It has been four months since this journey (and journal) began. When I started, I went in as a curious bystander. I had a vague idea that involved writing about something other people were pondering also. It seemed like a good blog topic, and I really didn’t have a positive or negative opinion on barefoot and minimal shoe running. I suppose there was a degree of bias, as I tend to believe that keeping our lifestyle, that is; diet, exercises, sleep, time outdoors in nature, and stress management, to name a few, as simple and origins-based as possible. So, yes, I wanted to believe that I wasn’t becoming increasingly dependent on highly structured and padded footwear- in the same way that I want to believe that I can still become stronger, faster, smarter and healthier as I approach my sixth decade. The long and the short of it is that I have been changed by this experience. I rarely wear shoes now, and my feet have adapted to running with a simple, flat sole or barefoot on smooth ground. I just returned from a trip to the Caribbean where I had some great runs along the beach. In fact, of the six days spent on the island of Roatan, I was only shod for the 2 hour horseback excursion we took one day. My feet have gotten a little more spread out, my arch and instep more developed, and I feel sturdy and confident all the way to the ground! I hope you will take away something from my experience that will give you the courage to trust your body to “carry” you where you need to go.Read More
OK, so I’m not Superwoman. About 2 weeks before Roatan, I had a surprise run in a workout class that normally remains indoors. We ran through a parking lot and on a sidewalk, easy enough in bare feet, but I felt something sharp penetrate my foot. Later, I tried to remove the foreign object, but I just couldn’t grasp it. “Oh well,” I thought, “those things just work their way to the surface eventually”, and I went about my business.
Off we went on our beach vacation. I felt a little tenderness in that area, but nothing that kept me from full-on activity of the barefoot kind. After walking on all manner of natural and man-made surfaces, I returned to Austin.
Back to work the very next day, I had a good workout and headed to Oakhaven where my Saturday group was ready for action. I felt a little light-headed, which I attributed to rushing off after workout without eating. My friend Paula came to my rescue with a tamale she had bought at the Farmers’ Market that day.
By the end of class, my foot was really sore and I felt like I was catching the flu. Going on gut instinct, which usually proves accurate, I felt an urgency to open the area and remove…something. I also knew that my general ill-being was related to that sore foot. After contemplating lancing it myself, with the help of whatever I could find at the nearest drugstore, I got smart and headed to the Doc-in-a-box (walk-in clinic) near my house. Fortunately, the doc on duty was the dad of one of son Jake’s good friends, so we laughed and chatted while he stuck me full of Novacaine and opened up the site. He never did find the culprit, but he drained it and gave me some antibiotics to combat infection. Home I went, with the admonition that the foot “might throb a little”. Understatement!
The next day, I trained my neighbor Sherry, another MD. She took one look at my reddened, painful foot (and now leg) and prescribed an antibiotic that would cover a rather unpleasant form of Staph infection. Within 8 hours of my first and second doses, I started to feel distinctly better, less flu-ish. My foot was still extremely painful, which I could not reconcile with my improved well-being. Looking ahead to full day of sessions ahead, I didn’t see how I would be able to concentrate on form and programming, let alone decent conversation. At about 4am, I woke to excruciating pain. I hobbled to the bathroom, and just sat on the toilet cover. I brought my foot up to take a look, and all of a sudden, I paused. The pain had subsided! I pulled off the bandage and had a look. The foot, which had been dry since I left the doctor’s office, had really started to drain. It took about 3-4 days for the process to run its course, but I was relieved of pain and finally healing nicely.
What is the lesson here? Pretty basic: skin, no matter how toughened, is a permeable membrane. Hygiene is important. Wash your feet! This is an ancient practice, often suffused with ritual. Most of those practices were put into place to keep humans healthy. No exception here. And look where you are going. Obvious.Read More
Honestly, I didn’t run much for a couple of weeks. The weather was a convenient excuse, but partly, I was still walking around with a lot of frustration and uncertainty. Whenever I ran, since this whole project began, it was as though every leg muscle was being used for the first time. I felt like I had been asked to slip into toe shoes and dance Swan Lake. The mechanics and motor patterns were so different than my old way of running that it was as foreign as ballet. I hated being slow, I hated feeling so damn muscle-fatigued, and I hated thinking about every single step!
