Ankle Mobility And The Floppy Foot Cooldown

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter in the barefoot underground lately about ankle mobility. It may be one aspect of your running that you have not spent much time thinking about, but in truth, it’s something well worth paying attention to. This is especially true for barefooters.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in the past, when we trade in our sneakers for bare feet, it transfers some of the impact created during running to other parts of our legs, especially the ankles and knees. Having nice, deep bent knees can help absorb this impact, and make for a smooth ride. When we bend our knees, naturally our ankles bend as well, to take their share of the strain.

What can happen, however, especially on longer runs, is that we run the danger of keeping our feet in a dorsiflexed (toes up, making an acute angle of our feet and leg) position for a long time. Habitually running this way can cause your ankles to tighten up, which will reduce their mobility and ability to respond to impact. This in turn can lead to all sorts of problems down the track. (I’m not a doctor or physio, but I have been affected by this in the past, so I’m speaking from personal experience. If you are experiencing pain that worries you, contact your doctor).

With a little bit of management, this condition can be easily avoided and needn’t stop you from enjoying nice, long, barefoot runs. The fix is something I call the Floppy Foot Cooldown (yes, I did just make that name up).

Basically what it involves is, once you’re finished your run, slow down to a walk. Now, as you’re walking, point the toes on one foot downwards, and give your foott a flick. The motion is something like flipping over a toy car with the top of your foot.

While you’re doing this, consciously relax your ankles, and try to feel the stretch where your foot meets the front your ankle. Keep doing this every step for about 100-200m and by the time you’re done, your ankles should be feeling nice and loose.

And that’s it! If you’re already cooling down after your runs, this is a simple little thing to add to it. If you’re not doing a cooldown walk, I strongly encourage you to do so, as it will help with all manner of ailments.

So how about you? Got any neat tricks that you do to stay fit and flexible? Any cooldown hacks that you want to share? Let us know in the comments, or post to our Facebook wall, or send me a Tweet!

Barefoot Runners Don’t Get Shin Splints

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Shin splints are one of those ailments that, legend has it, is cured by barefoot/minimalist running, yet despite this, I’m frequently asked to explain why new runners still get them.

Anyone who has had shin splints knows just how painful they can be – in extreme cases, making running impossible until they heal. The pain is usually felt up and down the front and sides of the lower legs, and can range from being slightly sore to excruciating.

To understand why shin splints may not magically disappear when you slip on a pair of Vibrams, we need to know what they are. The excellent book The Runner’s Body explains that shin splints are actually a symptom of injuries to the tibia.

They can be caused by a number of factors, but the main culprits are doing too much too soon, over training, and bone density issues caused by ageing and/or diet.

The pain we feel as shin splints is actually the bone itself being strained. When we exercise, our bones get torn up a bit, and microfissures develop. When this occurs, the body heals itself, making the bone stronger. This is perfectly natural, and desirable. The problem occurs when we overdo it, and the pain increases as more healing as required.

There are several things you can do to avoid getting shin splints, and some of them are side-effects of learning to run barefoot, which is possibly where the myth started.

Easy Does It

The first and best way to avoid getting shin splints (or any other overuse injury), is to start small, and build gradually. Allowing your body to heal naturally between runs will make you strong over the long haul. This means not only starting  with low mileage, but also taking 1-2 days of rest between runs.

Good Form

Good form is also really important, and the sooner you can learn it, the better off you will be. When we take off our shoes or remove the padding, we need to use our body to cushion the repeated shocks from our footfalls. This is true for both running and walking, and is where a lot of inexperienced runners get into trouble. Again, take it slow, put in the time up front to learn good running form, and it will save you a lot of pain down the track.

Training Methods

How you train is also important. Some exercises, such as uphill running, are excellent for preventing shin splints. It’s hard to overdo it on an uphill, so using them to build up bone and muscles is highly recommended. Conversely running down hills can make matters worse as most runners tend to brake as they run downhill, or else sprint down at full pelt.

An important thing to keep in mind is your cross-training. Running isn’t the only sport that can cause shin splints, and combining it with another high intensity activity can lead to problems. Activities such as box jumps ans sports like basketball that feature a lot of jumping can make overdoing it much more likely. You can still do these sports, but be mindful of impact forces, and learn to use your whole leg to absorb the impact forces generated.

