Stepping In To Barefoot Running

The Works Sport KiltIf you’ve found your way here, then you’ve probably heard a little bit about running barefoot and are intrigued enough to want to know more. Like most people, you probably have all sorts of questions running through your head:

  • Won’t I step on glass?
  • Will me feet get ugly?
  • Do I have to grow a beard?
  • What will my girlfriend/boyfriend think?
  • Is it OK to wear shoes when I’m running barefoot?
  • Can I ever wear shoes again?

Every barefooter before you has had similar questions and have found a variety of answers (especially to that beard one). In this post we’re going to talk about some of the risks and rewards of running barefoot, what you need to do to get ready to take your first steps, and a few other tips and tricks to get you started off right.

So, to begin, let’s start by dispelling a myth.

Now, you may have heard that running barefoot will cure your plantar fasciitis, put an end to injuries forever,  grow hair on your chest, bring about world peace, etc. I’m afraid that as much as I would like all this to be true, if you’re looking for a magic cure-all, then you may be disappointed. Like any physical, outdoor activity, there is a chance you will aggravate an existing injury or even obtain a new one. Transitioning to barefoot (or minimal shoes) is notoriously risky and if done incorrectly can cause serious damage (see pretty much every article on this site for tips on how to minimise this).

However, though running barefoot isn’t a 100% cure for running injuries, it does offer a number of very worthwhile benefits.

To begin with, it’s FUN! Really, really fun! I honestly think this is the top reason why so many runners find their way into running barefoot. It’s hard to overstate the enjoyment of throwing off your shoes and running down a beach, or sloshing your way along a muddy trail.

What barefoot running offers is a change from the increasingly common mentality of needing to experience pain and discomfort for the sake of exercise. One thing that barefooters seem to have in common is the uncanny ability to smile throughout their runs. It sounds cheesy as hell, but it really does give you a spring in your step, and can bring back the enjoyment of running to those who have lost it.

Apart from sheer pleasure, there are many physical benefits to running unshod as well. Once you learn how to do it correctly and safely, it is a great way to stretch and strengthen your feet. Our poor feet spend a lot of time in shoes that, frankly, aren’t fit for feet. The damage caused by office shoes in particular, especially high-heels (or so I hear) is appalling.

By running au naturelle every now and then, it’s possibly to strengthen the arches of your feet and even reverse some of the damage caused by shoes. Your feet will start to change, and many barefooters, myself included, have experienced widening feet as their toes spread apart. Once you get to this point, the idea of cramming your piggies back into a pair of hush puppies is abhorrent.

What I’ve found really surprising about learning to run barefoot however, has little to do with feet at all. As you scan the ground in front of you for broken glass, thorns, dog poo, etc, something strange happens to your brain. You start to notice more, be aware of your surrounding more, and even begin to feel more ‘present’. It’s something akin to mindfulness meditation, and can have a major affect on you, even when you’re not running. Barefoot running is meditating without needing to meditate, and even more than shod running, can snap you out of a funk like you would not believe.

Now there is one concern that new barefooters have that can’t be dismissed. It’s the totally justified fear of stepping on something sharp. The fact is that when you leave the protection of a pair of shoes behind, you open your soles to the possibility of damage. At first this seems like a really dumb idea, but in practice, it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Think of it like parenting – you can wrap your kids up in cotton wool to protect them from ever getting hurt, or you can let them roam free and collect the bruises and scrapes that will be inevitable. By protecting the child, they never learn how to deal with bumps and bruises, so when they eventually grow up and get their first scrape, the world seems to be coming to an end. For the free-roaming kid, they’re likely to get bumped around a little bit initially, but they learn from the experience and develop the skills and resilience to manage or avoid similar situations in the future.

The same goes with feet. Sure, you might get the odd scratch or bruise, but this will make you more aware of your surroundings and more careful about how you run. It forces you to treat your body and environment with respect which, in the long term, pays off huge dividends. And don’t forget, your feet evolved to do this, so they’re actually very well equipped to deal with outdoor terrain.

Initially, when the shoes first come off, your feet will likely be soft and weak. You’re going to feel every little stone and stick, and it’s probably going to be a little bit uncomfortable and even painful. But by slowly exposing your feet to more and more time in direct contact with the ground, your brain will learn how to filter out the unimportant signals and focus in on what’s important.

Many people think that by running barefoot all the time, you just end up with big, nasty callouses, and that this toughening of the skin is what makes it easier for long term barefooters to cope with the sensations. In fact, after seven years of barefoot running, I have got very little callousing on my feet, and in fact I think it’s actually less than when I always wore shoes. Despite this, I can run on gravel now that would have stopped me in my tracks in the early days.