Finally, my daughter Lena asked me to run with her one day, and I happily agreed. We enjoy running together, but her school and work schedule rarely coincides with mine these days. I knew I could not keep up with her in bare feet or Vibrams, so reluctantly I put on my regular highly-structured running shoes. Even though I thought I was backtracking, I really wanted to just run, without the learning-curve baggage. Beside, I was curious as to what the forefoot-running would be like in Mizunos. Off we went. I did my best to keep from heel striking and my pace was decent for a change. Lena always pushes me. The cushioning was very comfortable, on par with curling up in a feather bed. But I definitely was removed from the ground I was covering. Kind of like driving a Town Car after driving my RAV 4. Going downhill required great effort not to sling my legs out in front of me and slam those heels down. As I tired, it was harder and harder not to revert to the old heel-first. I knew it wasn’t going to help me, but it was so easy to do. I could have fun, cover ground, and run with my kid. Did I really want to go through all that pain and aggravation just to test some weirdos’ theories?Read More
OK, so a lot of time has passed and I haven’t been chronicling every footfall. Let’s catch up. Last blog I was bemoaning the fact that practicing barefoot was limiting my choices and my speed. I was getting slower and more painstaking, and enjoying it less and less. Finally, I did as I usually do when I have swallowed someone’s dogma hook, line and sinker: after a period of total immersion, I spit out the parts that don’t work for me, and absorb the rest.
What that meant here was that I became less fanatical about literal Barefootism, easy to do as the mercury plummeted. I longed for a good ole trail run, so finally I pulled on the Vibrams, grabbed Waldo, and headed out onto my friends Debbie and Willy’s ranch after our training session one day. I actually had a few twinges of guilt for choosing the foot-gloves over my naked feet, but those dissipated as soon as the wind ruffled my hair and I settled into an steady stride. Watching Waldo’s delight as we crossed the creek (or, in his case, plunged through it), climbed the hills and flushed a few startled doves out of the brush, I knew I was back where I belonged. In fact, the forefoot-first running was a natural outcome of wearing the Vibram soles, so I had not compromised in my mission to return to the running for which we were designed. Believe me, I still felt every shift in terrain, rock and twig, and could sense the myriad muscular co-contractions as my feet and brain worked together to make rapid adjustments to changing conditions. The best of both worlds!
My enthusiasm propelled my to run about 4 miles that day. This was about double anything I had been doing for the few weeks prior with no footwear at all. Not a totally fluid effort, I was still in the early learning phase. As happy as I was to be on the trail, I still overthought each step, too conscious of form and adherence to protocol. I was petrified of landing on something sharp, too. And because I was really activating a lot of sleeping muscles in my feet, I woke the next day to find that I had a good case of something that Jason Robillard discusses in The Barefoot Running Book, that is; TOFP, Top of the Foot Pain or metatarsalgia. This is what he calls a TOO MUCH TOO SOON injury. For about week, when I tried to run, jump rope or do step-ups, it felt like Wile E. Coyote from the Roadrunner cartoons had dropped an Acme anvil on my right foot. Aah, still a newbie…Read More
I am way behind in this story! The first barefoot run, a one-miler, took place on December 11. What a feeling! We had anticipated this moment for so long; I had done my reading so I had some idea about what to expect. Paula’s neighborhood is a gated community with very smooth, well-maintained, and infrequently traveled roads. Perfect for our tender newbie feet. The weather was balmy, Christmas was in the air. We were animated, feeling like kids on summer vacation. We could feel the warmth of the sun on the asphalt, then the chill underfoot as we ran under shady clusters of oaks. We hopped around acorns and loose gravel which, if shod, we would have blithely crushed with our Nikes, neither noting their presence nor aware of their potential to inflict pain. As we pulled up near Paula’s doorstep, Merlin (Paula’s hubby) took the above photo, and that capped our inaugural run.
Feet spread after going barefoot for a while.
