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


Workout of the Day

July 18th, 2011 by Phil Brown

Ok, so you may or may not have heard of Crossfit. I have been looking at some of their incredibly intense workouts and thought I would attempt “Barbara” to see how far I got!

Well, all I can say is that Barbara is an extremely intense workout that should NOT be attempted unless you have trained enough to develop the strength and stamina to cope with it.  I did NOT complete it and I am used to regular resistance training. To get strong enough to complete this workout in its “pure” form is an achievement that needs a serious history of scaled and progressive training. However, the exercises that make up the routine are all superb, all rounder movements that will challenge your body as a whole. Here is a scaled down version for you to try. You can add or subtract repetitions as you feel, to add more intensity or to lower it.

10 Pull ups

20 Push ups

20 Sit-ups (I prefer crunches here)

30 Squats

Make 5 cycles of this and rest for 3 minutes after each cycle.  Make a note of your time so that you can try to beat it next time!

Work hard but try to maintain a pace that allows you to complete the cycle. Use the first session doing this circuit workout as a “taster” to find what intensity level works for you.




Workout of the Day – Win a FREE deep tissue massage treatment if you’re strong enough!

July 15th, 2011 by Phil Brown

For those sadists among you who are used to a regular fitness programme, I am starting a new section on training ideas and suggested programmes for strength gains, fat loss, muscle toning and all over balance and stability.

Often in the clinic at Muscle and Movement Health I work with clients to develop small programmes of exercises that increase balance and confidence in movement: these are crucial elements to the process of proper rehabilitation. Once that process is complete, it is possible to develop more rigorous programmes of functional fitness for clients involved in sport or who simply want to increase and then maintain a higher level of strength, stamina and flexibility.

The workouts posted here are aimed at intermediate to advanced sports people or those used to a programme of regular resistance and cardiovascular exercise. With that in mind, here is a resistance and bodyweight circuit I used this morning. I found it very intense, but that was because I have a habit of not resting enough between sets!  You can manage the intensity by increasing the rest between stations anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. The general rule would be not to rest long enough to begin cooling down, but also making sure that you don’t run out of breath entirely!

The amount of weight you use should allow you to complete 10 reps of each exercise with good form  through 3 full circuits of this routine.

Circuit. 3 cycles of 10 reps each exercise: do 1 set then move on to the next exercise and work this 3 times round.

Power clean and press


Wide grip pull ups

Barbell or dumbbell walking lunges (lunge walk holding 2 dumbbells or a loaded barbell across your shoulders)

Push ups (perfect form full range)

Hanging hip curls


TIP: you are working for time here, so if you cannot complete a set, rest and then continue to the 10 to finish the set – you don’t have to complete every set all at once. Be careful to pace yourself as that last circuit can really test you!

Let us know how you get on!  If you email the clinic with your times and you are the fastest over the next 5 days, you will win a free deep tissue massage session here at        Muscle and Movement Health!

Knee pain in my bottom: A guide to the Iliotibial Band.

May 4th, 2011 by Phil Brown

The iliotibial band. No, it’s not some turn of the century musical outfit. It is a part of the body whose name is often banded about by runners, cyclists and triathletes as the reason for their niggling aches and pains…..”Oh, yeah….got a bit of ITB tightness…….yeah, it was all ok until I got ITB Syndrome…”  However, I get the feeling that  that the iliotibial band remains something of an enigma to many, even those who claim it as the culprit in their pain….

It is common for me to treat runners at  Muscle and Movement Health who are suffering from pain involving the ITB, but who are completely unaware of the existence of this part of their anatomy and how influential it can be in the progress of their training…..

Where is it?

Down the outside of your thigh. It’s the slightly flatter bit on the outside of your thigh. It  runs from the side of your hip to the side of your knee, tapering as it descends.

What is it?

The iliotibial band is a strip of something called fascia. Fascia is a network of connective tissue that invests all the muscles and organs of your body and wraps them all up in the shape of a human being. Among many other things, the job of fascia is to transmit the movement and force created by muscles through the joints of the skeleton. This particular job is important to remember when we are discussing problems connected with the ITB.

What does it do?

