Barefoot Basics #1: Relax

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

There are literally dozens of tips, tricks, and techniques that I can (and will) show you about barefoot running, but there is one simple tip that rules them all: Relax!

When you’re relaxed, running becomes a wonderul, enjoyable experience. Without tension in your body, you use less energy just flexing unnecessary muscles. You will run farther, and may even find yourself smiling like an idiot at the passersby.

You may have heard this tip before, and wondered how to implement it. It can take a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it, it quickly becomes second nature.

To begin with, get yourselff relaxed before you even take your first step. Stand in place, and, starting from the top of your head, allow each and every muscle between there and your toes relax, one by one. As you do this, breathe in slowly through your nose, hold for a moment, then exhale out your mouth.

Once you’re fully relaxed, lean your hips forward and let your bodystart to run. Keep breathing at a nice, even pace. As you run, you will notice tension begin to slowly creep in to your neck, shoulders, legs, etc. Try to spot these pressure points early on and focus on relaxing them again.

Be careful not to let yourself get too relaxed. You don’t want your feet to flop about and your legs to turn into jelly. The art is to learn to relax yourself just enough.

Keep practising, and you’ll start to notice a big difference in your enjoyment and mastery of running.

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6 Weeks to Barefoot Running – Part 6: Free Fall

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

<< Back to Part 5: Posture or Start From The Top

This is it. If you’ve been following along, then you’re in the last week of training before you get to leave the nest and fly off on your own. This week we’re going to be putting together everything we’ve learned over the past few weeks and learning the last few things you’ll need to know as you progress in your future barefoot endeavours.

Session 1

As is traditional at this point, we’re going to go for a run. There’s a lot to think about this time as you head out, as you’ll want to focus on posture, foot lift, bent knees and footfalls. It’s a lot to pay attention to at the same time, but don’t get discouraged, we’re going to be working on techniques to pull everything together later in the week. For now, just run for around 10 minutes or so and try to tweak your form as you go along as best you can.

Session 2

Arguably the biggest benefit to running barefoot is the increase in feedback you get, not just from your feet, but from your whole body. Because of this, learning to run barefoot is learning to run with good form. But how do you know what your body is trying to tell you?

Well, as any new barefooter will tell you, the first communication method your body comes up with is generally pain. This can be experienced as anything from mild discomfort to crippling agony, depending on what you’re putting your body through. I would imagine that if you’re this far in the program, you’ve likely experienced some of this (hopefully not the agony bit though).

There is however, another side to the coin, and it’s the side that gets nearly every barefoot runner who perserveres completely hooked. Some describe it as runner’s high, but I think it’s something a little different, something that I like to think of as Free Fall. It’s a sensation that’s almost like flying, as if there’s no resistance being applied to your various body parts. When you run with perfect form, your body snaps into this rhythm that just feels right. It’s almost a meditative state, where everything is aligned, and you feel as though you could run forever. This is the feeling that we’re going to chase this week.

The first and most important thing you will need to do (apart from all the technical stuff you’ve learned so far) is to relax. The more relaxed you are, the better you will run, and the closer you will get to the feeling of free fall. When I say relaxed, I don’t mean to let your body go all floppy, or let your form slip. What I mean is letting all the tension in your body drain away.

We’re going to go for a short run, so take your shoes off and head outside. Before you start running, stand with your feet together, and close your eyes. Make sure your posture is good and that you’re not slouching. Now relax the muscles in your body, one by one, starting at the top of your head and working down. Pay special attention to the tension in your neck, shoulders, thighs, calves and feet. Take in some deep breaths through your nose and out of your mouth, holding the breath in for a couple of seconds each time.

Once you’re thoroughly relaxed, push your hips forward slightly and allow yourself to fall into an easy shuffle. Don’t worry about speed at this point, just concentrate on keeping your body as relaxed as possible. Keep running until you lose that relaxed sensation, then stop, centre yourself again, and repeat the process. Do this a few times until you get the feeling of running while relaxed.

When you’ve finished this session, take a short, slow walk and let any tension that you may stil feel melt away.

Now that you’ve had a chance to know what it feels like to run relaxed, you’ll want to try to incorporate this into every run you do from now on. It’s very helpful at first to take a couple minutes to truly relax yourself before running as it sets the tone for the whole run.

Session 3

Today we’re going to address the tricky part of running relaxed, which is keeping your cadence up and your feet in good ruuning positions. You may have found in the previous session that your feet would feel tense no matter what you did. The trick to fixing this bit is not to focus on your feet, but to focus on your ankles.

The ankles are the main spots from which the angle of your feet can be adjusted. A lot of new barefooters get into trouble with ankles because they try to keep them too tight. This is natural, when you think of it, because at first, we’re afraid of striking the ground, as it’s unfomfortable, so we tense up.

To get over the tensing of ankles, you have to take special care to relax them specifically. As you run, concentrate on releasing the pressure in your ankles. Relax them as much as possible and let them almost go totally limp. A great way to help this out is to bend your knees deeply as you run. This will encourage your ankles to use their full range of motion, rather than locking them in one place.

Head outside and do a few 100-200m jogs, focusing on bending your knees and relaxing your ankles. It’s tricky at first and you may find your form suffering, but try to keep it all in balance. When you get it, you will feel like your feet have gotten lighter and that it’s easier to bring them around for the next landing.

Session 4

There’s one last thing that you will need to learn before heading out on your own to experiment with barefooting, and that’s your breathing. Correct breathing will allow you to maintain your pace longer, and even burn off some of that body fat along the way.

The trick to breathing right when running is to only breathe through your nose, unless you need a burst of energy, eg: for a sprint, or to get up a steep hill. You’ll ideally want to be running at a the fastest pace you can comfortably breathe through your nose at. Any faster than this and your body will start using blood glycogen, which will dramatically limit the amount of time you can spend running.

So head out for a 10-15 minute run and focus on breathing only through your nose. If you find yourself struggling, then slow down and let your breathing dictate your pace. You may end up running a lot slower than you want, but this is fine. The more you practice running like this, the faster you’ll get and the further you can run. As it is, if you were a mouth-breather before, you may find that you’re instantly able to run much further than you could before, just by making this switch.

Session 5

Well, that’s it! We’ve pretty much covered all the basics of barefoot running. Of course, there are a heap of other techniques and tweaks that can be used to improve your form and performance, and we’ll cover these in the weeks and months to come. So for the last session of the program, reward yourself. Go for a run for as long as you want, just make sure you think about everything that we’ve gone over, take it slow, and you’ll be fine.

Congratulations, you’re now a barefoot runner!

Scorecard

  • 10 minute run complete
  • Relaxation run complete
  • Ankle run complete
  • Breathing run complete
  • Free Run Complete
  • No injuries/blisters