The next day, Paula’s feet were a little raw and my Achilles’ tendons were taut and slightly painful (normal for beginners). Undaunted, we ran our next mile two days later. Two days after that, we ran a two-miler! We had fun running past the homes festooned with holiday decor, some of it so bizarre we almost forgot to look down for acorns (they really hurt when you step on them). We practiced forefoot and midfoot running, a sharp contrast to the percussive heel strike I had developed over the years of running in progressively more built-up shoes. In fact, I had thought I was doing my knees a favor by landing on my heels! Not at all, as it turns out.
Pay attention to the ground ahead of you.
We kept up the two-mile runs for another week, then it was Christmas weekend. With family visiting and our mutual holiday schedules, Paula and I did our running separately. I went into town and ran around the Palmer Event Center and the Long Center, two civic buildings with plenty of nice, smooth concrete. The distance increased to two and a half miles, but I seemed to be slowing down from an already decelerated barefoot pace. I was landing lightly on the front half of my foot, rolling down through my heel and then springing up to make the next “toe-kiss”, just like the book said. The book also said it takes months to develop the muscles which have out of practice for so long, and months establish the technique and create your own barefoot running style.
It was a challenge to find footing that was gentle enough to run on without shoes. I was constantly searching for a smooth man-made surface, and when I ventured forth onto some rougher surfaces, I found I was putting the brakes on with every step. This made my legs very tight, and slowed my pace by about 50%. In contrast to the relaxed way we had started our barefoot adventure, my runs were becoming a grim and frustrating experience. I didn’t want to return to my old running shoes, that was for sure. My hips, knees and feet had not felt this good in years. I was finally trusting my joints to be functional without all kinds of arch support, anti-pronation molds, the girding of strategically-placed lacing, and a half-inch of cushion between me and the ground. Before embarking on this project, I had seriously begun to think that I would do permanent soft tissue damage by walking around barefoot in my own home. Change had come, but at what price?
I really missed running the trails which are in abundance around Austin. My favorite runs are those in which a variety of terrain and elevation challenge and entertain me, surrounded by trees and wildlife, with earth, leaves and rock underfoot, a creekbed nearby, and a dog loping ahead. Would I ever enjoy that serenity again?Read More
The long and the short of it:
Going off life support did not kill the patient.
The transition to a minimal shoe from highly structured, impact-buffering footwear was a non-event, except for the sense of freedom I experienced. My kettlebell sessions, 3 per week, are all in Vibrams now, despite the vivid images going through my head of 16 kilo bells slipping from my fingers onto the unsuspecting toes below. I haven’t let go of a kettlebell yet, and I suspect it would be just as painful if I dropped one while wearing Nike running shoes.
Actually, I feel more in touch with the surface I am standing on, and more balanced on my feet. I am more agile, and here’s the best part:
The almost constant pain in my 1st metatarsals, has gone away altogether. The shoes I was wearing in order to give me support and keep me from forming bunions, were actually contributing to them! My knees and hips are looser, so their range of motion is greater. I feel I can do more, try more, and recovery from adding volume to my exercise load is much faster.
Now, please bear in mind, I went into this with an open mind. What that really means is that I could imagine several outcomes. In one scenario, I really wreck my knees and feet, retreating back to my old shoes in defeat and humiliation. My running days would end, maybe my riding days as well, and I would be confined to workouts usually reserved for nursing home residents. I would also have the added abasement of having to report it all to you, gentle readers. In another scenario, I become the poster midlifer for the Vibram company, breaking the strength and speed records of athletes half my age. The company offers me millions in sponsorships (which I accept) and wants prominently placed ads on all my blog posts (which I refuse, for ethical reasons).
Reality? So far, none of the above, but somewhere in between. The Vibrams, while providing a welcome avenue to foot freedom, are a bit of a pain (there goes the sponsorship). I still struggle with getting the right toes into the right “sleeves”. Also, I wish I could bend my toes. The sole, although very comfortable, is rigid by design, so the toe compartments do not bend. The net result is that I have shed my shoes altogether for most activities, and use the Vibram Smartwools for warmth in the gym and elsewhere.
Next: running at last!Read More
I would be remiss not to include some of the information available from experts in the field. I have been doing some excellent reading, so the next installment will be a more technical view of barefoot activity.
