Barefoot Running

It’s finally Spring time and with the warmer weather and occasional sunshine we all feel a little inclined to throw on a pair of headphones, some Top Guns Charity shades and go for a jog outside.

We all know running will help us shred some pounds for beach season, but the real question is: What should we be wearing (or not wearing) on our feet?

For the past year I’ve been intrigued by the Barefoot/Minimalist running revolution which has taken the world by storm. In fact, the barefoot/minimalist industry has grown to a worth of 1.7 billion dollars and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. The movement can be greatly credited to the National bestselling book “Born to Run” by Chris McDougall, chronicling the life of the Tarahumara tribe who run for days without injury on bare feet.

Last year, I got caught up in the craze and thought that simply changing my running shoes would be the cure to all my running ailments (stiff IT bands, shin splints, etc.). I picked up a pair of Nike Frees and started running the chip trail like I was Steve Prefontaine the 2nd.  Of course, within a week the splints were back, I was stiff as a cadaver and promptly returned to cycling and hockey to get my cardiovascular fix. My problem wasn’t so much my shoes as it was my style of running.

The entire notion of running shoes is actually quite ironic. I tried to find actual studies supporting the science behind cushioned heels, arch support, etc. that were boasted by the running shoes we grew up on. I remember being told that you should replace your running shoe every 3-6 months, once the cushion in it is gone, to avoid injury. The findings were simply not there, there was zero science behind it; just a marketing-driven industry which was growing out of control. I’m no expert, but my theory is that these cushioned, high-tech shoes killed the natural technique, which exists in all of us. If you’re like me, then you do a heel-toe strike and can be heard from up the block. Throwing on a pair of minimalist shoes isn’t going to help if I’m running like that; in fact they’ll only make things worse. What minimalist shoes do help, however, is encouraging that light and natural running style.

These are a pair of Nike Free Trainer shoes. They’re very thin and flexible, but still possess a little bit of cushion and form. I think they’re a great shoe to begin running form correction, before transitioning to something more minimal like Vibrams

So, how do I use minimalist shoes and return to my god-given natural way of injury free running?

Well, like I said, I’m no expert, but luckily my man Jairus Streight is…

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A Word from Jairus.

Hey Bear & Deep Dan, Thanks for having me back.

It’s true that running minimalism has become an overwhelmingly popular theory amongst recreational and competitive runners in the past few years, but in order to part take in this “fad” in a way that is of benefit to you and your health, a fundamental understanding of how we got to this idea in the first place is needed:

1. Running is a natural movement to human beings, and one of our greatest evolutionary strengths (Did you know, there is no land species on the planet that can outlast us in running ENDURANCE?). Our muscular system and cardiovascular abilities as humans are what lead us to become dominant hunters, and in places like Africa (where farmers don’t have horses….ever think about that?), being a strong runner was an important evolutionary trait to becoming a successful farmer, and rounding up your cattle on foot. The idea of “minimialism” comes from the attempt to move as much as possible ‘in tune’ with our body’s natural physiological attributes that give us this ability to run longer than most species. To run well, you need to be efficient, and what better way to develop efficiency, than to run as naturally as possible? So…. the question remains: Can minimalist footwear running help your run better? In short, yes. It ‘can’ help to promote more efficient stride biomechanics, which will in turn help you to be a more ‘natural runner’. The problem is, as grown young men/women, we look to make this transition too quickly. Often times, our bodies are not ready for such a drastic change.

 

2. Heavy heel striking is generally bad. It causes a lot of force on the knee join, and is one of the leading causes of knee pain in runners. In order to become a more ‘biomechanically sound’ runner, it would be beneficial to avoid heel striking while running. While this can be accomplished through “barefoot” style running, which forces you to land more on the “balls” of your feet; it can also be accomplished by CHANGING the way your foot interacts with the ground, without the need to downgrade in shoe technologies. (See point 3) While a knee injury can be a hard one, making the shift to running on your forefoot too quickly has a higher probability of causing you chronic Achilles Tendon issues, from which you may never fully recover….

 

3. (Most of us) have grown up for 20+ years with “diapers” on our feet. What makes us think we can go about changing that all of the sudden? An instantaneous change in structural support to the foot would certainly not be the answer. If you are interested in transitioning to minimalist technologies for running, you need to be PATIENT and a mindful of the degree to which you make the change. Volume, intensity, and surfaces you run on are all things to be moderated, and taken into consideration when making a transition to running in less ‘support’. Look to avoid concrete and asphalt surfaces, and stick to softer surfaces such as grass, woodchip, and park trails.

 

4. The running is simple. No really, it’s actually SO simple that often times people who aren’t as natural at it are simply OVERTHINKING it. The basic movements: You extend your knee in front of you, and perform a ‘sweep’ of your foot that lands as close to beneath your pelvis as possible, plant the MIDDLE of your foot- not the heel, nor the balls of the toes, you then apply muscular ‘force’ against the ground, pushing off your hips, extend your leg behind you in a spring-like movement. After leaving the ground, you allow your leg to recoil under you by initiating a knee drive that again lifts your (now opposite) knee back out in front of you- in essence, a series of “timely bounds. Ta-da! You are running. Don’t overthink it! If you are figuring out how to run, keeping it simple will be best practice to becoming a better runner.

 

5. Your body’s functional strength is important to preventing injury- one of the ways we get ‘stronger’ is by running MORE, but without ‘overdoing it’. I work with Olympic level athletes, as well as my own college age athletes, and the one of the greatest ‘tricks’ is knowing how much to run that will keep you getting stronger, but avoid you from getting injured. Believe it or not, building strength in your CORE can help with this (when you run, what are you pushing off of? The ground! And what does the ground push back against? Your core! Think about it like pushing off against a wall), thus making sure you keep your core strength maintained is key if you hope to be running more often.

Thanks for having me, and if you have any specific questions, fire them off on to me on Twitter!  @jairusstreight

 

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Well, there you have it. Now get off the couch and get moving on your two god given legs!

One thought on “Barefoot Running”

  1. Awesome blog, Bear! I have been barefoot running for 2 years and I love it. I started with Vibram 5 Fingers, but now just run barefoot on soft trails. My knees would start to ache after an hour, but now I only feel my calves. Technical singletrack is fun because you have to pay attention to landing perfectly on your toes. A wrong step really hurts! Bad steps rarely happen though. I get great traction in the mud barefoot too!

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