I’d like to share with you a little of my thinking that went into creating Free Your Feet.
The kind of achilles and calf stress that tends to develop during the process of transitioning to forefoot striking and minimalist running tends to occur due to overstriding, with the hip joints too flexed, the pelvis held too still, and not enough mobility in the calves. When the stress is just on one foot it’s usually part of a whole-body pattern of movement that keeps the weight more on one leg than the other.
Free Your Feet helps you feel how to more freely extend and flex your hip joints in coordination with your spine, since rigidity that would prevent this movement from easily happening in the spine during the lesson would also affect your freedom to move your legs when running. (This doesn’t mean that in running you make some kind of huge flex/extend movement of your spine, of course, but you can’t be tensing muscles to keep your spine from moving or your legs will seem to weigh a ton.)
The movements of bringing your big and little toes towards and away from your shins help you free yourself from an unconscious habit of doing one or the other that will hold your weight more over one leg when running and interfere with rotation and ad/abduction in the hip joints.
The early movements of lifting your hand and turning your head invite you to start counterrotating your upper and lower body, which is critical for regulating your footstrike, and taking your knee and foot towards your opposite shoulder reinforce this.
These kinds of movements may or may not be part of your idea of what running is, but they properly belong to the activity of running and are present whenever you see someone run gracefully and fast. Any effort to restrict any of these movements, including the three-dimensional movement of the pelvis, complex motion of the feet, and counterrotation of the upper body, stresses the feet and hurts the runner.
Your nervous and musculoskeletal systems are beautifully self-regulating and will bring all available mobility into balance — not too much, not too little movement — when you trust them to do their job and keep feeding them varied sensory and movement experiences.
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.