My guidebook for the last few days has been “The Barefoot Running Book Second Edition: A Practical Guide to the Art and Science of Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Running” by Jason Robillard. It is proving to be a great beginner’s tour, and I am about to embark upon his training program. Although I am not here to endorse products, this book is a must-have for anyone interested in transitioning from shod running (wearing traditional running shoes). Jason’s website provides additional information, as well as a free sample of the book.
It’s a good idea to have an understanding of the mechanics of propulsion through the foot. This article , from jointpaininfo.com, will give you a “running” start:
BASIC FOOT ANATOMY
The foot is made up of 26 bones, which are divided into three sections called the rearfoot, midfoot and forefoot. The talus and calcaneus (heel bone) are the bones that make up the rearfoot. The talus is the highest bone in the foot and it is also part of the ankle. The calcaneus is the largest bone in the foot. It sits below the talus. The navicular, cuboid and the three cuneiforms are the bones that make up the midfoot. The five metatarsals and nine phalanges are the bones that make up the forefoot.
There are three arches in the foot. There is an inner (medial) arch, an outer (lateral) arch and an arch in the forefoot called the transverse arch. Ligaments are like strong ropes that connect bones and provide stability to joints. In the foot there are numerous ligaments that support the arches and stabilize the bones. These ligaments are located on the top (dorsal), bottom (plantar) medial and lateral aspects of the foot.
The plantar fascia is a key structure that helps support the medial and lateral arches of the foot. The plantar fascia is a strong connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot connecting the heel to the base of the toes. When weight is put on the foot the plantar fascia helps to “lock” the bones of the foot and stabilizes these arches.
Many of the muscles that move the foot originate from the lower leg. These muscles attach via tendons to various bones in the foot. The muscles that move the foot upwards (dorsiflex the foot) originate on the front of the lower leg. The muscles that move the foot outwards (evert the foot) originate on the lateral aspect of the lower leg. The muscles that move the foot inwards (invert the foot) originate deep on the back of the lower leg. The muscles that move the foot downwards (plantarflex the foot) and propel the body forward originate from the knee and the back of the lower leg. The muscles that play the largest role in propulsion are the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus muscles). These muscles join to form the Achilles tendon that attaches onto the calcaneus. In addition to the long muscles, there are also numerous short muscles in the foot. These muscles also play a role in stabilizing the arches of the foot and in moving the toes.
Finally, there are numerous fat pads located on the bottom of the foot. These fat pads act as “cushions” or “shock absorbers”. The largest fat pad in the foot is located in the heel directly below the calcaneus. There are other “cushions” or “shock absorbers” in the foot called bursae. A bursa (pl. bursae) is a small fluid filled sac that also decreases the friction between two tissues and protects bony structures. There are many different bursae around the foot.
This excerpt from Jason Robillard’s book, found on the free .pdf sample available at his website, takes things a bit further. It is an excellent description of the neuromuscular activity involved in running. Let me warn you, however; it may take a couple of reads to really understand the process. Well worth the effort, however.
Recently Dr. Scott Hadley, founder of TrekoClinics.com, summed up the reasons for and history behind barefoot/
minimalist running in his article titled, “This is Your Body on Shock: stretch reflexes, shock absorption, and barefoot/minimalist running.” That article, used with his permission, follows:
In 1898, a neurophysiologist named William Sherrington published his findings on stretch reflexes. The basic idea of a stretch reflex is this: when a muscle is lengthened rapidly, a signal is sent to the central nervous system which triggers that muscle to contract. The “knee jerk” reflex is one example thatyou have probably seen when your doctor hits your knee with a little rubber hammer. The rapid stretch of the quads triggers a reflex that causes the muscle to contract—and the knee jerks.
In 1956, another neurophysiologist name J.C. Eccles reported that the stretch of one muscle not only causes reflex activation of that muscle, but other muscles are activated too. Eccles thus defined two types of stretch reflexes. A homonymous stretch reflex occurs when the stretch of a muscle causes that muscle to contract. A heteronymous stretch reflex occurs when the stretch of a muscle causes a different muscle to contract. During the past 60 years, heteronymous stretch reflexes have been investigated extensively by neurophysiologists. Through surface EMG recordings in human subjects, dozens of heteronymous reflex patterns have been identified. It is thoughtthat these reflexes allow the central nervous system to monitor and control gait and other complex human movements at an automatic, subconscious level.