Barefoot running is not for everyone, and that’s fine, but it can be a very rewarding way to spice up your running, improve your foot health, and allow you to feel more attuned to your surroundings. You don’t have to do it for every run, and you don’t have to run marathons unshod either. All you need to do is take off your shoes, slow down, and enjoy the experience.

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

Barefoot running is not for everyone and has associated risks that may not be suitable to your individual situation. Please see out disclaimer regarding information shared on this site.

4 Simple Tips To Increase Running Cadence (Guest Post by Cara Haley!)

The following is a guest post by our friend Cara Haley from Fitaholic Gear

Running, as all runners know,  is quite a repetitive sport, and also one associated with a wide variety of possible injuries. The running cadence is the number of strikes made by your feet for a set period of time.

By increasing your running cadence, you increase your speed and improve your performance. Also, by improving your running cadence you decrease the risks of shin splints and other running related injuries, and improve your ability for long term, healthy running.

To determine your running cadence, count the number of times one of your feet steps on the ground for one minute when running. Multiply it by two and you will get your cadence. You should do that to determine both your training cadence and your racing cadence. Of course, your cadence is affected by the terrain you are running on, the conditions, as well the length of your running stride.

The majority of the runners consider 180 steps per minute to be the cadence to strive for.

There are ways to increase the running cadence. Here are 4 simple tips to help you do that:

  1. You need to determine your running cadence in order to attempt to increase it.
    So, measure it, and re-measure it periodically to calculate your cadence. Consider wearing fitness gear, such as a watch with enabled GPS which has a metronome and accelerometer to keep track of your cadence and your progress.

    When you first start to increase your cadence, your running will feel different than usual. Do not overdo it, and try to increase the strikes of your feet slowly. This will make the progress feel more natural and will not hinder your performance or increase the risk of injuries.
    Try increasing your cadence by 5% at a time. Once you are used to the increased cadence you can opt for another increase of 5%. Take it slowly but surely.

  2. Try listening to music with a faster rhythm while you are running.
    You will find that your feet will tend to follow the rhythm, and this can help increase the cadence naturally as well. All you need is a small mp3 player such as one of these here. There are various websites which provide playlists and music which is suitable for increasing the number of steps you make per minute.
  3. You can also use a metronome to provide you with the pace rate you are striving for.
    Just follow the beats or clicks to increase your steps per minute.
  4. Visualize your running cadence in a mental rehearsal of your run.
    By visualizing the result you want to reach you train your brain and it will in turn train the body to automatically adjust to the new cadence. You can also try running in place in front of a mirror with your feet at a shoulder-width.

    Position your arms as if you are running, and start running in place. Bring the knees half way up and run as fast as you can on one spot. The knees need to be pointing straight ahead, and your heels shouldn’t touch the ground as you are doing that. Run for 20 seconds and rest for a minute after that.

    Keep track of the number of foot strikes you make for each run. Repeat the running twice. Do this exercise two times a week, and keep track of your progress. This exercise helps train the feet to leave the ground as soon as possible when running, which leads to an increase of cadence.

Remember the 5% rule, and stay safe at all times when working on increasing your cadence. This is the best way to do it, and will keep you safe from injuries from overtraining.

Written by C.Haley: Cara is addicted to running, fitness, preparing healthy food, and spending time with her family. She blogs for Fitaholic Gear, Comfort Hacks and a number of other sites, as she wants share her passion for fitness with those who are looking to make lasting lifestyle changes.

XeroShoes Do It Again With The New Prio

They’re here, They’re finally here! 

Ever since I saw my first glimpse of the new XeroShoes Prio, I knew I had to have them. Their sleek design and barefoot pedigree made them shoes to be sought after, and now, here I sit, with the box open on my lap, and I have to say – I’m not disappointed.

I expected the Prio to be light, and they are. I expected them to be flexible, and they are. I expected them to be breathable, comfortable, and affordable. Tick, tick, tick.

What I didn’t expect was that these shoes would be so much better than the competition.

Here’s a company that has been around since the beginning of the minimalist/barefoot running movement. They started with a very basic, DIY sandal, with a sole that was designed to be lighter than a car tyre. Basically it was a slight modernisation of the Huarache sandals famously described in the barefoot running classic Born to Run.

Fast forward a little less than a decade, and this tiny operation has grown up and is now producing shoes that other companies would charge upwards of $400 for (I’m looking at you Vivobarefoot).