Eating Right

Lastly, it’s really important to eat a healthy diet. When you’re doing a lot of regular exercise, your body needs a lot of raw material to allow you to get fitter and stronger. For runners, this means not only having a good helping of carbs and proteins, but also getting the right vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, for growing strong bones.

Of course shin splints aren’t unique to new runners. Many experienced runners have gone down this road, especially during training for a big event. The key is listening to your body, knowing your limits, and increasing effort gradually. With a bit of care and patience, shin splints should cease to be a concern for the duration of your running life.

So You Want To Run In Minimalist Shoes

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

So I spent most of this weekend fielding questions, comments, tweets, and emails about the recent Art Of Manliness article that came out last week. There were some excellent points raised, and I got the feeling that this is a topic that interests a lot of people.

One of the major themes that came up over and over was the question of injuries related to running in minimalist shoes. If you read the comments you will have seen a number of anecdotes from people who have hurt themselves learning how to run in them.

To address these comments, and in an effort to make it easier to understand the risks involved in minimalist running, I’ve put together this post, which I hope will help new runners avoid making injury-inducing mistakes.

Minimal Running Isn’t Barefoot Running

I think first off, that it’s important to make a distinction between minimalist running and barefoot running.

Barefoot running means that your bare feet are touching the ground as you run. This means no socks, no shoes, nothing.

Minimal, however can mean pretty much anything else. If we go by what the shoe companies tell us, minimal shoes can range from those made from the thinnest materials, such as paper all the way up to padded shoes that supposedly mimic barefoot running (such as the Nike Free).

When you run barefoot, the amount of sensation that you experience is huge, and though you get used to the signals and what is felt as pain initially dwindles, you will always retain the full range of sensation, no matter how long you run barefoot for. This increased sensation acts as a built-in checking mechanism that ensures that you don’t overdo it and cause yourself serious injury.

Similarly, when you slip on minimalist shoes for the first time, you will feel a whole new world of sensations. You may be able to feel the individual pebbles beneath your feet and get a range of motion that was impossible in regular running shoes. The problem is though, that this newfound sensitivity doesn’t last.

Before long, minimalist running can lull you into a false sense of security. They knock off a few of the rough edges and allows you to run further and faster than you would in bare feet. This may seem to be a great advantage, and treated with care, it is, but complacency breeds bad habits. Once you grow complacent, it’s easy to push yourself a bit too hard, or run a bit too far, and this is where injuries happen.

Avoiding Injury

It’s because of injuries and the reduced sensation that comes with minimal shoes that a lot of ‘true’ barefoot runners avoid them, and actively discourage people from using them. Exchanges can become heated, but largely this is an effort by barefoot runners to try to save people from themselves.

It’s human nature to push boundaries, and to (over)indulge in experiences that feel good. Minimalist running allows us to do both, which is where the problems start.

So can you run in minimalist shoes without getting hurt? Sure! But you have to be sensible. One of the major tenets of this site, and what I tell every new barefoot or minimal runner is to listen to your body. You really have to make a conscious effort to do this on every run.

On top of this, you will need to pay extra attention to keeping your feet strong. Walk barefoot as much as possible. Do feet and lower leg exercises regularly.

Most importantly, know your limits. If you can’t run a distance with perfect form, you shouldn’t be running it. This is where a lot of minimal runners get into trouble. It’s fun to sign up for races and push yourself to the limits. Everyone who has completed a race knows that they go a little faster on race day, and push a little harder. This is true of barefoot running, as much as anything, but the key difference is that in minimal shoes you can exceed your body’s limits a lot easier than you can barefoot, and this puts you at risk of injury.

The Second Transition

This site is targeted mainly at beginning barefoot and minimalist runners, but since we’re talking about the risks involved in minimal running, I think it’s a good place to bring up something that’s very common, yet little-discussed. I call it the Second Transition, and for most minimal runners, it seems to occur around the two year mark.

What happens is that the runner makes it through the initial transition into minimal running, and it becomes a habit. They will be running regularly, racing regularly, and generally having a great time of it. Encouraged by past successes, they will slowly begin to ignore the warning signs, and before they know it, an injury hits.