Essentially, our body movements are in large part controlled by a series of stretch reflexes between muscles. When walking and running, the nervous system reads ‘stretch information’ from several key muscles and uses that information to activate or inactivate other muscles in a coordinated sequence. This is how we can walk, run, and perform other complex movements without thinking about it.
Let me give you a few examples of the role of stretch reflexes during running. When the foot hits the ground (initial contact), the first muscle to contract is the soleus of the calf—if you are landing properly without a heel strike. Forward momentum causes the soleus to stretch rapidly, and the soleus reflexively contracts to prevent the knee from buckling. While the soleus contracts, it also lengthens to allow the knee to advance over the foot (this is called an eccentric muscle contraction for you physiology buffs). Stretch reflexes from the lengthening soleus act as a powerful neurological switch that activates the quadriceps and hip extensors to prevent the leg and trunk from collapsing under the forces of landing on one foot. In fact, if the soleus doesn’t stretch properly, the hip extensors can be up to 75% weaker due to a lack of heteronymous reflexive control.
The muscles in the bottom of the foot (the foot intrinsics) also play a role as body weight is accepted onto the foot. The foot intrinsics begin undergoing a lengthening (eccentric) contraction as the arch of the foot flattens slightly to absorb shock. The stretch reflexes initiated from the lengthening of the foot intrinsics produce an interesting mechanism of shock absorption at the knee and ankle by inhibiting the soleus and quadriceps—causing partial relaxation of these muscles—to allow the ankle and knee to give-way slightly as body weight is loaded onto the leg.
If the foot arch is over-supported by an orthotic or a motioncontrol shoe, the foot intrinsics are incapable of inhibiting the soleus and quadriceps. At a phase in the gait cycle where the soleus and quadriceps should be slightly more elastic to absorb shock, they remain more rigid, thus reducing shock absorption and causing excessive strain on the soleus, quadriceps, and joint structures. Over time, if the arch is over-supported, the foot intrinsics become weak and are no longer effective. The foot intrinsics become weak and tight, stretch reflexes become inhibited, muscles do not ‘turn on’ when they need to, and biomechanics break down. The end result is overuse injury— something most runners experience at some point.
But barefoot and minimalist running allows the foot arch to deform naturally, allowing the stretch reflexes from the
foot intrinsics to activate a very effective shock absorption mechanism. It’s almost counterintuitive that running barefoot or in minimalist shoes produces less impact than running in supportive, padded running shoes. But research has shown just that. And the stretch reflexes from muscles in the foot are partially responsible for this.
Since the foot intrinsics are used more in barefoot and minimalist running, we invariably go through a phase of
muscle soreness and growth of the foot intrinsics and soleus during the transition out of standard running shoes and after a long run. But rejoice in your aching foot muscles! This is your body absorbing shock as nature intended.
Scott Hadley, Ph.D, DPT
I will add more articles, images and videos as we go along. See you next time!Read More
The next day, Friday, I wiggled into the shoes again, with a few hours of training in the gym ahead of me. I was focused on my clients’ activities, and didn’t pay much attention to my own feet (other than fielding the bemused questions as people showed up). Once I was alone, however, I began to notice something. Something strange. An odd sensation spread through the the balls of my feet, which would normally have been encased in my puffy, well-padded running shoes. It felt as though they were softening into putty and oozing outward in all directions! The space between my toes, and between all the bones in my forefoot, was increasing. A feeling of relief and pleasure spread over me. I could almost hear my feet thanking me for setting them free.
A little background: like plenty of kids, I spent my summers barefoot, running on the beach in California, climbing trees in my back yard, roaming the neighborhood in search of my friends and some adventure to fill the long, leisurely days. My feet would develop a leathery toughness, and I was blissfully happy with the sensation of earthy soil, tickly grass, or hard pavement underfoot. The occasional bee sting or encounter with a piece of glass was a minor bump along the wandering road of summer.
Then things began to change. Life as a young adult in New York City catapulted me into the wild and wonderful world of big-city fashion. High heels, platform shoes, and then, in icy winters, pointy-toed boots…I wedged my feet into shoes a half-size too small, because, after all, in 1977, what woman would dare admit she actually wears a size 9B?
