Natural Running and Dancing the Lindy-Hop– Both Light, Bouncy, Soft Knees, Landing on Balls of the Feet

by Bill Katovsky. The running world is still abuzz regarding Chris McDougall’s piece on natural running in the New York Times tantalizingly headlined, “The Once and Future Way to Run.” And judging from the number of comments on the Times’ Well blog, it only seems that the Great Footwear Debate is in its beginning stages. The modern march of minimalism toward natural running is being met with loud, vocal protests. (It’s not like the Occupy Wall Street movement, but the passions seem to register just as high.) Not all runners want to, or think they should embrace “less is more” or “barefoot in best.” Yet both camps cite anecdotal and “empirical” evidence to back up their claims. It’s like the Heisenberg Principle on steroids. Because runners all worry about the potential and prevention of injury; but when an injury does strike, it’s like living with a permanent eclipse darkening their world.  Thus, runners understandably look at whether minimalism is good, bad, or evil though the prism of their own subjective experience. There’s nothing wrong with that; but it only sharpens the fangs of the debate.

Pete Larson, who was profiled in the McDougall article, aptly offered his summary concerning reader comments in the Well blog on his own blog called RunBlogger:

On the one hand there are folks decrying the use of anecdote and asking to see the data showing that barefoot is better, as well as those horrified at the thought of running barefoot on concrete. On the other hand are the exuberant individuals ready to head out and start padding along on their forefeet tomorrow, many of whom will probably hurt themselves in the process by forcing change too quickly. As usual, the middle ground tends to get lost, and that middle ground tends to be where I find myself these days. My general feeling is that there is no such thing as “perfect” running form, but rather that there is a “best” running form for each individual given the peculiarities of their own anatomy, physiology, and personal history (shoes, activity level, etc.)

Given my thoughts about form, I also don’t think there is a perfect shoe for all runners, nor do I think everyone should go barefoot. To be honest, I don’t even think science currently provides particularly good answers as to what any individual should wear or not wear on their feet. I think runner’s need not be afraid to experiment, and that they should take what they are told in most running stores with a grain of salt.

Thank you, Pete. One reader comment on the Times blog about running lightly and softly resonated with me. Fanny wrote, “It’s a lot like dancing lindy-hop, which is done on the balls of the feet. It’s a light and hoppy dance, very bouncy, with soft knees, danced to fast jazz.” Since I can’t dance, I headed over to YouTube and came across this wonderful Lindy Hop video taken at the world’s biggest swing dance/lindy hop event in Sweden (of all places). Featured here are the Harlem Hot Shots  (from Sweden) who performed with a Swedish swing band Gentlemen & Gangsters. Yes, the dancers are up on the balls of their feet; something runners should take notice of. As for the up-and-over-the- body somersaults, that’s probably not a good idea while out for a run with a training partner of the opposite sex. Also: check out their footwear!

4 Responses to “Natural Running and Dancing the Lindy-Hop– Both Light, Bouncy, Soft Knees, Landing on Balls of the Feet”

  1. Humans, it seems, have a hard time with a nuanced argument.

    And as you, and Pete, correctly suggest, now is the time for nuance.

    But, instead, we get polarization and jockeying for position.

    This is, of course, fueled by the media’s desire to have NEWS (in all caps) which, it seems of late, requires a controversy. So we hear an anecdote from a runner who switched to barefoot/minimal without a hitch (and with a reduction in injuries and/or race times), followed by a doctor who says, “Keep up this barefoot thing; all the new patients are putting my kids through college! Ha, ha, ha!”

    At the moment, we don’t have research to back up any claim and, worse, there’s a great amount of confusion even among the early adopters to barefoot (witness Pete’s great videos of all the heel-striking overstriders from the recent NYC Barefoot Run).

    If you want to see a comparable debate, check out the paleo diet world. It’s the same format: anecdotes from true believers, arguments from critics of various kinds, bad rhetoric, attachment to beliefs (on both sides). Perhaps anything that posits a one-answer-for-all solution, especially one that at least seems to fly in the face of currently accepted norms, is destined to this fate.

    I get customers (at who call me and ask about whether they can, or even should, go barefoot/minimalist. My response is, “I can’t think of any reason not to try… as long as you remember that a major part of being barefoot is the change in your gait that it should engender over time. If you do nothing but take off your shoes, you may have problems. And, there are times where barefoot isn’t best — I’m a sprinter, and without my spikes, I’d be 5-10% slower… assuming I could ever build up the tolerance to be able to run 22 mph on a sandpaper-like track surface.”

    Let the conversation continue… and may we only hope it doesn’t devolve the way most Internet debates do (once someone invokes Hitler, it’s all over 😉 )

  2. Peter Larson says:

    My back aches just watching that video. Looks like they at least have sensible shoes…

  3. Well said, Bill. Form is very individual, depending on ones anatomy, physiology and compensations. Leran to use your body the way it was meant to be used. Pete is right in that runners should try to make themselves all they can be, and use what works best for them

  4. MarkC says:

    cool! i used to break dance when that came out in the early 80’s…we practiced all kinds of springy jumps. these guys and gals are good.

    On the foot position here’s my take: “they land on the balls of their feet with legs relaxed, their heels touching the ground to spring, and they are 100% balanced. notice they are not landing on their toes.”


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