6 Weeks to Barefoot Running – Part 3: Lifting your feet

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

<< Back to Part 2: Movement or Start from the Top

First off, congratulations on making it this far. Transitioning to barefoot running is a real challenge as it works new muscles (or old muslces that haven’t been used), and can be a slow process.

By now you should be getting a feel for how to move around in bare feet. We’ve explored how to place your feet when landing and how to bend your knees as you move forward. Both these techniques are very useful for absorbing shock and adapting to your terrain. It may feel a bit unusual at first, but once you’ve got the hang of it, your running will benefit enormously.

This week, we’re going to focus on one of the trickier aspects of running barefoot – the foot lift. We touched on this a little in week 1. When running, there is a tendency to want to push your foot into the ground and push off. This technique has its place in some types of running, for example sprinting, but when running over medium to large distances, energy conservation becomes the most important thing. With this in mind, rather than pushing into the ground, we need to lift our foot off the ground instead.

An easy way to visualise what I’m trying to get at is to picture yourself riding a bicycle. Imagine that your feet are strapped to the pedals and that instead of pushing our feet DOWN to make the pedals turn, you’re lifting your feet UP to pull the pedals around. Allow the momentum to bring your foot back around, then PULL up again to move the pedals. This is the sort of motion that we want to mimic when running. Your feet should be moving in a circular motion, and the energy you’re expending should be focused on lifting your feet off the ground, not pushing them down into it.

To get your body used to this way of running, this week we’re going to do some butt-kicks. These are basically an exaggerated form of running where you focus on kicking yourself in the rear as you run. This works because your focus shifts on applying energy to the lifting portion of your stride as you accellerate your foot towards your butt. There will be more on this in a minute, but first, let’s go for a run!

Session 1

It’s always nice to start the week off with a run, so take your shoes off and head out on the usual out-and-back to the end of the block (no more than 100m). Take your time, run slowly and try to think about the lessons you’ve learned over tha past couple weeks. When you get back, take a break, check for any damage, and when you’re ready, go again. Make sure you’re bending your knees as you run. You don’t need to exaggerate the motion as much as you did in last week’s exercises, but you should definitely feel yourself crouching a little and your knees should stay bent.

If you feel up for it, go ahead and do a third lap. We’re getting to the part of the program where your mileage will start to slowly increase, so take the opportunity to get your legs moving. This time, as you run, I want you to clear your mind and focus on one thing: smiling. Enjoy the run, feel the ground beneath your feet, and don’t think too much about your form. Your body’s learning what to do, so let it do its work and just take in the sights.

If you can do all this without any bruising, blistering, sore calves, etc, then move on to the next session. If not, take a day or two off and try again. Remember, there’s no rush.

Session 2

This week we’re focusing on lifting your feet, and to do this we’re going to be doing butt-kicks. These are deceptively simple exercises that are similar to the 100-Ups that you did in Week 1.

To start off, take your shoes of, and stand with your feet close together, and your knees slightly bent. Now, lift your left foot back and snap it up to your butt. You don’t need to actually kick yourself, but you should aim to at least try to get your foot to lightly touch your bottom. Now, let your foot fall back to the ground. Try not to add any extra energy while doing this, and just let gravity pull it back to earth. Now repeat with the right foot. Easy right?

For today, try to do 50 butt-kicks with each leg, focusing on snapping your leg up, and letting it fall back down. You may not be able to do 100 on your first session, so if you can’t, just take a day off and try again later. Keep at it, and check your form and your feet constantly to make sure you’re doing it right and not causing any damage.

Session 3

Now that you have the basic movement down, we’re going to speed it up a little. Today we’re going to do 100 butt-kicks again, but this time, don’t let your feet linger on the ground. As soon as the left foot touches the ground, lift your right foot, and vice-versa. You should find yourself running in place and kicking your feet up at a reasonably high cadence. Do 100 of these and call it a day.

Because we’re increasing the speed of movement, we’re also increasing the risk of your form starting to waver. Pay close attention to how you’re moving your legs, and try not to bounce too much. Land with bent knees. As always, if you start to feel sore or hurt yourself in any way, just stop, call it a day, and try again tomorrow.

Session 4

Now that you have the running motion down, let’s try it with some movement. Start by butt-kicking in place a few times, then when you’re ready, push your hips forward slightly. This slight movement should be enough to impel you forward. Run forward for 20 steps, then turn around and come back. As you run make sure that you’re not leaning forward, but that you’re pressing your hips ahead to cause the forward motion. Your back and head should be aligned and should sit above your hips. The shift in centre of gravity from your hips should only be slight.

Now turn around again and run another 20 steps. Play with the feeling of falling that is induced by moving your hips forward and back. If your body is aligned, you shouldn’t need to move your hips much. Keep kicking your feet up to your bum and letting them fall gently back to ground. Turn around and run another 20 paces back, then return and do the same back to your starting point.

How was that? We’re going to stop there for today, so take stock, get some rest and when you’re ready, proceed to the next session.

Session 5

To round off the week, we’re going to do a run. Find a nice place that you can run for a kilometer or so. This can be a track, a run around the neighbourhood, a trail, whatever you like. Avoid running only on grass or sand at this point as the softness of it can cause you to develop bad habits. Pick a hard or rough surface to run on. If you’re unsure how far a kilometer is, or can’t be bothered measuring, just go for a 6-7 minute run.

When you’re running this time, you don’t need to kick your butt, but remember the feeling of whipping your feet up and letting them fall back down. Move at a comfortable pace and breathe through your nose. If you need to breathe through your mouth, you’re working too hard, so slow down a bit.

If you have a hard time running this far, try alternating running and walking in 30 second to 1 minute intervals. Each time you go out for a run, reduce the amount of time you spend walking until you find yourself running the whole distance.

At the end of your run, just slow down to a walk, and stroll at a slow pace for a few more minutes. This will give your legs time to cool down, which should save you from getting tight calves tomorrow.

Hopefully you had an enjoyable run and didn’t step on anything too nasty. Check your feet for blisters and your calves for tightness. Stretch out your legs for a few minutes. Start by rotating your ankles, then stretching your calves, then groin and hip flexors. I’ll include a full stetching program soon that you will be able to follow. In the meantime, just try to hit the major muscle groups and tendons. Spend a good 5-10 minutes stretching.

As usual, take stock of any soreness or injuries and rest as needed. Fill out your scorecard and then it’s on to Part 4!

1. Third run complete
2. 100 butt-kicks
3. 100 fast butt-kicks
4. 4 X 20 moving butt-kicks
5. 1k run complete
6. No blisters/Sore calves/Injuries

Continue to Part 4: Cadence>>


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