The injury involved will often be quite serious because of the distances and/or speeds that have been reached by the runner. I’ve heard stories of metatarsal fractures, ruptured Achilles tendons, and even plantar fasciitis.

This seems to be a turning point for many minimalist runners. It is here that they will either give up minimal running, be forced to take a break due to injury, or else take the next step and transition to barefoot running.

I lucked out in that I had heard of this phenomenon and transitioned to barefoot before it happened to me, but many people aren’t as lucky.

I don’t mean this to frighten you, but it’s important to highlight the dangers of becoming complacent and over-reaching when wearing shoes, even when you’ve become an experienced runner.

It’s Not All Bad

I don’t want to end this article on a down note, and deter future barefoot runners from giving it a go. Minimal shoes are an excellent way to give you the confidence to try out a new sport in a more familiar and comforting way.

Used correctly, you can have many years of injury-free running ahead of you, and I sincerely hope you do. Just keep in mind that barefoot and minimal running are more than just a fad or a neat party trick. It’s a serious sport and one that needs to be treated with respect.

So, get out there, enjoy yourself, and don’t forget to listen to your body!

How to not break your toes in Vibrams

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

One of the main reasons people decide to try barefoot or minimalist running is the promise of reduced injuries. Unfortunately, a quick Google search will turn up a heap of anecdotes about people suffering tarsal and metatarsal fractures in minimalist shoes. To the rest of us this essentially means that if you run in Vibrams or other minimalist shoes, you run the risk of breaking feet and/or toes.

I don’t know about you, but assuming these stories are real, to me this is very scary. Running barefoot or thin-soled shoes should be a pleasant experience, not one that would send you to the hospital. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I have a theory on why it might be happening and what can be done to avoid it happening to you.

What I think Happened

When the barefoot/minimalist movement began to take off a couple years ago, there was a lot of discussion among runners regarding the negative aspects of heel-striking. The merits of the forefoot strike were equally lauded as the next big thing in running. Then along came the Vibram Five Finger range, with their distinctive toe pockets.

What I think may have happened is that the message of landing on the forefoot somehow got mixed in with the excitement about shoes with toes, and got translated into “run on your toes”. From that point, what began happening was that people would go out, buy a pair of ‘toe shoes’ and start running on their tippy-toes. The reslut is that new runners may be putting too much pressure on their toes,  or landing way too hard on their forefeet.

Running up on your toes is a recipe for disaster. They simply are not designed to bear the weight of your entire body while running. They are thin little bones surrounded by tiny muscles and it’s no surprise that before long they would start to hurt or even break. On top of this, it reduces the surface area used by your feet to dissipate the energy used when running. This increases pressure on a single area, which can lead to serious problems.

How to avoid toes injuries

So the simple answer to avoiding this is that if you are new to running barefoot/minimalist, don’t run on your toes. Try to land with your feet nearly parallel to the ground, with the ball of your foot touching down a fraction before your toes, then allowing your heel to lightly brush the ground.

By landing lightly with a foot that’s nearly flat to the ground, you’re increasing the surface area involved in the landing. This increased surface area will help your body dissipate the energy of the landing, which in turn will reduce the chances of any one part of your foot being overloaded to the point of injury.

If you’re running in Vibrams or other minimalist shoes, it’s really important to focus on your landing for the duration of the run, as even though they might have only a thin sole, you’re not getting the full sensory experience that you would in bare feet.

Regardless of what you wear or don’t wear on your feet, it’s also essential that you listen to what your body is telling you. If you find yourself beginning to develop pains when you run, take note of them and try adjusting your form. Bend your knees, relax your ankles and increase your cadence. If the pain persists, stop running, walk for a bit and see if it goes away. If the pain continues, take a day or two off. Lastly if it doesn’t improve, go see your doctor.

By being sensible and working on your running form, you will be able to run injury-free and take full advantage of the equipment that nature gave you. Don’t let the fear of getting hurt stop you from enjoying this incredible sport, but don’t be complacent either. There are no guarantees that you will never hurt yourself, but as with most things in life, a little care and patience goes a long way.