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Thoughts on barefoot running #1

August 7th, 2011 by Phil Brown

I have been experimenting with forefoot running over the last few weeks. Having read Chris Mcdougall’s inspiring book Born to Run, I became curious as to the possibilities he suggests regarding developing a running style that is innately suited to our human nature. The idea of treating running like a joyous game rather than a chore really appealed to me. Mcdougall’s message, among other things, is to suggest that we have lost an innate ability to use our bodies in a freer, easier way. He suggests that we have become accustomed to pounding the pavements in gel-filled running shoes, that, far from helping us to run, actually hinder us from developing the kind of strengths needed to run without injury.

Reading Born to Run and chatting with an associate chiropractor, who runs using minimalist shoes Vibram Fivefingers got me interested enough to begin trying it out for myself. Below are my thoughts, based on what I have tried out thus far:

Walk around barefoot alot!

Get used to feeling your feet and toes again!  Walk around the garden or on the beach. Let your feet out of the confines of your shoes and let them “spread”. Many of us have rigid feet that have forgotten how to mould and give in response the ground we are in contact with. Our toes are designed to spread out and dissipate weight and force as we “toe off” in walking and running.  our shoes have alot to answer for – many shoes simply don’t allow our toes to fulfil the role they were designed for.

Try this – in barefeet, raise yourself up as high as you can on your toes. Try to keep your balance and as you do feel all the fine movements and tensions that areactivated in your toes as they work to support and balance your whole body! That’s how influential and important they are to us.

 

Ease into it. If you think you are taking it easy on your first month or two, then think again and GO EVEN EASIER.

My opinion? Most runners injure themselves because they are too consumed with running for time. Our whole being is conditioned to timetables and deadlines at work and play: personal bests, sub-four hour marathons, fitting in a training session during our lunch break, making that deadline or meeting, fitting in time with the family, etc, etc. This nervous conditioning feeds into our running training. Try as we might, that little panicky voice in our heads is constantly reminding us that we need to beat our last training run time otherwise we aren’t progressing…………we need to focus on our FORM more, particularly when attempting a new running style that asks muscles that have been dormant to start working in ways they never have.

A tip – if you have a race coming up in the next six months and you are thinking of making a good time AND changing your style to barefoot or forefoot running……DON’T!  Either run the race and don’t change up, or skip the race and take time to discover a new way of running.

Another tip – a good indicator of whether you are going easy enough to begin with is this: you should be running at a pace that allows you to breathe at times through your nose with no problems. Focusing on form to begin with is all about not getting out of breath.

Yet another tip – Think about slowly increasing the duration of your run rather than the distance. As your muscles adapt, distance and speed will slowly come as your form improves.

Practice running barefoot on the spot

Barefoot or forefoot running is similar in movement to running on the spot. When you run on the spot, you naturally bounce lightly up and down on the balls of your feet. There is no real effort. Practice this as a drill without any shoes before and after your runs.

 

Run with shorter strides

Learn to run with shorter strides and increase your cadence as you get more skilled at forefoot running. Padded running shoes allow us to take huge strides as we slam down on our heels; a half inch of padding between us and the pavement. When you run barefoot or in minimalist shoes, running in this way will cause pain.  The idea with barefoot, forefoot striking is to develop a faster, lighter rythym, where your feet “skip” across the surface of the ground, rather than thump down in the traditional heel – to – toe manner. Shorter, lighter strides will feel easier and less impactful on your body.

Try this – run along for a few metres in a heel striking style. Stick your fingers in your ears as you do so and listen to the sound the vibrations make in your head as you land. Then switch to a light, forefoot style and do the same thing. The difference in the quality of the sound is profound and informative!

Try to vary the surface you run on.

If you live out in the country or near the sea, then try to go out barefoot and run on the beach or on grass. Road running will probably involve shoes of some sort to protect your feet from bits of glass and sharp stones. If you have no soft ground nearby, then running on the spot on carpet will help your feet get acclimatised to forefoot striking and get you used to reading feedback and making adjustments in your foot strike.

For road running, there are loads of minimalist shoes available now. I have been using the Vibram Fivefingers shoes for my daily work as well as road running and find them superb.

Stretch and massage your feet and ankles

If you are new to barefoot running, then getting to know your feet intimately is a must. Self massage is a great way to find and free up the restrictions in the soles of your feet and your lower leg.  Getting a sports therapist or soft tissue therapist to work into the connective tissue and muscles of your feet and lower leg can be a wonderfully educational experience: you will be stunned at how rigid your feet have become over years of wearing shoes and trainers. Treatment to the sole of the feet can have profound effects all the way up the body.

If you have no access to a therapist, use a tennis ball, stand on it and roll it around the sole of your foot as deeply and slowly as you can without too much pain: after five minutes, your foot will be softer and freer than it has been in a while!

Have fun!

Play with the whole thing: I have been out running in short trips over the last 4 weeks. I have no aim other than to learn to run in a way that is pleasurable and pain free. Any other aims such as racing would have to come out of that and that alone. I have only been out running twice a week and only for around 30 minutes until the last couple of runs, which were around 45 minutes. Today I went out with my little boy. He rode his bike and I was able to chat to him the whole way, which pleased me no end as it meant I wasn’t pushing myself too hard and also getting quality time with my son!

I am thinking of posting more as I continue practising forefoot (and barefoot where possible) running, so get in touch if you have any thoughts and tips of your own!  You can find us at www.muscleandmovementhealth.com

 

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