6 Weeks to Barefoot Running – Part 1: Baring Your Soles

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.

Session 1

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.

Session 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.

Session 3

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.

Session 4

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.

Session 5

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!

Scorecard:
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

Continue to Part 2: Movement >>

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6 Weeks to Barefoot Running

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

The hardest part about learning to run barefoot is the actual learning to run barefoot part. It’s not as easy as just taking off your shoes! Without carefully easing into your feet, there’s a very real risk of injury that can put back not only your barefoot running, but also shod running as well.

The reason for this is that your feet have become accustomed to being supported on all sides by soft, cushy shoes. Even if you’ve never run before, chances are you’ve worn a pair of shoes nearly every day of your life since you could walk. All this mollycoddling has taken its toll and your feet are going to need some serious rehab before they’re ready to take to the streets.

Over the next 6 weeks, I’m going to walk you through the steps required to strengthen the muscles in your feet and get your soles used to touching actual ground. You can follow along with the program from week to week, but don’t worry if you are unable to complete each stage in seven days. Each of us are different, and even if it takes a year to transition comfortably, then that’s fine…better to take too long than to risk an injury do to transitioning. I can’t promise that there will be no discomfort involved or that you’re not going to want to just start running, but I can promise that if you follow this plan you’ll stand a much better a chance of safely adapting to barefoot running than you probably would without it.

The key to this program is following it as closely as possible and not rushing through it, even if you think you can do more than is prescribed. I can pretty much guarantee that once you have your shoes off you’ll want to hit the road and start running, especially if you are already used to running in shoes. But hold back, follow the program and take it slow. There is nothing more disheartening than doing too much too soon and finding yourself sitting on the couch for 3 weeks waiting for an injury to heal.

For the next six weeks, there will be a weekly training article that will talk a bit about barefoot running and suggest some exercises to ease you into it. At the end of each week’s training plan, you’ll find a scorecard. It will contain a couple of questions that will determine if you’re ready to continue to the next stage. Only once your scorecard is successfully completed should you continue onto the next stage.

If your scorecard tells you that you are not ready to progress to the next stage, simply repeat the previous week’s exercises until you can pass and continue on. Remember that there are no points for getting to the end the quickest. This process will teach you to listen to your body and not over-extend yourself early on. Once you make it to the end of the program, you should have the skills and awareness to continue your training in a safe and comfortable way.

With all that said, let’s move on to week 1’s session: Baring Your Soles

ZemGear Ninja shoes

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

ZemGear Ninja Toe ShoesSo I was browsing the twitterverse this week when I came across a shoe I hadn’t heard of before: the ZemGear Ninja Split Toe. They looked pretty cool, so I meandered down to my local minimalist shoe store and tried a pair on.

I didn’t get the opportunity to road test them, so this review is based entirely around a wee jaunt around the store. As you’ll see below, this was enough.

The ZemGear Ninja Split Toe shoe definitely falls squarely into the “ultra-minimalist” category. It’s essentially a lightweight slipper with a thin rubber sole. It features a split “tabi” toe, which could theoretically allow you to wear flip-flops with them (why you would do this I have no idea!). The uppers are of a stretchy fabric with ‘welded’ bands that ensure a tight fit.

At first glance, these look like excellent shoes – lightweight, contoured, and at ~$50(AUD), a bargain compared to many other minimalist shoes out there.

Where these shoes fall down is in the size and attachment of the soles. These appear to be stitched on, but in such a way that there is a seam running around the perimeter of the sole. This seam actually protrudes beyond the sole and would inevitably contact the ground during running and walking. Because of this design, I wouldn’t imagine that they would take too much wear and tear, even for the lightest-stepping runner.

The second issue is once again with the sole. I have fairly average sized feet, yet I found myself stepping on the seam on the edge of the sole as I walked. I tried on a larger pair but even then I found the same problem.

Unfortunately, the sole construction of the Zem Ninja Split Toes was a deal breaker for me, and I wouldn’t consider buying a pair. However, the construction of the uppers of these shoes seemed sound. Hopefully the company will fix up these issues, and when they do, they’ll have a very strong product that will do well in the minimalist shoe market.

Unlimited Free Running Coaching

Written by BarefootDawsy

When you compare an elite runner’s stride to the average weekend warrior’s, the difference can be quite remarkable. The elite runner seems to glide over the ground with ease, whereas the amateur will often seem lumbering in comparison. So why is this? Is it just that certain people are born with an innate ability to run better than others? Well, partly yes, but that’s not the main reason.

In reality, many pro athletes owe their success to their coaches. Imagine how much your form would benefit if you had someone there for every run you took, watching you closely and telling you where you’re going wrong?

Unfortunately for most of us, a personal coach is an extravagant luxury that only the most dedicated runners can justify. But what if I told you that there were 2 coaches that are available to you on every run you take, and that they will cost you nothing to employ?

You’d probably either:
a) not believe me or
b) realise that I was talking about your feet

Now, the thing about free stuff is that it always comes at a price. In this case the price is that your two coaches are a little bit mean (you would be too if you were locked in a dark, damp, smelly place for years on end). They will tell you when you’re going wrong, but unfortunately the way they tell you is by increasing the intensity of everything your feet feel, which can often be quite painful.

