Natural running form can be described as the form used when running barefoot on a natural surface. When we run without shoes, there typically is no initial heel strike. This is true for Kenyans who never owned footwear as kids to western adults who take their shoes off.
Natural running form usually involves a slight forward lean technique. Most people run on manmade urban surfaces of pavement that are not natural. I believe it is prudent to wear protective footwear on these surfaces.
Exercise – Run a few hundred yards down the sidewalk. Think carefully about how your foot hits the ground, your body position and the flex of your knees, hips and ankles. Now take your shoes off and repeat the exercise. Compare any differences in how you run. No matter how you run with shoes, you will probably run with a slight forward lean, joints slightly flexed and a flat or mid-foot strike when barefoot.
Fact – Unlike the bare foot, running shoes have a heel lift. This may, over time, shorten the connective tissues in the back of your leg.
Hint – If you choose to train or run in a level shoe or simply barefoot, you will need to take time to stretch out your Achilles tendon, gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscle), and possibly your hamstrings.
Assignment – Start to recondition your feet by walking barefoot. Take this in small increments if you are not already walking without shoes. Start by kicking your shoes off around the house, and then walk around a few days a week on grass or a smooth running track. Eventually you should be able to run short distances on friendly surfaces. You may notice your arch getting higher and your foot getting shorter and a little wider as everything strengthens. Reducing the amount of cushioning means you will need to strengthen both the connective tissue (muscle and tendon) and structure (bones and joints) of your feet. Some people notice a ½ size decrease in the size of their foot as it strengthens. A half size difference is 1/6 of an inch.
Fact – Your foot has 12 tendons, 18 muscles, 26 bones and 33 joints, almost all of which are in your forefoot (from the arch forward.) This represents about 25% of the total number of bones in your entire body. Your forefoot also has about 25% of the nerve endings in your entire body. Afferent feedback is your body’s mechanism for sensing the environment. The reason we have so many nerves in our forefeet (around 200,00 in our feet) is to sense the ground as we run. The bones, joints and tendons allow us to react to the afferent feedback. Heavy built up shoes mask our afferent feedback.
Proponents of barefoot or minimalist footwear running note that we have 200,000 sensory receptors at the base of our feet. This afferent feedback guides us to land differently in order to accommodate the lack of shoe protection. The result is what many people call “natural style” running. We can learn a lot from this manner of running. The form and technique that results from running barefoot are such that many people ought to consider adopting them with their normal footwear.
My feeling is that barefoot or VFF running is best served as a supplement. Our feet and lower legs become stronger after being served small doses of barefoot or VFF type footwear. I feel most individuals, and I know there are exceptions, are not prepared to do much running in the environments (pavement and broken glass) at our disposal.