Naked Running…

Now if you’re not into your running then you might think from the title that I’m going to talk about some weird and slightly perverted naturist activity, giving you tips about nudity, anti chafing creams and jiggling your privates about when running through the countryside…

However, I’m afraid to disappoint… it’s not about that, as most people who run or read about running know Naked Running is a euphemism for something much more mundane… normally the type of shoes you choose, or choose not to wear when running…
This is a heated and wildly debated subject recently, with diverse opinion and many differing beliefs, from one’s of extremes, like those who think that all shoes are the work of the ‘devil’ and unethical shoe companies are out to scam us of all our money and that we should never, ever let our heels touch the floor… to those that feel that modern technology and advances in science mean that we should be looking at changing the way we run and use materials and engineering to help us do this.
Well like most things in life I feel taking a balanced approach from both sides and using common sense is a must…
The’ naked’ or ‘barefoot’ running revolution was really kicked off thanks to Chris McDougall’s best selling book ‘Born to Run’ in which he went on a personal journey to find out why as a casual runner he kept suffering foot and leg injuries. He found a group of super fit tribal indians who can run days on end, with only thin leather sandals, and never suffered any running injuries, the book went on and looked at human foot evolution which has taken 2 million years to develop and then the modern shoe industry which really has only been going since the 1970’s and concluded that it was the shoe changing the way we run and so hypothesised this is why runners suffer so many injuries… and then BANG… the barefoot revolution exploded, with many other books, experts and coaches emerging, not to mention a massive barefoot shoe industry being born (which is such a massive contradiction it annoys me greatly).
However… before you go and burn all your fancy running shoes and write letters of complaint to Nike for causing your three months of crippling Plantar Fasciitis or your Achillis tendon problems … it’s just not as simple as this, again research in this area is interesting but not conclusive nor has it been proven that shoes are the cause of running injuries, instead it is becoming apparent, and I do believe this, that it’s what you do above the shoe when you run, not the shoe, that can lead you to developing injuries. For starters lets talk about foot strike…
There are two main types of foot strike when running, heel strike and forefoot strike.
Heel strike is as it sounds, landing with your heel first, this involves placing your foot out in front of your body with your knee locked out straight, when the heel lands a high force is transmitted up from the ground into the body, up through the straight knee, into the hip and beyond, also as the foot is out in front of you it acts to decelerate forward momentum and so slow you down, and you don’t need to be an expert to realise that perhaps this isn’t the best way to run, but a lot of us do this…

An example of heel striking…

Forefoot strike in contrast is landing just slightly on the ball of your foot before your heel touches down, the foot therefore tends to be beneath your body and your knee is always slightly bent, this means a more gradual force is transmitted up from the ground through the foot, knee and hip and is further absorbed due to the slight bend in the knee, and again you don’t need to be a ‘Barefoot Ted’ or a Chris Leiberman to realise that this just sounds better for you.

As seen here…

Now yes its true that if you run without shoes you will prefer to forefoot strike instinctively,BUT’ this doesn’t mean that you automatically reduce your risk or chances of injury, it’s not that simple, there are many many other factors, for starters running style is a massive factor
It amazes me that running seems to be the only sport that people think they don’t need any training or coaching for. Most wouldn’t dream of doing another sport such as football, rugby, hockey, basketball even track and field athletics regularly without learning or being taught the techniques and skills to compete or ‘play’ that sport, so what’s different about running.
Maybe it’s because most of us think running just comes naturally, well I’m afraid it doesn’t, agreed some do but running styles are so varied and some are more riskier than others. We might of had a natural running instinct when we were used to running daily to catch our food but through evolutionary changes I think most of us have lost it, maybe, possibly it is due to the shoe, I however think it’s much more likely that we have just lost the skill as a species now that we don’t have to run to eat or avoid being eaten means we don’t need to run, so our brains and our bodies have forgotten how to do it properly, it’s not an automatic function anymore.
However I digress, regardless of the why, it’s more important to look at the how, so back onto topic then, it’s not just the foot strike or the type of shoe you use to look at when running, but much more important to look at the position of the foot landing in relation to the centre of mass… it really isn’t about the shoe, again I will say it, it’s what you do in and above the shoe that counts, not the shoe…
However correct shoes are important when running simply as a protective covering for the foot, for those that claim that we don’t need shoes or just need a slip of rubber under our soles are mental! Trying to walk let alone run down any village, town or city high street in this modern day is a minefield of risk and hazards on the floor from glass, stones etc that could shred your feet to bits… its absolute craziness… Next the effect of the role of cushioning a shoe provides is also vital, without this the stress and strain on your foot bones, ligaments, tendons, will go through means your rmore likely to be out of action from running for ages with injury before you gain any benefit from any so-called reduced injury risk, yes yes ok, it is acheievable to reduce the cushioning effects of the shoe and let your foot adapt over time so that it can tolerate these stresses and strains, but it will take years…
So next we will look at ways to run safely and efficiently and that can reduce your risk of developing a running related injury…
Now I don’t claim to be a running coach and there are many, many good ones out there that can give lots of advise and guidance on your running technique, for me as a physio and as a keen and interested runner when I assess and give advice to others I try to keep is so simple it’s almost embarrassing, but I practice these little tips myself and I find they help me to run well and avoid pains and strains, they are…

