It’s the latest trend in running that always makes us think of those funny toe-trainer things – you know the ones! Here, Rollo Mahon from The Barefoot Performance Academy explains why it’s such a big deal …
Why Barefoot’s Best
From a biomechanical stance once the skills of barefoot running is mastered, people will suffer less injury, become more athletic in shape, spatially more aware, more coordinated, more confident, more skilled and have a better understanding of the beauty of movement. On an individual level people would be more aware, more thoughtful, move and think faster, feel and be lighter, and in a world of inefficiency would become more efficient beings in everyday activities. On a bigger level it would shape better societies.
All About Feet
We were and are not born with shoes on our feet. A human’s true centre of balance sits upon a strong flexible pair of bare feet that have a keen sense to provide fast and clear feedback to better the movement and balance. However feet are not designed like paws of dogs or hoofs of horses and therefore the foot does need protection. The trick is to allow your foot the optimum feedback for any given terrain. (Flat surface = super thin soles (2mm). Rough terrain = more rubber support and grip with 4mm thickness)
We as a society (Western world) are so crippled by the amount of time in which we sit, we have redesigned our movement patterns to compensate for what we call the seated posture. Ill-fitting shoes allow this posture to prosper and enhance it and it’s rhythm. Thus switching to run barefoot without changing the seated posture ends up with injury – mainly in the lower limb (calf muscles or foot). That said, 85% of the existing running population have ongoing injuries already. A big part of learning to run barefoot is the process of realigning the posture to its true centre of balance so it can readapt to the demands of running. This realignment process is sometimes timely but absolutely necessary not only for the skill of running but it is the foundation of unlimited progressions. From experience a lot of people try to shortcut this process and end up injured because of their impatience.
If a running style does not look like it is gliding along the earth then it is inefficient. It must be said that we are all pretty similar in our make-up. The majority of us humans have two feet, two legs, a pelvis, a spine, two arms, a head, skin, muscles, tendon/ligaments and a nervous system to say the least. This means that our general centre of mass is pretty much in the same, give or take a bit due to your height. (Your general centre of mass (GCM) lies at the same height as the pelvis – in China this is called your Chi – centre) Running is a skill, like all movement, and it is how efficiently you move that centre of mass that determines your skill level. Simply put if your GCM lands behind your place of support in running you will be dealing with excess force. Termly known as a breaking force. This then has an effect on the rhythm of running. However, we have been given some unique tools and these tools work efficiently if the vibration they receive is right. When running looks as if it is gliding they can all work to their optimal level.
Something for Everyone
In under a minute I get people to feel a transition to what feels like gliding on earth. As I said we are all designed the same, the interesting part for coaches like me is the mindset that comes into the arena. This is why coaching is an art. Anyone can drill bodies to get stronger, sports science proves this! However not everyone can get people to glide. It takes a holistic practice in body, mind and belief. It is what I call ultimate strength and it is a skill we can all tap into. You already have been past the hardware and software! It is question of turning it on. Like anything it takes time. From experience I work in six week phases because it takes this amount of time for the body to adapt to new skill. It is six week phases for a lifetime!
How to Choose Your Shoes
It depends who you are. Complete beginners are the easiest people to train and advise. They come with very little mileage and their adaptation process runs in line with the loading they can handle. I put them straight into minimalistic shoes. Get them to walk in them for two weeks every day, train barefoot and build their foundation from there. (Running nonstop distances of 1km or more wouldn’t start until a six week training foundation was complete). The injured are much like the beginners as soon as they feel the correct motion they hit an epiphany. It just makes and feels like perfect sense; what we were designed for. It is the runner with mileage looking to improve their skills that is the hardest. Try persuading someone who regular runs 20 miles a week that they do not have the skill to run efficiently over 50 metres is a hard one! Again if the runner/athlete is prepared to give running a rest to practice form and strengthen posture, then this is the desired route. However sometimes a balance has to be achieved by training an increasing skill. Whilst through gradual adaptation decreasing running shoe soles thickness. The runners/athletes that do not achieve the goals in mobility movement patterns in the foundation course are the ones who end up with injuries.
– Walk barefoot as much as possible for two weeks before attempting barefoot running.
– In this period improve your barefoot deep squat (camp fire squat). This strengthens your lower limb whilst challenging your posture through the true centre of balance.
– Learn how to jump. Skipping, jumping off steps, jumping onto steps (all barefoot). Running is jumping from one leg to the other. A rule of thumb we use is, can you jump a skipping rope for three minutes non-stop whilst keeping an average 180 jumps per minute?
– When you do go for a barefoot run, go to a football pitch. Run side-to-side or end-to-end depending on how confident you feel. Think posture, pick your feet up and enjoy every second of the freedom you will feel. Do not over do it. If you feel tired or you have to stop be aware you have stepped into the fatigue (injury) zone. Recovery is everything so to train for another day.
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