The iliotibial band maintains what we can call a dynamic tension between the hip joint and the knee joint. It is constantly tight, but sometimes gets even tighter. The iliotibial band is actually part of a longer band of fascia that runs from the base of the feet through the outside of the leg, spiralling up into the oblique abdominals, upper trunk and back and into the back of the neck.

When we walk or run, movement at the hip joint is translated through the thigh and into the knee and then ankle and foot. And back again! This happens all the time very quickly when we are walking. When we are running it happens very VERY quickly. ALOT of shock and movement is transmitted through the ITB by the muscles that it merges with at either end…..

How does it go wrong?

The muscles that merge with the ITB at the hip can get very tight and tired from training or overuse, or sometimes simply by the way we walk or our choice of shoes.

When the iliotibial band is too tight, it stops moving so freely over the tissues and structures that lie underneath it. This can cause friction and inflammation at  the knee end or the hip end, or both. A tight ITB can also pull on the structures around the knee joint and cause pain.

How does it get too tight?

The  powerful gluteus maximus (buttock) muscles that take such a powerful role in running merge with the iliotibial band at the side of the hip.  A smaller muscle at the front of the hip called Tensor fasciae latae also merges with the band.  When these muscles become too tight, this tension is communicated to and through the band.

Below the knee, the front and outside of the shin can also become tight and sore from overuse. This tension can also translate into the ITB, which we must remember is part of a longer, continuous band of longitudinal fascia.

Strenuous exercise, such as training  can cause overtightness and overuse in these muscles, as can injury to the hip, knee or ankle in the form of strains or sprains.

What does it feel like?

Tension problems in the iliotibial band can cause different sensations. Most of these can make you feel like you have an injury or problem in the knee or hip and sometimes the ankle or foot.

A common symptom of an overtight iliotibial band is pain on the outside of the knee and just below the kneecap. It is not uncommon for a client to attend the clinic at Muscle and Movement Health complaining of knee pain and a little worried that they have a problem in the joint itself.  This is totally understandable. ITB pain at the knee can literally stop you in your tracks.  The distal (bottom) end of the band merges with the lateral part of the patellar retinaculum, which is an area of retaining and supportive connective tissue at the knee.  Tension from a tight gluteus maximus (or bum muscle) will translate through the ITB and cause pulling and pain here at the knee.

Resulting pain can feel sharp and local at the side of the knee, front of the hip or side of the hip and bottom. Sometimes this pain transfers as an ache or pulling at the side of the knee and into the outside of the shin.


How can I get rid of it??????


Using  stretches for the gluteus maximus and the tensor fasciae latae muscles can be effective to release tension here as well as prevent recurrence in the longer term. General stretches to maintain healthy hip, knee and ankle mobility are obviously crucial for runners. Tightness and imbalance in these areas can result in movement patterns that encourage ITB tightness to develop.

The right footwear

Make sure you have made the right choice of running shoe for the shape of your feet and the way you run. ITB pain resulting from your gait (the way your body moves and your feet strike the ground as you run) is very common.  Go to a running shoe shop that offers gait analysis from experienced staff.  A change of shoes can sometimes completely cure an ITB related pain problem.

Don’t overtrain

A sensible training programme does not result in overtraining. Proper rest periods between training sessions and race events, plus some creative cross-training can ensure safety from injury and overuse.

Sports massage

Regular deep tissue massage can not only release you from the sometimes chronic cycle of  ITB problems, but also enhance your training progress and performance by speeding recovery between sessions and preventing build up of the tension in muscle fibres that leads to pain and injury.

Self – treatment

If you are suffering from tightness and pain in the areas discussed, there are some small and simple things you can do which may ease and sometimes clear up the problem. Try massaging deeply and slowly using a tennis ball or the heel of your hand into the outside of your buttock near your hip bone. You can also work in the same way into the “pocket muscle” tensor fasciae latae, which sits just below the crest of your hip at the top and outside of your thigh.

Foam rollers can also be effective if you use them slowly up and down the ITB from hip to knee.

Both these techniques can often clear up low level ITB gripes very quickly.

Strength and stability training

A very common factor in the development of ITB related pain is weakness in the gluteus maximus muscle. A weak bottom can ruin a good runner!