Running shoes of the same era
Then, in the early 80’s, people started running, en masse, for exercise. I jumped on that bandwagon, and soon after moving back to California, I was a regular 3 miler, running about 4 times a week. I remember spraining my ankle regularly that first year. The running habit stuck to this day, with time off for childbirth (I ran through all 3 pregnancies) and periodic diversion to other forms of cardiovascular exercise. I had pretty much given up high heels by then, except for date nights and parties. Fitness as a planned activity had moved into my life.
On Saturday, I decided to give the Vibrams a chance to show me their stuff during a workout. This workout included plenty of squats, lunges, and ladder drills (pictured above). That means, not only was I weight-bearing in multiple planes, but also I had to contend with ballistic jumping, or plyometric movements. I felt light and springy, and my feet were exploring all kinds of ways to help me land and push off again. With each lunge, I could feel my plantar fascia stretch, my toes splay, and my weight balance in different parts of my sole as I transitioned through each pattern. The bottoms of my feet had transformed from a flat, unbending landing surface, to an intelligent and cooperative team of many neurons and muscles contracting and releasing synergistically, in a beautiful counterpoint of movement.
But would I be sore and immobilized on Sunday? Stress fractures? Aching knees? Nope! There were only two drawbacks that next day. The first, as usual, was getting the right toes in the right holes. The second was when Smokey and I were about to head to the big home improvement store to shop for a new dishwasher, and I heard him say “Are you going to wear THOSE shoes?” Of course I was, and did.Read More
I told myself I would wait until the books arrived (see “Back to Nature…”) to embark on this study. I am determined to be methodical about preparing and training in order to give the barefoot running experiment a chance to succeed or fail on its own merits, and not due to sloppiness on my part. But then my dear friend and running partner Paula sent me a link to National Geographic’s Best Gear of 2010 and it included this picture:
Well, we had just run Austin’s annual 5 mile Turkey Trot and I had seen several people padding around in that type of shoe. I ran behind a fellow and watched him land lightly on the ball of the foot, then roll off the ground to initiate the next stride with a movement that articulated the entire foot. Intriguing!
I should clarify that I am a very average recreational runner. Here are the stats:
56 years old
Running since 1982
Average about 8 – 10 miles a week, about 45 weeks of the year
Pace: about a 9-10 min mile these days. A few years ago I could win, place or show in my age group in a 5k with around a 25-26 min time. But I am really not interested in speed now, which should give me the patience to start the barefoot running SLOWLY.
Back to the story. I could wait no longer. At the end of the work day, I went to the Vibram website where I used their sizing chart (that proved to be one size too small), found the nearest dealer, and went right over. When I first maneuvered my toes into all those little glove-like protuberances, I could not even get the right toes in the right holes. I pulled and tugged, my frustration mounting. The young sales clerk just watched, with an ill-hidden smirk on his face.
Finally I had all the toes where they were meant to be, managed to get the rest of the shoe over my unyielding heels, and stood up.
Where was the bliss that everyone was talking about? (I had spoken to a few converts, who sang the praises of the Vibram fivefingers with worshipful reverence). It felt CREEPY to have fabric stuffed between each toe and the stretchy material over my foot and the the plastic sole did not contribute at all to a barefoot-like experience. Well, I told myself, I took this on as a research project. Hence, the outcome does not need to be positive. Any good scientist should not make predictions before all the data is in. But I realized at that point that I did have an investment in gaining a positive experience- and so far that investment came with about an $85 price tag!
I walked around the store for about ten or fifteen minutes, trying to get my head and my feet into the groove. By the time I left the store I was still shod in the Vibrams, clutching the impulse purchases that leapt at me while I was busy getting my groove on.
After that I walked next door to the grocery store, where I documented my first wearing:
Troll feet! Lots of stares, too.
After going home and keeping them on for about 2 hours, I have to say I was underwhelmed and feeling a little silly. The kids thought they were really cool. Husband Smokey looked at them and then looked at me as though I had just grown a tail.
