should be slightly in the front as well, because in a biomechanical principle the running is constantly catched up by the center of the gravity. The axis of the trunk has to be stretched upwards, rib cage should be open and the sternum bone should direct up (without significant bend in a thoracic spine, the thoracic spine should be stretched out).
With eyes observe the area in front of you. Keep your head in the axis of the trunk without tilt. Shoulders are freely hanging on the muscles of the nape, which is naturally long. Because you do not lift your shoulders up towards the ears, but you keep them relaxed, you enable the nape muscles to be relieved.
Breathe into your stomach with a sense that you are breathing all the way into your pelvis. The upper chest breathing should be used in case that the stomach and chest breathing (lower ribs are expanding to the sides) can’t keep up with the demand on the amount of oxygen in the blood. Excessive breathing into the chest unnecessarily burdens the muscles of the nape and shoulders, which causes pain in the nape, headaches etc…
ACTIVITY OF ARMS AND LEGS
Arms are freely hanging in the shoulder joints, elbows are slightly bending. The angle in the elbow joint should be bigger than 90°- obtuse angle. Excessive flexion (bending) in the elbow causes higher tension in the biceps of the arm and neck muscles, which leads to insufficient movement of the arm in the shoulder joint and simultaneously there is a higher tension in the muscles in the area of the upper chest and nape. On the other hand the less force is put into the body posture, the more is then running natural, free and lighter.
During impact the axis of the foot should be approximately in an 150° angle with the trunk. The impact and subsequent lifting of the foot back up along with rebound should be different according to whether you run in a shoe or barefoot.
THE FOOT IN THE RUNNING SHOE
The first running shoes, which should dampen the impacts and at the same time fix the heel, started to be produced in the 70’s. Their goal was to prolong the step, accelerate running and at the same time protect the heel against hard impacts.
The point of view of the barefoot running advocate
From a biomechanical point of view, the leg running in a shoe, is landing on the heel first and at the same time the impacts are transferred on the knee joint. During the impact (heel hits the ground), the hits are being transferred through the calf muscles, thighs, and knees, hips and spine suffer the most. Even though the producers of the running shoes are trying to ease the hard impacts by using modern, technologically advanced materials, they still can’t produce a shoe which would avert the impacts.
The foot is being lifted from the heel first and then through the outer edge of the foot to forefoot, and the rebound is led through the longitudinal arch and big toe.
Orthopedic point of view
From the orthopedic point of view, the impacts going through the heel is normal, unwinding of the foot can be led through the outer edge of the foot to the rebound from the toes. Some biomechanical studies showed exactly the opposite direction of rebound.
The impact in the second point of view is also done on the heel, unwinding the foot through the outer edge of the foot, but from the center of the foot, the rotation of the joint is turning towards the big toe. The rebound of the foot is then performed through the transverse arch from the big toe side to the pinky toe side. Small joints of the foot work here more than in the previous case, which dampens the impacts better during walking.
Both options are described by orthopedy as a correct function of the small foot joints.
BIOMECHANICS OF THE FOOT DURING BAREFOOT RUNNING
By observing the barefoot runners and aboriginals from a jungle, an interesting fact floated to the surface. When runners were running barefoot they naturally hit the ground with their toes first, which perfectly dampen the impacts. The foot absorbs the weight of the body during the impact, the heel touches the ground only slightly and the elasticity of the ligaments and especially of the Achilles tendon will enable repetitive rebound of the body. The steps during the impacts on the toes are shorter, the rhythm is faster and the impacts are beneath the center of the gravity of the trunk. The movement is secured from one half by muscle activity and from the other half by the flexibility of the soft tissues. The hits arising from the impacts of the foot are minimal and less transmitted to the muscles, joints (knees, hips) and spine. Such running is then more economical, and also less energetically difficult.
PROTECTION OF THE FOOT DURING BAREFOOT RUNNING
Nowadays there is an existing footwear which is ideal for barefoot running. Usually the fivefingers shoes are recommended, they have a very soft outsole , and they give the foot protection against injury. However the foot is very soft and flexible, and the runner has a feeling as if he was running barefoot. The movement of the toes in such shoe is completely free, and the toes are slightly spreaded in a correct position against the forefoot bone and therefore the transverse foot arch can work correctly. Small muscles and ligaments are naturally stimulated and activated.
Author: Mgr. Iva Bílková, FYZIOklinika fyzioterapie Ltd, Prague, Czech Republic
Source: vivobarefoot.com; Lee Saxby - leading coach of barefoot running and author of scientific studies of biomechanics by runners and study of injuries by athletes; Christopher McDougall: Born to run