When these big buttock muscles are not firing in an optimum sequence, the stability of the hip is compromised. This results in a tightening of the muscles that stabilise the hip during dynamic movement. Also, weaker muscles tire and tighten quicker than trained and strong ones.

Many runners suffer from iliotibial band pain as a result of weak gluteus maximus muscles. Using isolation exercises to get them contributing more effectively to the movement of running can address a root cause of many running-related aches and pains.

For more information on how to address iliotibial band issues or if you have a chronic problem that is stopping you progressing in your training, contact us at Muscle and Movement Health to discuss how we can help!



Soft tissue therapy and joint mobilising clinic at Ogwen Mountain Rescue Base

April 10th, 2011 by Phil Brown

Phil Brown will be holding a clinic at base for members of the Ogwen Mountain Rescue Team on Saturday April 30th from 10.30 – 15.30.

Members of the team who need a bit of MOT or are needing treatment for injury or advice on training can spend some time working with Phil and benefiting from a mixture of deep tissue massage and myofascial release.

These clinics have been a semi regular event at the team base just opposite the mountain of Tryfan in Snowdonia. Phil started working with the team following his involvement in the yearly Oggie 8 challenge providing sports and remedial massage for the brave competitors.

Phil will be providing treatment and advice on keeping joints free and using soft tissue techniques to decompress and free up movement in rusty hips, ankles, knees and shoulders!

if you are a member of the team you can jump onto the event calendar and add your name to the list. See you on the 30th.



Avoiding a pain in the neck in golf

April 8th, 2011 by Phil Brown

Following the first day of The Masters at wonderfully sunny Augusta, one news story about Padraig Harrington’s struggles on the course yesterday caught my eye. Harrington – according to news stories – is suffering from a recurrence of chronic neck pain. He explains in a story on the Sky TV website that he was warming up and swinging and he felt something go click and then found it impossible to turn to the right.

I wish Padraig all the best and really hope that his sports therapists can help sort his neck to get him through the rest of The Masters.

Neck pain can plague anyone and for golfers, there are a number of things to watch out for that will help prevent the development of chronic neck pain or that nasty clicking feeling that tells you you aren’t going to be playing your best for a while.

Alignment and the Forward Head Syndrome

The quality of rotational movement in the cervical (upper shoulders, neck, head) spine is affected strongly by the  alignment between the articulating vertebrae of the spine. A very common postural problem we shall call Forward Head Syndrome affects range of rotation of the head and neck. Many golfers (and people in general) hold their heads too far forward in relation to their shoulders. The result is the weight of the head puts stress on the upper erector muscles of the spine. These muscles stretch long and lock up to cope with the weight of the forward head. Think of how much more difficult it is to do a bicep curl with your arm stuck straight out from your body, rather than with your elbow tucked close to your trunk and you get an idea of what these erector muscles must feel like.

Head rotation from left to right from a forward head position is significantly compromised compared to rotation from a position where the head is nicely balanced on top of the shoulders. In golf, if this position is your default position as you go to play your sport, you are already at risk of injury due to those erector muscles at the back of your neck  being in a state of hypertonicity (really really tight).  As any athlete will tell you, a muscle is much more likely to strain when it is stressed in a LENGTHENED position.

The golf swing is ALL rotation. Yes, we keep our heads still as we focus on the ball, but the rotation in the cervical spine is still occurring – its just that here the head stays still and the body moves in relation to it. If our neck is tight and restricted due to a Forward Head posture, the articulating surfaces of the upper vertebrae will find it harder to move freely over one another.  As we move into the back swing, this limitation becomes clear as the head is dragged up and back by the rotation of the back and shoulders. Then, as we move down and through to follow-through, our head comes up too quickly as the stiff neck is pulled round and forward the other way by the arms and shoulders.  Moving repeatedly in a restricted pattern can have the effect of underlining that set pattern and rigidity even more.  So not only do we not play the best shot we could, we also perpetuate and even worsen a pre-existing problem.

Pain will present when one of more of these overtight muscles that create rotation, flexion (bending forward), or extension (bending back/looking up) become strained due to a  load or activity that pushes them beyond their already limited stretch. The smaller rotational muscles in the spine are commonly strained, but the larger muscles that control shoulder elevation (shrugging) and neck rotation, flexion and extension can also become chronically tight and painful. This pain can come on suddenly and feel like a “crick” in the neck. Often, rotation to one side or the other will be severely hampered. Flexion or extension can also be affected.