As cruel as this may sound, it’s actually a form of tough love. By amplifying all of the signals your feet are receiving, to the point where they hurt, you learn quickly how NOT to step. The important thing is that you heed the warnings that your coaches are sending you and adjust your form accordingly.

Outsmarting Your Coaches

Your coaches are happy for you to learn the hard way. Lucky for you though, you’ve found this site, which is essentially like crib notes for your feet. Here are a few tips to keep your coaches happy so that they go easy on you:

  1. Relax
    This is the most important lesson to learn in running barefoot. When you are relaxed, your feet mould to the ground and flow over obstacles. Relaxed joints will allow you to absorb shocks and smoothe out your stride.
  2. Bend your knees
    Your knees are like giant springs that can absorb energy and return it to you. By bending your knees, you can reduce the impact of running and conserve valuable energy. With bent knees you can fly downhill at top speed without spending any extra energy, you can cope with even the most jagged rocks, and even run on sharp gravel without pain.
  3. Keep your cadence up
    Using a fast cadence makes barefoot running much easier, as it forces yo to keep your feet beneath you, instead of overstriding, and allows you to reduce the overall time your feet are touching the ground. By spending more time in the air and less on the ground, stones, sticks, and even glass become far less significant problems as you’re only treading on them for a minute space of time. On top of this, you get the benefit of reducing the cost of friction from your feet spending too much time on the ground. This will improve your running efficiency and reduce the likelihood of blisters.

Of course, there are dozens of tricks that can help the new barefoot runner, but for the most part, you can learn them all on your own by listening to your feet and working on figuring out what they’re trying to tell you. When you can run over gravel without feeling pain, then you are ready to venture out into the world, Grasshopper.

We’re Live!

Welcome to Beginning Barefoot! If you’re interested in trying out barefoot running, or have already started and want to learn more, then you’ve come to the right place. Our mission is to guide new barefooters into this re-emerging sport safely and enjoyably.

First, let me introduce myself – I’m Barefoot Dawsy and I’ve been running exclusively in minimalist shoes and barefoot for several years. I’m not a coach, physiotherapist or doctor, and I don’t hold degrees in physical therapy. What I do have is experience in transitioning from wearing regular shoes to no shoes and want to share it. At the risk of launching my site with a cliché, if I can make one person’s transition to barefooting easier and injury-free, then I’ve done what I set out to do.

This site’s main focus is going to be mainly on the first stages of barefoot running. This includes everything from the moment you take your shoes off for the first time, to running your first unshod race. Beyond that, we’ll have to see, but there’s PLENTY to cover before we get there, so don’t worry.

There are several aspects of running barefoot that are important for every barefoot runner to heed, and we will cover each of these as thoroughly as possible. I hope to do at least one post on these subjects per week and will also throw in some articles about the goings on in the barefoot world, some shoe reviews, and maybe even a couple surprises along the way.

Here’s a rough idea of what you’ll find on this site:

Transition

The key to making barefoot running work is in the transition. Going from shod to barefoot is when the vast majority of injuries happen to barefoot runners, and the place where most people who give it up will do so. There are several reasons for this, but the main ones are trying to do too much too soon, and not paying enough attention to good form.

Nealy every barefoot running book, blog, etc will at some point include a warning to new runners to avoid doing too much running during the transition period. Despite this, however, nearly everyone who tries it seems to end up with sore calves, blistered feet, or worse from not heeding this advice. It’s understandable too, since the feeling you get from running unshod can be exhilirating!

Because the transition period is such an important time for new barefoot runners, I’m going to be spending a lot of time discussing strategies, exercise, etc to help newbies get through this period safely and enjoyably.

Form

If there’s one reason why barefoot running is an improvement on shod running, it’s that it’s much less forgiving of bad form. When wearing shoes while running, it’s nearly impossible for your feet to become engaged in the process. Sure, you can still run, but you may as well be running with your feet cut off for all the feedback they’re giving you. This lack of feedback can lead to sloppy strides and inefficient form. This is one of the major reasons why we see so many running injuries, especially among runners who have not had any training. Running barefoot is like having a coach strapped to each foot. Sure, those coaches can be bastards sometimes and won’t let you get away with anything, but if you pay attention to them, you’ll be running with form fit for an olympian before you know it.

Shoes

Why would I have a shoe section on a barefoot running website? Simply put, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the flood of new ‘minimal’ shoes that have been entering the market. It started a few years ago with Vibram Five Fingers, and since then the “barefoot” shoe industry has exploded, and every major shoe company is now trying to grab its share of the barefoot pie.

With all these new shoes and a lot of new companies out there making them, it can be very difficult to decide which, if any, of these shoes are safe, cost-effective and comfortable enough to be bothered with.

This will include links to reviews on other sites, and some reviews of the shoes I’m able to get my hands on. Being in Australia has its disadvantages when it comes to getting one’s hands on shoes for testing, but I’ll do what I can. [Incidentally, if you’re a shoe rep and want to send me a pair or two to review, please email me!]

News

There’s a lot going on around the barefooting world, so it’s handy to have a central place to read all about it. I’ll be posting regular links to articles of interest. Be sure to follow my twitter feed (@BarefootDawsy) for regular updates and random goodness.