  1. Land lightly.
  2. Dont over stride.
  3. Keep upright.

it’s that simple… Well for me it is!!!
Land Lightly
Landing lightly will normally mean you try to place your foot down softly regardless of the heel or forefoot touch first, some prehab drills that I find work well for developing this soft landing are…
Ankle Jumps

  • Stand normally
  • Lightly bounce up and down on the balls of your feet keeping your knees slightly bent and soft
  • Repeat 20-30 times

100 ups

  • Run on the spot
  • Knees hip high
  • Landing on the ball of the foot lightly
  • Repeat 50 each leg, 100 in total

Avoid Over Striding
Avoiding over striding means taking smaller steps when running this keeps your foot underneath you not in front, this keeps your knee slightly bent and avoids any decelerating jarring forces into your body, some prehab drills I find help with this are…
Heel Ups

  • Stand relaxed and pick your heel up directly underneath you
  • Repeat 10 times slowly with one leg, then repeat with the other
  • Next alternate legs and speed up to a running speed staying on the spot
  • Repeat for 20-30 secs

Hill Sprints

  • Find a short hill about 20-30 secs to run to top
  • DO 4-8 hills runs
  • This develops a feeling of you foot landing underneath you, as it’s almost impossible to run uphill with your foot in front

(I tend to imagine I’m running uphill slightly when I feel my form slip and soon find myself back into a good position)
Keep Upright
Keeping upright means not slouching forward or hingeing in the middle at the waist, you do need to lean forward when you run, but this should come from the ankles, you need a straight torso, some conditioning drills to help with this is…
Ankle Falls

  • Stand upright feet together and keep your back straight
  • Slowly lean forward from your ankles without leaning forward at the waist or bending the knees as far as you can until you need to take a step forward to save you falling over
  • This will develop the straight forward lean feeling you need when you run
  • Repeat 10 times with right leg ‘saving’ you followed by 10 times left leg

Ball Roll outs

  • Kneel if front of a Swiss Ball back straight, hands on top
  • Roll the ball away, hinging from your knees, keeping spine straight and not flexing at hips
  • Pull yourself back to upright position again not flexing at hips
  • Helps build a strong solid mid section
  • Repeat 10-15 times

So in conclusion, I would leave the barefoot running to the cavemen and super fit tribal indians who have been doing it all their lives, put your trainers on whether they are your £199 cushioned motion controllers, or your £299 latest 0 degree heel to toe drop ratio barefoot style thingys, or as i use, just your comfortable battered old faithful’s and go for a run but…

land lightly, don’t over stride and keep upright…

As always, thanks for visiting and reading…
Happy running



  1. Hi Adam, Interesting comments re running shoes and the possibility that it is not the shoe but the running style that causes injury. To extent, this is true, but far from the whole story. Traditional control running shoes were supposedly developed to address problems related to shock absorption, excessive pronation etc.
    Claims for shoe function turned out to be a case of marketing winning over science. The shoes became heavier due to reinforcements and shock absorption properties being built in. This resulted in runners being forced to change style or worsen an already poor style to compensate for the shoe weight, as well as the fact that the body was losing necessary information via ground reaction forces being insulated from the brain thereby reducing reaction times. There is some debate at present as to whether control shoes address excess pronation or actually promote it.
    If runners do not over stride and land more softly due to bent knee mechanics, the shoes do not require the control mechanics that increase weight. The raised heels in control shoes promote heel strike compared to the more zero drop type minimalist shoes. Bare foot running (no shoe) increases risk of injury in our modern environment as it was in the past – the quoted Indians wore leather for that reason.
    Could it be that science is catching up and overtaking advertising or perhaps there is a bit more harmony between the two? Obviously there are wildly excessive claims made for running shoes across the market and such claims are unsupported by evidence. It takes time for the science to catch up and advertisers love an information vacuum to exploit.
    Can minimalist type shoes cause injury? Definitely, no argument. Someone with poor running style that will not lessen heel strike pressures will be worse off in a shoe with minimal padding. Also, someone used to control shoe support should not jump straight into minimal support shoes without serious transition time – up to 18 months in some cases.
    Therefore, if a runner watches for correct style and transitions effectively, they may find advantages in lighter more flexible shoes that increase reaction times, hopefully lowering the energy deficit created by a heavy shoe whilst compensating for the increased number of strides over a set distance compared to an over striding runner in heavy runners.
    It all comes down to efficiency – style, shoe design and science.

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