 

Designed by barefoot runners, for barefoot runners, the Prio is an engineering marvel. It still follows the basic design of a huarache sandal, with the strapping cradling the shoe in a familiar crisscross pattern. But within that layer of strapping is now a lightweight mesh upper, which provides comfort and protection while still allowing maximum airflow across the foot. Most minimalist shoes these days have mesh uppers, but somehow, the Prio manages to get it just right, to the point where it’s easy to forget that the mesh is even there.

The protective covering doesn’t just stop at the upper however. Underfoot, there is a soft, yet thin fabric layer, covering the wafer-thin FeelTrue rubber sole. Unlike its sister shoe, the Hana, this soft inner sole features hidden stitching, which makes them more aesthetically appealing, and much more comfortable, even without the optional insole which is included in the box.

To top it all off, the Prio features one of the nicest toe boxes on the market. It is spacious enough for a full range of motion, even for wider feet, but doesn’t have the “clown shoe” effect that many wide-box shoes have.

With all of the new features in the Prio, it’s also comforting to see many of the building blocks that make XeroShoes sandals and shoes so great. The simple, yet effective grip underfoot, and the sensible lacing system make for a shoe that can be taken anywhere – off-road or on the streets.

Performance-wise, I can’t fault these shoes. I admit, I haven’t done much running in them yet (damn you, Cyclone Debbie), but the few K’s I’ve clocked up have been very pleasant, both at running and walking pace. I was very surprised at how much of a marked difference they made in running as compared to the Hana, which until now has been my go-to walking shoe.

When running in the Prio, you can literally feel the breeze blowing across your feet, and the ground underfoot, but with the security of knowing you’re not going to come to harm by the occasional rogue thorn or sharp rock.

As you can probably tell, the Prio has done more than impress, and is hands down the best minimalist shoe I have worn to date. I’m hoping they wear out soon so that I can buy another pair!

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank XeroShoes for providing us with sample shoes for testing. to purchase your own pair, and show your support, please visit their site at xeroshoes.com

 

Best Strategies For Building Foot Muscles and Strength (Guest Post By Jane Grates!)

Learning to run and have a good stride is a practiced discipline especially when you are changing running styles. For runners who have worn the typical jogging shoe all their lives, building foot strength and endurance is important. There are few practical strategies for strengthening your feet while alleviating any potential for pain or injury in the future.

The most crucial thing to remember when beginning to train for minimal or barefoot running is not to dive into training too fast. Think of building your foot muscles and strength as a long-term project. You want to do a little at a time and slowly build up your foot’s endurance by pushing the limits on daily basis.

The first step before you dive into training is to test the strength in your feet. One way to do this is to find rollers of different sizes and densities. Start with the larger and softer density roller and apply partial body weight by being seated. Measure the amount of pressure you can handle before applying more. Increase the amount of density and use a smaller roller until you feel that you can handle a fair amount of pressure.

The next thing to consider is your stride. Most barefoot or minimalistic runners‘ strike with either their mid-foot or the forefoot. When you run barefoot, you automatically strengthen the muscles in the arch of your foot, which is a great way to prevent a collapse later on.

Shamma5One step towards preparing your feet for barefoot running is to invest in a good pair of minimal shoes. Test out your foot strength and endurance by learning to forefoot strike with minimalistic shoes on a hard but smooth surface such as a track or tennis court. You will know immediately from the response of your body if you are ready to move on after a few days. Make sure to pay attention to your form and try to create good form from the beginning. It’s also good to build up the calluses on your feet prior to going completely barefoot. There are many minimal shoes on the market that allow you to practice your forefoot strike.

When looking for a shoe, stay away from a built up heel. A larger heel will cause you to over-point your toes, which causes unnecessary pain and possible damage to the foot.

Find a shoe with a flexible sole and no arch support. When the sole is too stiff, it tends to prevent the flattening of the arch, which in turn keeps the muscles in the foot from functioning naturally. An easy rule of thumb is that if you can’t easily bend the sole of the shoe, it’s too stiff. In the first few days of training you may feel your muscles in your feet tire quickly, but this will eventually get better over time.

Overall the benefits from barefoot running outweigh any negatives. For example, you don’t have to worry about buying the latest jogging shoes. Plus, runners find that it takes less energy to forefoot strike, because they utilise the natural spring of the foot when stepping down. Running barefoot also allows you to carry less mass, which is great when you need to accelerate or get more push from each stride. If that’s not enough, how about the pure and simple fact that barefoot running feels great! Your feet have ton of nerves that are activated upon each step, so it’s an amazing rush. Lastly, with barefoot running there is very little impact delivered to the foot upon landing, so it’s really comfortable provided you take the time to strengthen and prepare your feet.

