#Barefoot Rough #Trail Running #InjuryFreeRunning


Having run barefoot for over a decade on all types of surfaces and in all types of weather, I know how difficult it is to do so in one particular setting:

hilly, rough-hewn trail routes both up and downhill (this includes mountain terrain)

You might ask, “why would I even try to do so??”

Well, for those who have perfected barefoot running, you know the free feeling of being grounded with Mother Earth. You also know the improved sensory feedback from the feet through the body’s musculature that improve balance, stability and reactivity to changing terrain. In many cases, this helps you avoid serious injury and makes the trail runs much more enjoyable.

The hill or mountain trail routes pose specific challenges to barefoot runners – not the least of which is taking them on only after you have toughened up the skin, strengthened the feet muscles and progressively worked toward handling up and downhill trail running. Listed below are a  few techniques that I find help barefoot runners take on most hill trail routes:


  • exaggerate the forward lean from the hips to better keep the feet behind the midline…no matter how steep the climb
  • keep the eyes looking about 2 feet ahead but on high alert ans scanning side to side – many times, you need to react quickly to an object that appears out of nowhere
  • cup the feet more than normal to prevent full downward impact on rocks, branches, tree roots
  • do not over-extend the knee lift. This will make it too difficult to cushion the downward drive of the feet
  • flick the heels back more than normal to help propel you up the steepest sections. Also, be prepared to shift feet side to side forward for better traction and balance on muddy, steep climbs



  • generally, you want to let gravity carry you down most hills. This means leaning slightly forward to take pressure off your quadricep and hip flexor muscles whilst better activating your gluteal, calf and hamstring muscles. You also make more use of your arms by making backward circles and/or driving them forward but away from the body
  • as you hit steeper and rough downhills, this is not the best way to run them. You will have more success by leaning back into the hill slightly as needed
  • squat lower to the earth but still keep impact point toward the mid-foot. This means bracing from the core with more intensity than normal
  • keep the eyes focused forward but also flicking side to side and up and down. You have less time to react – thus, all of your senses must be on high alert
  • lift the feet more than normal to avoid tree roots, river rock, boulders, sharp slag etc. You need to shift your full body weight quickly out of harm’s way
  • shift the feet side to side on the trails when able. This helps control intense downhill speed and keep you from landing directly on sharp, hard objects
  • weave side to side when the trail width permits. This again helps you control intense downhill speed and avoid potentially dangerous terrain

As you can gather from the above pointers, barefoot trail running is NOT for barefoot running neophytes! Having said that, if ‘coffin’ (running shoe/trail shoe) users incorporate the tips into your up & downhill trail running, I guarantee that you will experience safer, more efficient, enjoyable and powerful results.

coach Jeff


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