Written by Barefoot Dawsy
Taking your shoes off is the natural first step in learning how to run barefoot. It’s what you do in these next few weeks though that may mean the difference between a smooth transition and aching calves or worse. You’ll hear it often on this site, but it bears repeating: Take your time during the transition period and resist the temptation to do more.
This week’s sessions are going to focus on lifting and landing. When you’re running barefoot, you want to make sure that your feet and legs are relaxed, your knees are bent, and you’re landing softly. You don’t want to be pushing your foot towards the ground as you land, but rather you want ot focus on lifting them off the ground. Your foot will fall to the ground on its own, so why waste any energy pushing it down?
The design of traditional running shoes encourages heel-striking by adding a wedge of padding at the back of the shoe. When barefoot, you haven’t got the benefit of all that padding, but you can use the natural springs that come built-in to your feet and legs. When running barefoot, you’ll want to land on your forefoot, instead of your heel, and gently lower your foot until the heel brushes the ground. This week’s exercises will help you learn how to do this safely while building up your foot muscles as well.
Please consult your doctor before embarking on any training program as advice offered may not be suitable for some people.
Since it’s nearly impossible to resist, and chances are you’d do it anyways, the first thing we’re going to do is go for a run. Don’t get too excited though, it’s just to the end of the block. Take off your shoes and just go for a short jog to the end of the block and back. You don’t want to go far, so no further than 100m or so. Pay attention to how your feet feel – are you heels hitting the ground first? How does the ground feel beneath your feet? Keep your eyes out for debris and try to avoid the nastier stuff for now.
This is your baseline. Chance are if this was your first ever barefoot run, you experienced a lot of new sensations, ranging from pure enjoyment to discomfort or even pain. We’re going to build on this run over the coming weeks to the point where you will feel stronger and more confident in how you are placing your feet. The ground won’t seem as foreign and the sharp bits won’t feel as rough any more.
Once you’ve completed your run, take stock of how your body is feeling. Are your calves sore? Have you got any hotspots on your feet or even any blisters? Any pain or discomfort at this point will tell you that your form needs a bit of tweeking. Take note of these niggles and we’ll see to them before long. If you’re experiencing actual pain after the run, stop and rest for a day or until the pain subsides before continuing on to sessoin 2.
Now the hard work begins. Today it’s time to learn your first drill. Once learned, we’re going to take it outside and try out a few different terrains. For the purposes of grading terrain, we’re going to use a scale of 1 to 4 to judge the type of ground our feet will be travelling over. Here are the different levels and some examples of each:
Level 1 (soft): Grass, carpet, sand
Level 2 (forgiving): Sprung or padded floors, humus trails, soft earth
Level 3 (hard): Concrete or Wooden floors, pavement, rock, hard trails
Level 4 (rough): Gravel, rough asphalt, lava
Find a nice hard (Lv3) surface, such as a sidewalk. Start by standing barefoot with your feet a little less than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees so that you are crouching a little bit, but keep your back and head straight. Face forward and look off into the distance.
Starting with your left leg, lift your leg until your knee is at waist height. Make sure that your right leg remains bent and that your back and head stay nice and straight. Now lower your foot into the starting position. It can be helpful to place something on the ground at your toes as a reference that you can feel each time you step back down. A pencil or stick shoulddo. Now repeat for the right leg.
Practice this a few times until you get the basic movement down and you are certain that your posture remains consistent and that your feet are returning to their exact starting position. Be sure that your head and shoulders are not moving up and down. Only your leg should move during this exercise.
What you have just learned to do is a minor variation of the 100-Up. Why’s it called a 100-Up? Because you’re going to now do 100 of them – 50 each leg. The key here is to make sure that you do 100 perfect leg raises. Any time your head or shoulders move, you lose your balance, or your feet doesn’t return to the correct spot, start the count again.
Needless to say you may not be able to complete a full set of 100 on your first go. Keep at it, be honest with yourself, and keep trying until you get it, even if it takes weeks. Once you can do 100 flawless leg raises, you’re ready to move to the next step.
Once you can do 100, take stock of your feet and legs to make sure that you haven’t got any injuries or niggles. If you have got some, stop. Wait until your body feels well again, and repeat the 100 again. Pay attention to your form and your landings and re-assess yourself again. Keep repeating until you are free of pain and discomfort.
Now that you’ve learned how to do 100-Ups on a hard surface, let’s take a step back and try them out on a forgiving surface. Take notice of how it feels as you land on a slightly softer surface. As the gound beneath you becomes softer, there is a tendency to press your feet harder into the ground. This should be avoided, and instead try to gracefully place each foot on the ground, then really focus on lifting them back up. Keep this up for a set of 100 and if you’re feeling good, move on to the next session.
The best way to perfect your form is to find the roughest surface you can to practice on. Rough surfaces may feel terrible but they’re excellent for learning on as they give you a HUGE amount of feedback. Even standing on a really rough surface can make your feet sore, so be sure to relax your feet and move gently. Keeping your knees nice and bent will help you to ease your feet up and down and reduce the pressure on your soles as you land. If you find this exercise too tough, just take a break, practice a bit more on a forgiving surface, then try again. Remember there’s no need to rush. Every extra minute spent focusing on form here could save you weeks of time off from injuries down the road.
As a treat to round off the week, head off to a nice grassy area or soft carpeted room to do your last set of 100-ups. As with the Forgiving session, be sure that you’re not forcing your feet into the ground, and that you are focusing on lifting your feet. Enjoy the feeling of the grass beneath your feet and take a couple of days off before trying next week’s exercises.
Congratulations on getting this far!
1. First run complete
2. 100-Ups on Hard (lv3) ground
3. 100-Ups on Forgiving (lv2) ground
4. 100-Ups on Rough (lv4) ground
5. 100-Ups on Soft (lv1) ground
6. No blisters/Sore calves/Injuries