Stay tuned for the next installment…Read More
More on barefoot training found in this excellent article found on the TRX website:
If you look at commonalities in current athletic shoe design, the trend is to provide support and stabilization throughout the foot, depending on the demand of the shoe. Additionally, extra padding is popular, and some shoes have been designed to help keep the foot “in place.” While this rationale may seem beneficial and mechanically advantageous, it can prevent the foot from moving in a natural pattern. So how do you address this? Footwear, obviously, cannot be completely omitted from training or competition as it does serve to protect our feet. The solution, according to many researchers including sports performance expert Joel Raether, may be to remove shoes for a portion of training.
But just as proper progression is essential with any good strength and conditioning program, the same applies to barefoot training. Read on as Joel explains the benefits of barefoot training and how to institute it into an existing fitness regime.
Benefits of Barefoot Training
Barefoot training has recently experienced a surge in popularity and has been shown to improve foot mobility, stability and activity. Additionally, it has been linked to increased lower limb muscle firing and greater muscle activation patterns through the kinetic chain. In some cases, there is evidence that barefoot training can even decrease lower extremity, hip and low back pain.
There are several ways barefoot training can be added to a traditional strength and conditioning session. First, it is important to assess the type of surface to train on. Ideal surfaces include artificial turf, traditional basketball courts and rubberized gym floors since these surfaces provide athletes a firm yet forgiving surface beneath them.
It’s a good idea to first warm up with low level activities such as walking knee hugs, high knee hugs, shin grabs, Spiderman walks and lateral squat walks. For beginners, running or even light plyometrics should be avoided. Just as a beginner wouldn’t start off a plyometric program doing high level, intense jumping, bounding and loaded maneuvers, the same caution is warranted here.
Presence of Pain
When barefoot training is first introduced, foot and/or calf soreness is common. Be aware, however, of sharp or deep-rooted pain and residual soreness. These types of discomfort should not be present during training, just as in other training modalities. There should also be a distinction between pain and injury. If pain is present, seek professional help to determine the cause and address the problem. Until the cause has been pinpointed and corrected, cease barefoot training altogether.
After you have adapted to barefoot training, mobility drills and low level plyometric drills such as left-to-right shuffles, carioca, high knees, butt kickers, A skips and forward, backward and lateral hops may be introduced. All of these will enable you to achieve optimal benefits from being barefoot, while also adjusting to increased balance and stability. After this portion of the program has been inserted and adapted to, you can now progress to bodyweight exercise on the TRX Suspension Training and continue to challenge mobility and stability by modifying your foot position (wide and narrow stances, staggered and one foot positions), which allow the entire kinetic chain to increase performance.
While barefoot training isn’t the only effective method for foot and ankle training, it can fit into a well-structured program if used properly. Appropriately integrated and progressed into training it can be a beneficial tool to increase performance, reduce injuries and increase overall wellness and safety.
Joel Raether is the Education Coordinator for the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He earned his BA and MAEd from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in Exercise Science Physiology. He is the former Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Denver and also the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Colorado Mammoth. Joel has done dietary and supplemental research and published numerous articles and books in the area of sports performance. He would like to thank Mark Roozen and Brandon Stone for their contributions to this article.
by TRX Editor [2010-11-22 8:00 AM]Read More
Eating less-processed food is nutritionally superior. Going to bed when the sun goes down, or close to it, allows our endocrine system to operate at its best. Spending time outdoors in a beautiful, natural setting is good for the psyche. Given all the above, doesn’t it stand to reason that stripping away such artificial devices as running shoes would improve our gait mechanics and overall fitness level?
We will explore that hypothesis over the next few weeks and months. Many are jumping on the “barefoot running” bandwagon. Others deride them as nuts. Risky behavior or solid science?
I have ordered 2 books:
“Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen”
“The Barefoot Running Book Second Edition: A Practical Guide to the Art and Science of Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Running”
I am also doing a lot of reading, pro and con, on the subject. But I like to learn by doing, so after I am satisfied that I know enough to get started, I will embark on a barefoot running program and log my progress here. My friend and running partner Paula Tuttle has agreed to run with me.
If you would like to try it, please join us by logging your progress in the COMMENTS section below. I would strongly advise screening for potential injury, reading up, and seeking the wisdom of a trainer who knows first-hand about the practice.Read More