Often, this problem can be treated with simple soft tissue therapy or physical therapy. Sometimes, a “crick” in the neck can be alleviated in minutes with the right treatment. At other times, things take longer. Tight muscles exert pulling forces on the vertebrae they attach to. Sometimes, these vertebrae can be pulled out of alignment. The result is the malalignment of one or more of the small facet joints which are made up of the articulating surfaces of the vertebrae. These joints can get stuck in an open or closed position and sometimes need the help of a trained practitioner such as an osteopath or chiropractor to manipulate them back into line. Once this is done successfully, freedom of movement is restored, but then steps must be taken to retrain movement and adjust posture to prevent a recurrence of neck pain, which can become a chronic problem.

The Permanent Shrug or “Coat hanger”  Syndrome

Another postural pattern that golfers should watch for is the Permanent Shrug. I often meet clients whose shoulders are so near their ears they look like they forgot to take the coat hanger out before they put their jacket on!  Weekend golfers who spend alot of time at work in front of a monitor can suffer from this posture, as can people who are tense and stressed. Having high and tight shoulders will ruin a golf swing and put alot of stress on the neck and upper back. The same dangers described above of going at your sport with muscles that are already tight and stressed apply here. The same results will occur.

Preventing a pain in the neck

There are a number of very effective strategies for preventing the onset of neck pain, or preventing reoccurence,  but they are summed up in the following advice:


At Muscle and Movement Health, we work with golfers and other sports people to develop programmes for just this purpose, yet it is unbelievable how many of us simply expect to play great golf at the weekend without ever doing anything else in the way of training.  They keep going like this until pain stops them. Often, that pain would have been entirely avoidable with the right fitness programme in place.

Here are some simple stretches and techniques to help keep your neck pain free and moving freely. Before you attempt any of these, I am presuming that you are not suffering from acute neck pain or injury. If you have anything other than mild stiffness in your neck or shoulders, you should  consult your GP or a qualified manual therapist for a professional assessment and exercise prescription.

Realignment and stretch

Use a mirror to check you are standing straight and looking straight ahead. Drop your head forward using only its weight and no pushing. Feel a relaxed stretch through the back of your neck and even into the top of your back. GENTLY contract the muscles at the front of your neck and pull your chin towards your spine. You will feel a double chin forming.  Hold in gentle contraction for 10 seconds and release. Repeat 5 – 8 times.  This gentle exercise is designed to ease the tension at the back of the neck, encourage realignment of the vertebrae and bring tone back to the often weaker deep neck flexors at the front of the neck.

Rotational stretch

Standing, reach one hand up and over to place your palm between your shoulder blades as far as is comfortable. Your elbow should be pointing up in the air and your palm should be flat against your spine. Rotate your head away from the elevated  arm. Feel the stretch in the side of your neck on that side. It can be an intense stretch so go easy. Hold for 3 seconds, return to neutral. Repeat this 5 times, then hold in stretch for 10 seconds on a 6th movement.


Shoulder relaxation

Shrug your shoulders up tightly. Hold and focus on what the contraction of these muscles feels like. After 5 seconds, breathe out and drop your shoulders loosely, using the exhalation as a “cue” to relax them completely. Repeat this as often as you like. The result should be that your shoulders will be an inch or so further from your ears than when you started this exercise!

If you would like to know more about preventing injury in golf or any other sport, or you suffer from neck and shoulder pain and are looking for lasting relief and an improvement in general fitness levels, contact Muscle and Movement Health to discuss how we can help you.

Anglesey and the North Wales area are also full of great golf courses and tuition opportunities. Whether you are just starting out in golf or want to take your game to the next level, getting a professional to look at your swing and give you some pointers is surely money well spent.  A few key tips about your movement patterns see you avoiding developing bad habits that can plague your game and your body for years. I can recommend golf tuition with golf pro Matthew Wharton at Treborth golf complex just outside Bangor North Wales. Matthew’s sessions are clear and simple, breaking down the golf swing into basics that will stand you in good stead for years. I was there just this morning having a lesson with Matthew and feel encouraged, focused and ready to practice my golf swing!





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