cheetah running

Running: Skill or Innate?

Is running a skill, or something that we are born to do?

According to the recent book, The Running Revolution by Nicholas Romanov, running is a skill that needs to be practiced. Romanov claims that running technique needs to be mastered through rigorous practice.

To me, it seems unlikely that mother nature would’ve forgot to hardwire humans with the ability to run properly. Every living creature on the planet learns to move properly without  instruction; so why would we need to be taught to run?

Born to Run

Anthropologist believe that humans are a running animal and that running gave us a distinct survival advantage. Running allowed us to capture animals like deer and antelope in the mid-day sun. Antelope lack sweat glands, which causes them to overheat and collapse when chased for long periods. Humans have an abundance of sweat glands which allows for cooling in the mid-day sun.

As a running animal, running is encoded in our DNA. Dramatically altering your stride beyond what comes naturally is like telling a bird  how to fly. We are already hardwired to run properly we just need to get rid of impedances like modern thick-soled running shoes.

We humans tend to think that we can make things better through tinkering, but sometimes mother nature has beat us to the punchline. Should you teach a deer how to run, or a bird how to fly? Fortunately for us, evolution has already beat us to it.

bird flying
Is this bird using proper flight technique?
deer running
No one taught this deer how to run
ostrich running
Should an ostrich be taught how to run?


Rather than learn a new skill, allow your body to re-learn how to move properly by removing your shoes.

Most of us are used to wearing thick, heavy-soled shoes. These significantly alter our gait, causing us to land heavily on our heels, and weaken small supporting structures in the foot (for an in-depth look at what modern shoes do to our feet, check out my interview with podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan).

Moving to Minimalist Footwear

Walking or running barefoot can itself cause injuries and needs to be done gradually. Your foot has been in a shoe for most of your life. Start with walking barefoot in your home. Consider adding Dr. Ray McClanahan’s correct toes, to help the transition when around home or at work.

Buy a pair of shoes that allows your foot to act naturally, something with minimal support that will let your foot do the work and get stronger. Look for shoes that mimic the shape of the human foot, that have a wide toebox, flat – without a raised heel (aka zero drop, or minimal drop), no arch support, and minimal toe spring.

Here are a few of my favorite models: TOPO Runduro, Vibram Bikila, Vibram Spyridon, and New Balance 730. Some other brands to consider are Altra, Lems and New Balance Minimus.

Take Away

Since moving to minimalist footwear, I’ve seen a big improvement in my running. Running has become effortless. Minimalist shoes have allowed me to run 4 marathons and 1 ultramarathon, while remaining injury free. As you move to minimalist footwear, try not to overthink your running; just run like an animal.

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Paleo lifestyle enthusiast, Minimalist runner

13 thoughts on “Running: Skill or Innate?”

  1. I agree and disagree with this article.

    I agree that people, like all of the other animals on our planet, were bot born “broken” and would instinctively know how to run correctly if left alone.

    However, we need to teach running as a skill, because people have spent their entire lives in built-up, cushioned footwear which has had a huge effect on their gate.

    The stats don’t lie, 75-80% of American runners suffer some kind of injury every year. I agree with you that if we had grown up running our entire lives with minimal (or no) shoes, then this stat would be drastically reduced. Just look at the Kenyans for an example.

    Just my two cents.

  2. Hi Aaron, great podcasts and I’m glad that you have restarted them. I agree with you in terms of running becoming a lost natural skill which individuals lose, not necessarily due to poor shoe choice (or at least poor in terms of biomechanics not cost). I think we lose the skill somewhere between childhood and adolescence. I’m blessed with two boys 2 and 4, they run everywhere. My 4 year old runs the three quarters mile to school and does it because it is his factory default setting, not for training or conscious exercise or to keep fit. I have to ‘force’ myself to run.His form is perfect and I make sure his shoes are as natural as possible. I go bare feet a lot of the time and happily he, like every other kid is a copycat so I make sure he sees me run or going/coming for a run and see me really enjoy it.I want it implant running into his psyche. BUT, like bicycling goes out of the window when you get hold of car keys, the playfulness of running is soon lost when other more instantly gratifying pastimes become more available. I recall hearing somewhere that the body is built for performance, but the brain is built for gratification and efficiency. I believe that everyone can run well accounting for limitations but I believe the ‘how’ to run quickly gets lost between a 12 year old child with natural barefoot gait to becoming a 16-18 year old adult with the social conditioning to wear marshmallow shoes,unless they run for play and fun during these years and coincides with the desire for such fashion training shoes. Btw…Sketchers go bionic is my zero minimalist shoe of choice, love them. Minimalist is definately the most natural happy medium.

    1. Leighton, thank you for your comments, it sounds like we basically agree that cushioned shies are the problem and that it’s not that humans have a design flaw, but that our feet and gaits becomes lazy through wearing soft marshmallows on out feet. I agree with you that minimalist shoes provide a happy medium. Interestingly, i asked romanov about this in an upcoming podcast and he says that even children do not run properly and need to be taught. It’s as if he believes humans have a design flaw.

  3. Hi, I look forward to that podcast, I wonder if his focus would be on shoes,the reduced mobility society we grow up in or biomechanics. I am currently running much more enjoyably with minimalist shoes. Inov8s on the trails and go bionics on the road. coupling this with paleo eating and the less is more maffetone method (which I learnt from your podcasts) I’m beginning to learn that everything I’ve been educated about in the past by ‘experts’ – eating grains for necessary carbs and zero fat…cushioned shoes to prevent injury and no pain no gain etc – is all fallacy. Paleo is really beginning to gather momentum here in the uk. Concerning minimalist foot ware, I do like some cushioning, personally minimalism to me means zero drop, to facilitate midfoot tricking. I have tried but really didn’t like Vff or barefoot, it felt too harsh for running, though walking in vffs outside is a joy.

  4. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. Yes, as a species we should have an innate ability to run, but it gets lost – or at least buried – if it is not nurtured; after all, the basis of evolution is that if you don’t use it then you lose it. The defining quality of our species is an unrivalled ability for adaptation to our environment, but as Dr Liberman points out, everything is a compromise, and it is likely that the Innate ability is sacrificed in favour of adaptability in large swathes of the population.

  5. Aaron, does Romanov’s running advice make sense to you? There may be many ways to get there and 3rd party instruction might not be as effective as taking your shoes off to let the ground educate your movement, but is leaning forward, falling, no toe-off, no arm side-ways arm swings, etc. valuable advice? or is it redundant? Or maybe it is detrimental and distracting from the real teacher (sensory input in the foot), or even plain wrong and at odds with what evolution has to say? What is your position on the actual content of his advice?

    And also what did you learn when you took your shoes off or was there nothing to learn and it just allowed your body to do what it was supposed to do?

  6. Hi Aaron. I really recommend this book (if you don’t already know it):

    It suggests there’s more than one way to run, but good, and especially very good runners, all end up running the same way (with maybe very slight differences in style).

    While some of us (maybe you, by the sounds of it) are naturally strong and coordinated enough to intuitively work out how run well, the rest of us could probably do with some help in the form of technical and strength training.

    Anyway, check it out. After recently reading books by Fitzgerald, Maffetone, Mackenzie, etc., it was the one that probably made the biggest positive difference in my running (although there were some helpful things in those others, too).

    Also see this video of an elite runner doing a barefoot recover run with analysis from the author:

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