Is Barefoot Running for Me? Guest Post by Jessica Hegg

This is a guest post from our friend Jessica Hegg from ViveHealth.com

Interested, but somewhat intimidated by the thought of barefoot running? Comical visions of Fred Flintstone powering his car with his barefeet come to mind, or Frodo Baggins and the image of the large, callused, furry feet of J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits. You may have heard of barefoot running from author Christopher McDougall who wrote the popular book Born to Run which focused a fascinating lens on the “reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons”. This tribe miraculously could run not 10, not 20, not 50, but hundreds of miles in the most rudimentary, flat sandals, and at times, completely barefoot.

No cushioning, no orthotics, no motion control, no ankle stabilization, nothing. How did they do it without tearing up their feet or spraining their ankles or tearing their plantar fascia tissue? Aren’t fancy running shoes a necessity to enhance running technique and performance and to prevent injury?

It’s the discovery of the most basic foundational principle of running technique and essentially the evolution of human bipedalism which encapsulates barefoot running. Shod running, or running with shoes, encourages a form of running where initial impact is made with a heel strike to the ground followed by pronation of the midfoot and forefoot then hitting the ground and distributing your weight.

Barefoot running flips this form on its head, engaging the forefoot first with initial impact on the lateral ball of the foot followed by the midfoot and heel striking the ground to distribute the rest of your weight. As this Harvard analysis reveals, barefoot running:

  • Strengthens the foot. With 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons in your feet, they are the powerhouse of your movement, energy, and strength. Barefoot running helps you discover muscles in your feet you didn’t even know you had, and strengthen them overtime for faster, stronger performance.

  • Is more efficient than shod running, requiring 5% less energy according to this 2014 study. How? Because a forefoot strike when running optimizes on the body’s foot and calf muscle to act like springs which store and release more energy than if you were to heel strike first like runners do when wearing shoes.

  • Feels freeing and good on the feet (after initial transition)

Worried about some of the challenges you may have heard about with starting barefoot running?

Getting started does require somewhat of a learning curve, but it is a release from fear that barefoot running is all about. The whole market of footwear when it comes to running is largely motivated by fear – fear of injury, fear of pain, fear of not being able to run as fast as you should. Barefoot running requires you to let go of this fear, which in turn unlocks stress relief and feelings of positivity. Challenges you might have in mind include:

Time: Transitioning from a heel strike to a forefoot strike takes time, training, and a strong will to hone the proper technique. The thing about shod running, however, is that it hurts like a dickens when you land on your heel barefoot. Your body is almost triggered to strike first with the forefoot after you start barefoot running because of this initial and unseemly pain.

The other thing about time is that you have to build up your barefoot running mileage slowly when you first begin, even starting by simply walking barefoot as much as possible. Aim for a quarter mile to a mile every other day in the beginning and then gradually increase around 10% distance each week.

Pain: Your feet are chock full of nerve endings, about 7,000 per foot, so in the beginning you will feel the ground beneath you in all its glory – sticks, rocks, cracked acorn shells, you name it. Overtime, with a growing awareness of your surroundings and the repeated pounding of the foot to terrain, the pain messages will dilute, calluses might develop as natural cushioning, and you will find that you can cover distance barefoot like your ancient ancestors once did.

That said, like with any sport or activity, improper form, bad posture, or weak technique might result in chronic pain in the knees, hips, ankles, etc. Never run through excruciating pain that should be evaluated by a medical professional. You will only hurt your chances of continuing barefoot running. Off the road or trail, your feet may benefit from aids like a bunion splint or hammer toe crest pad, which support certain bone deformities (bunions, hammer toes) and address arch issues that come from having to wear shoes (to work, etc).

Flexibility: Not only does barefoot running increase your stride length and the number of strides you can take when running, but it engages key muscle groups in the legs and feet that you may never have before. As your foot and leg act like springs when you strike first when running with your forefoot, you’re hamstring and calf muscles and adjacent tendons will act like powerhouses. Make sure to stretch them after runs when they are warm and pliable and even massage to break up scar tissue and stimulate blood flow to aid tissue repair.