Author’s Bio:

janegrates1Jane Grates

Jane is an entrepreneur based in Copenhagen, Denmark. She owns several websites including Monica’s Health Magazine. When not busy with her websites, she travels to popular running destinations.

Barefoot shoes: The new Xeroshoes Ipari Hana reviewed

Xeroshoes Ipari Hana

Xeroshoes Ipari Hana

It’s hard to know where the Xeroshoes team find the time to develop, test, and bring to market such a wide variety of well-crafted, thoughtfully designed, and beautiful shoes, but I’m glad they do!

It seems like just yesterday they announced the release of my favourite running sandal, the Umara Z-Trail, but now they’ve created something completely new, and very surprising from a company that has until now specialised in sandals.

I’m referring of course, to the brand new Ipari Hana, which makes its debut TODAY!

2016-10-18-09-57-50I was fortunate enough to receive a sneak peak pair to try out, and am glad I did, because these are going to fly off the shelf. Want to know why? Keep reading.

Let’s start with the construction. The Ipari Hana have a great base to start out on, as they feature the unparalleled Xeroshoes “FeelTrue” rubber soles. This makes them super-flexible and at very thin 5.5 mm, provide excellent ground feel.

Moving up, we have the insole. I’ve had a play with them both with and without insoles, and even though the insoles are technically removable, the Hanas are and are intended to be worn with them in, and are much more comfortable this way. They’ve very thin though, so there is not a major difference in ground feel with them in.

2016-10-18-09-57-37

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Next we 2016-10-18-09-57-00have the uppers. At first glance, they look like they are made of a single layer of canvas material, but on closer inspection, we can see that they are also partially lined with leather (suede?). This touch really makes the Hana feel like a proper shoe, and greatly improves the comfort factor. The leather is soft against your feet, flexible, and durable.

The Hana is intended as a casual shoe, and unfortunately isn’t waterproof, but you can’t have everything, and most minimal shoes fall into this category these days. I haven’t tried it yet on my Hanas, but I’ll likely use the tried and true Scotch Guard trick (ie: spraying them with Scotch Guard) and bump up the water resistance a little.

2016-10-18-09-58-20Finally on to my favourite bit. I don’t have a word for it, as I’ve never seen it before, but the bit of material that the laces thread through is GENIUS. I don’t know how such a simple structure can make such a big difference, but for those of us who wear shoes without socks, this is a godsend. (If you know what this bit is called, please let me know in the comments!)

What it manages to do is move the tightening action to the top of the foot, instead of the outside of the foot. This is a very subtle difference, but is IMHO a killer feature that would (read: will) guarantee I’ll be looking out for tihs feature in future shoe purchases.

On to performance. These aren’t running shoes (unfortunately), but rather sit very nicely in the day-to-day shoe category. I’ve worn mine mostly for trips to the shops and walking the dog, and the best praise I can give them is that straight out of the box they’ve felt like an old pair of shoes. What I mean by this is that they’re not stiff and don’t feel like they need to be worn in. This being said, they have begun to stretch a tiny bit, which is  to be expected wit canvas/leather, but this has only improved the comfort.

On2016-10-18-09-58-48e downside for now, is that the Ipari Hana are only available in Men’s sizes. But don’t worry ladies, there is a women’s version due for release shortly (shh don’t tell anyone I told you).

There’s not much else to say about the Ipari Hana apart from WOW. For a first full shoe, Xeroshoes have done a brilliant job. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

If you’re interested in getting a pair, act fast, and use this link to get your pair discounted to $64.99 USD during the release period (before they sell out!). 

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank the team at Xeroshoes for letting us road test their latest products. Please show your support by visiting their site and browsing their amazing products!

Think You’re Too Slow? Here’s Why You’re Wrong.

StopwatchIt can be disheartening when you’re training as hard as you possibly can, but you’re still not seeing results. Maybe you’re in peak physical shape and you just can’t shave off one more second. Maybe you’re on the other end of things and questioning if you’re even meant to be a runner. Either way, you’re probably a lot faster than you think you are. Here’s why.

When you look at average times for a mile or whatever distance you’re looking to hit, typically these trackers don’t take into account how much inclines change or how many terrible hills you’re pushing yourself to run up. They don’t take into account your weight, level of fitness, or natural ability. In general, they’re just misleading. It might be corny, but the fact is that you can only measure yourself against yourself. That’s the only running time that really matters. And if you can’t get any faster, that’s probably your body saying, “Hey, this is how fast you’re supposed to be running. Quit pushing yourself so hard – you’re going to get injured if you do.”

