Running is a part of the culture in the Army. You wake up early, meet at the PT field and go for a run 3-5x a week. We had formation runs where we’d run a few miles with 100 to thousands of other sounds yelling cadences. We even had runs to celebrate important battles or events in our Brigade’s history. The only problem is, most people in the Army have never actually been taught how to correctly run distance.
The statistics on running related injuries are pretty shocking. 75-80% of runners have a running related injury every year. That number bumps up to 90% when you start training for a marathon. With numbers like that you could make the case that we have a running injury epidemic in the US.
These numbers carry over to the Army and when I was active, I had an opportunity to try and solve this issue for the Brigade to which I was assigned to at Schofield Barracks.
Ironically, for someone that’s tall and skinny, I’ve never really been a naturally good distance runner. This led me to seek out a running coach when I was in Hawaii. The man I found was Ed Bugarin (Google search this guy, he’s no joke). Ed was a retired special operations soldier that trained runners and triathletes on Oahu. I spent a couple spent a couple weekends with him working on drills, cadence and getting stronger in areas I was weak.
After a month of running mechanics work, I was running faster for longer and injury-free. In particular I had resolved an issue I’d had since starting in the Army, shin splints. If you’ve never had shin splints before, they suck. It basically feels like someone is sticking a knife in the bone on the front of the lower leg.
After working with Ed, I started teaching soldiers in my Brigade how to run. I’d do this in small groups, 10-20 at a time. First, we’d video them running and break it down on an iPad in slow motion. Next we would go out and work on corrective drills and talk about pacing for longer runs. I did this literally with over 1000 soldiers in my Brigade. After all the classes I taught here’s the most important lesson I learned:
If your run form with shoes on looks like your barefoot running, you’ll be a very resilient runner.
It’s literally that simple. This is something Ed had me do on the road in front of his house until my feet bled. By the way, I do not recommend barefoot running on concrete. Cavemen didn’t run on roads! I’m a much bigger fan of running barefoot on grass.
Here’s why I think it’s so effective: When you take your shoe off and run, your foot gets to move naturally. You have 26 bones in the foot, 3 independent segments that articulate with each other and countless ligament/muscle attachments. Imagine if the Golden Gate Bridge could change shape in a split second and then return to it’s normal shape. That’s basically what your foot does. It’s an engineering marvel.
Going barefoot allows you to let your foot do it’s job. It also doesn’t give any additional support. That way we can start to rebuild the intrinsic muscles of the foot as well as toughen the skin of the bottom of the foot.
Lastly, running barefoot solves the biggest problem for most of the runners I work with- cadence. Cadence is how many steps you take in a minute. You’ve probably been told to just stride it out and try and create as long of a stride as you can. Here’s why.
Stride Length+Stride Frequency(cadence)=Run Pace
If you increase your stride length you will run faster assuming you maintain the same cadence. You’ll also significantly increase your likelihood of having shin splints, plantar fasciitis and running related knee pain.
The better solution is to increase cadence. This would cause us to shorten our stride but increase the number of steps we are taking per minute. Imagine like you’re running on hot coals and pull your feet back off the ground. This also puts the foot landing position under our body instead of way in front of our body.
The Principle of Parsimony- It is pointless to do with more what is done with less.
This is principle is based off the theory of Occam’s Razor, essentially saying the simplest solution is the best solution.
Want to increase your running efficiency, build foot strength and decrease likelihood of injury while running? If so, add in barefoot running once a week to your runs. Here’s how I like to program it:
Find a nice, flat grass field or the inside grass area of a track.
Perform 4 rounds of this:
50 meter high pull drill on the right (start video at minute 1.26 for drill)
50 meter high pull drill on the left (start video at minute 1.26 for drill)
Run 100 meters moderate pace
Put your shoes back on and focus on mimicking the feel of the barefoot run strike and cadence while running your intervals.
Run 4-8 400 meter intervals 80-85% effort.
Rest until you can perform a 7-second exhale breath before starting the next run.
Keep it simple, focus on running as a skill and you’ll be a much happier, injury-resistant runner for years to come.
-Dr. Danny, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Dr. Danny and staff's views on performance improvement, injury prevention, and sometimes other random thoughts.