September 19, 2012

Natural Running Technique : Analysis

After attending Tina Dubois’ session, getting my posture analyzed and spending some time discussing with the Canadian coach about the technique, its applications and her vision as a trainer in barefoot / minimalist running, I gave a great deal of thought to the topic of running form.

Above and beyond everything, I have grown convinced that the act of running is somehow imprinted in our genes because it has played such an extensive role in our evolution. In our modern days, our lack of the need for running, coupled with an increased sedentarity and the use of padded shoes, has blurred that memory, so much so that we “forgot” how to do it.

But more than everything, I think the reason why we forgot it so extensively, with great consequences on our bodies, is our separation from the true source of healthy running: pure, unbridled, genuine fun.

Any kid under 5 or 6 years old stands as a living proof of what I’m saying. Cut them loose in a park on a nice day and watch them go; they’ll start running instinctively, naturally and without giving it a second thought. They’ll chase pigeons, race each other to see who’s fastest or drive the dog crazy. Look at them, too. They take short, rapid steps, close to their center of gravity, it’s true. But most of all, they smile and laugh and cheer and spin themselves silly. And then, they do it again.

Have you ever seen a kid, under such circumstances, turn around and ask: “Mommy, am I running right?” or “How’s my cadence?” or “Is this a good pace?”. Of course, you and I are not five-year-olds. But I have grown convinced that, maybe, we should be a little more like them.

In my small experience as a holistic runner, many people have come to see me and asked for my opinion on their form, their results or their training plans. That typical runner is anxious, self-doubting and immersed in numbers, from their training speeds to the amount of calories they ingest. Could it be that their greatest problem is the absence of fun? Why does running have to be so complicated? Why are we so obsessed about training, performance, plans and strategies?

With that perspective in mind, this brings me to what I liked about Lee Saxby’s Natural Running Technique: the natural bit. Take your shoes off. Jump in place a little bit. See how that feels? That’s how running should feel on your feet, too. Play a song at 180 beats per minute, or listen to a metronome and skip or jump from one foot to the other, following the beat. See how that feels? That’s about how quickly your legs should move, too, when you’re running. Add a little back kick to that last exercise and alternate legs while doing it. That movement? It’s what your back leg should do when you run.

Repeat each exercise a couple of times, and make sure to come back to these exercises every once in a while. They “teach” your body, by way of feedback, on how running should feel. So is rope-skipping, skateboarding (can’t push a skateboard from your heel, now, can you?), walking with stuff balancing on your head and climbing stairs, by the way.

The rest? Act like a five-year-old. Don’t run when you’re sore. Play other games. Develop an aversion for always doing the same thing. Get your friends to join you. Make new ones, too, when you go out to play. Drive a dog crazy. Smile. Breathe. Enjoy.

In my humble opinion, running doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. If you have all of the above basics right and still get injured, I bet my ugliest red Hawaiian shirt that it has to do less about running 178 BPM instead of 180 and more with one of the following:

  • You ran too much, too soon, wanting fast results
  • You overtrained because you had “lagged back” the past couple days
  • You blindly followed a “training plan”
  • You ran when you were sore or despite some pains, hoping to gain from your extra effort
  • You didn’t allow yourself to rest because you thought you’d “lose your fitness”
  • You never take it easy, always running hard
  • You steadily run every day or every other day, no matter what

This is where I beg to differ from Lee Saxby’s technique. I am convinced no two bodies are the same and that any movement has to be somewhat adapted to “how we’re built” individually. The best judge for doing that adaptation is YOU. This applies from yoga to guitar-playing and, in my opinion, includes running. No matter what, if you apply a technique and don’t include your own body feedback in the balance, and eventually the adjustments that come with it, you’ll get injured.

I’m not sure calling some aspects of the running form “injurious” or “incorrect”, without looking at the runner, talking with them about their background, goals and injury history, is the right way to go. It only increases the feeling of inadequacy in the runner and takes away their responsibility in interpreting their body feedback and learning from their own experience.

With that said, I think there’s a lot to learn from the Lee Saxby method. The easy exercises, their natural simplicity and the use of the bio-feedback are very powerful learning tools and cleverly presented so the runner becomes quickly autonomous in their evolution. Coming back to those exercises is also the best advice anyone can get, because it teaches your body over and over again the proper way to move and feel while running.

In my opinion, any runner can benefit from exploring the Natural Running Technique. Watching themselves run on video, meeting other runners and talking about their technique, practicing simple, effective exercises to get or increase bio-feedback and body memory, these are all sound things for anyone wanting to improve their running, stay healthy and injury-free.

Coach Tina has helped me analyze the way I run and she showed me very simple ways of teaching myself and others the basics of natural running. She reminded me that it’s important to get back to these simple things every once in a while, just to make sure I don’t stray too far from the feedback of good body habits.

For the rest, I apply my own simple rule: run like a five-year-old. Smile. Breathe. Enjoy.


  1. great article! I forgot how easily we ran as kids...we never thought a thing of it...we ran everywhere we went. I have been trying to get back to just running to get somewhere. When I went shopping, I ran to the store from my truck, then ran back when I was finished. I am sure people thought I was in a really big hurry, or in some emergency situation...but that made it all the more fun!

  2. You got it, girl! Run like a five-year-old ;)

  3. You are right, laziness and pad have changed the way that we run, well most of the people don't do it. So I think that School should be teach student the best form because you run a lot there.