Running calculators are just as inaccurate as apparent “average times.” Consider the Riegel calculator, a running calculator which attempts to figure out how fast you’ll run based on one race time when you add or subtract miles. It sounds straightforward enough. But imagine comparing your pace in a short sprint to a marathon. A calculator can’t possibly predict how your body will move from a sprint to a long distance run. It’s been proven that some people are natural sprinters and others are more inclined for long distance running. If this is you, you could either be running much faster or slower than that calculator predicts you will. This is yet another reason you’re faster than you think you are: if you’re not a natural long distance runner, you’re going to struggle a bit harder than the natural. It’s in your genes, man.

Another issue with running calculators is that almost all of them are based on the times of elite athletes. The way an elite runner runs is much different than the way the average runner runs when it comes to pacing, gait, and all sorts of other factors that determine how fast you’ll finish a race.

All of the above have been technical ways that measuring your speed just doesn’t work when it comes to determining how fast you are. Because of this, you’re probably faster than you think you are. There is of course more to it, though.

One way that you can run faster than you think is by mixing things up. Long distance runners focus so much on long distance running that they don’t realize how important speed training is. Tempo style workouts just aren’t enough. What you need to become faster is faster running exercises. Think sprints and interval training. If you’re not trying out different strategies to speed up, you’re letting yourself down. You can run faster than you think – you just have to train smart.
Perfect your form and gait. If you’re working hard but have bad form, it doesn’t matter how hard you work. You need the foundation of a strong technique to become the fastest you can.

Beyond training adjustments, another way of looking at things is taking a key word from the phrase “you’re faster than you think.” That key word is “think.” There are numerous studies that back up the power of positive thinking, no matter how corny you may think it is. Visualise yourself running faster, running as if you could run forever. Listen to motivational speeches, encouraging high-tempo music, and even happy pop songs while you’re running. They’ll propel you forward, as will mantras that encourage you like, “I’ve got this,” “I’m a fast runner,” and “Just keep going.” You’re faster than you think you are because right now you’re too hung up on thinking you’re slow. And what you think becomes your reality.

Start believing in yourself now.

Once again, the focus should be on yourself. Running isn’t about competing. It’s about the enjoyment you get from pushing yourself hard, reaching goals, and living a healthy life. If you’re the type to look around you, challenge others to races, or talk yourself down, you’ve got to stop. All runners enjoy running: that’s what you have in common. What you don’t have in common is body type, various strengths and weaknesses, body weight and body fat percentage, muscle mass, and all sorts of other factors. Because of this, you can only race yourself. And you’re the only person you should be concerned with beating in a race, as you’re the only true measuring stick you have to go by. When you stop beating yourself in races, congratulate yourself: you’ve reached peak physical shape. That’s something worth celebrating.

This has been a guest post by Dan Chabert

Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, hchabertusband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on runnerclick.com, and nicershoes.com and he has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.

Study: Barefoot Running May Improve Perception And Working Memory

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

ThinkBarefootA recent study (pdf) out of the University of North Florida is shedding light on the cognitive effects of running barefoot. Their study, which consisted of 72 fit and healthy students, tested how working memory is affected by running barefoot versus shod.

The results were rather interesting, and support the idea that barefoot running requires more attention and awareness to avoid treading on obstacles. The trial ran over 2 days, and participants performed several running sessions around a track, alternating barefoot and shod. While running they were tasked with trying to step on small targets strewn about the course, while also performing a working memory test (phew!).

The results showed that runners who had completed a barefoot run in an earlier session and were trying to step on the targets in a later session, had higher working memory scores than the the other groups. What this suggests is that running barefoot and trying to pick a particular route, can engage the working memory part of the brain more effectively than in other scenarios.

The paper suggests that this may be a result of increased proprioception from actually feeling the targets, and also from the need to be more aware of the route chosen when running. They go on to suggest that further studies are required, on larger populations, and that testing experienced barefoot runners could provide some more interesting and useful results.

It’s exciting to see creative studies involving barefoot running starting to emerge. This particular study seems to have been reasonably rigorous, well thought out, and conservative in its conclusions. Another small part of the puzzle of what makes barefoot running different from shod running has been revealed, which is great news for our sport.

What do you think of this study? Have you noticed any benefits from making the switch to barefoot? Let us know in the comments!