Humans have been running for years with bare feet. As McDougall writes, “To date, the only people I’ve found who who refuse to consider the idea that running shoes are a bad idea are the people who sell them.” If you’re feeling the same way and ready to try barefoot running remember to start slow, lock down the forefoot technique, pay acute attention to your surroundings, and free yourself from fear and expectations.

Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Interested in all things related to living a healthy lifestyle she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.

Advertisements

Starting from Zero: How to Get Motivated to Workout (Guest Post By Charlie Alf)

The following is a guest post written by Charlie Alf from backpackhack.com

How long ago was it when you stood in front of the mirror in your bathroom or bedroom and said, “Today is the day I am going to start getting fit!” Seems like forever, I bet. Every person who has started their journey towards a healthier, fitter body has been in your shoes. Not knowing anything about nutrition, working out, or even calories, you hop on the crash diet train and derail over and over.

Fortunately, by the end of this article, you are going to know exactly how to first find the right motivation and how to get in shape. For real this time.

Get Your Act Together

You know what that means. If you are going to make the chance, you need to be in this completely, heart and soul. No doubts. No regrets. In order to do that, more thought has to go into your motivation than just wanting to look good. You need a thorough reason, a goal, that is going to drive you further and further until you not only crush that goal, you succeed repeatedly from here on out.

It might sound inconceivable right now, but once you consider these reasons to get fit, nothing will feel more dire:

  • Exercise decreases hypertension which is positively correlated to high-fat, high-sugar diets and sedentary lifestyles.
  • You lower your risk of diabetes and obesity, both of which shave valuable years off your life. Plus, you increase lean body mass while reducing body fat. When these two factors are more balanced, you are much healthier, and your system is more balanced.
  • Exercise keeps the bones strong. Sedentary lifestyles can induce brittle bones, so keep moving to save your body from literally breaking down.
  • Feeling tired? Exercise more. Laying around doing nothing and eating nutritionally devoid foods is actually more draining than bouts of exercise.
  • In fact, you will not only have more energy from working out, you will be in a better mood. And I am not only talking happiness over depression but being in the mood more often. Yes, exercise means better sex.
  • Moderate walking has been proven to boost the brain’s memory center, lowers the stress-induced hormone, cortisol, and makes you happier.

The list could go on and on, but for brevity, it is going to be cut off here. Yet, by these tidbits alone, you can see that your health is linked to how active you are. Humans are born movers.

But if being able to extend your life and the quality of it is not enough to get you off the couch, perhaps there is another way to get you motivated.

Figure Out Your “Why”

Though you may be tempted to jump in headfirst, think about this first. How badly do you want this?

Formulate a real life goal. For example:

  • “I want to be able to play with the kids or grandkids one day,”
  • “I want to be independent when I’m older,”
  • “I want to be able to climb Mt. Everest,”
  • “I want to complete a charity marathon and honor someone dear to me,”
  • “I want to recover or holistically treat a mental or physical disorder or disease.”

Write it down. Use it as a mantra. Hang it up on the refrigerator, bedroom wall, and anywhere else you will be reminded of your goal.

Choose Activities That Are Fun

Something that gets you involved both physically and mentally is going to feel a lot more rewarding than schlepping through an internet search generated workout.

Choose what makes you smile. Hiking, dancing, biking, swimming, tai chi, and kickboxing are all valid forms of exercise. As long as you are having fun, you will stick with it. Also, do not fret about “going hard or going home.” If you cannot do much yet, simply walking around for 30 minutes a day is the perfect way to getting started.

Remember:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), alongside internationally known fitness associations like NASM, ACSM, and ACE, have all declared that adults should get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This does not have to be done all in one shot, so never say you do not have time. 10 minute bursts of activity throughout the day actually burn more calories than an extended, steady state workout while boosting productivity and creativity.

Once you have started, keep the momentum going by investing time in physical activities that you enjoy. Motivate yourself by knowing the importance of your health and how working out will reshape you and your life for the better. Stay strong. You got this.

Charlie Alf is a avid hiker and loves nature and is always on the lookout for the next adventure, when his not hiking he likes to woodwork and fix things.If you liked this article, be sure to check out his other great articles on backpackhack.com