Tag Archives: barefoot

180 bpm – The perfect running cadence?

natural fitness 8At a class recently I was asked why I teach 180 beats (or foot falls) per minute is the most efficient. My answer was “because science said so”. So to prove that I wasn’t lying and to make up for my brevity in the initial answer, here is the science:

Check out this blog post from one of my favorite bloggers Alex Hutchinson of Sweat Science (now writing at Runner World). I came across it when I was first looking into running cadence and it remains (in my opinion) one of the most succinct writings on the topic. Be sure to check out some of the original articles linked in there as well as the video. He has a little more on the subject on the blog as well so be sure to check out the other posts.

This post is actually linked in the above one but it’s definitely worth a read by itself, from Dave Munger at Science Based Running

And just to offer some counter point to the theory check out this post from Peter Larson writing at Tread Lightly on how 180  is not the be all and end all.

 

At the end of the day I believe that 180 is a good target for most people to have, especially if there are not experienced runners. But as you can probably tell there is plenty of information out there on the subject so read up and inform yourself.

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Summer’s Coming – Time to go Barefoot

The season is definitely starting to turn and for me that means one thing – Barefoot running is back.

I usually get pretty slack with going barefoot during Winter (especially when I was down in Canberra), preferring to utilise minimalist shoes for my runs but spring is now days away so what better reason to unleash your feet and get into (or back into) barefoot running.

Barefoot running is a great way to not only learn a biomechanically efficient way to move but if built up to and done properly, can be a great way to prevent future injuries by strengthening stability muscles and improving balance.

Jumping into barefoot running with both feet however can be problematic, with most of the complaints I usually get from barefoot runners being that they injured themselves from trying to do too much too quickly. So here’s a little quick start guide to get you out there barefoot and injury free.

1. Toughen up your sole - Start by being barefoot around your house as much as possible. Whenever you have the chance, kick the shoes off and walk around. This will start to get you used to moving without shoes and will start ‘toughen’ the soles of your feet.

2. Barefoot walks - Go for a stroll with some shoes that are easily removable and take them off for sections of the walk. As you get used to walking around barefoot progressively introduce more barefoot sections.

3. Barefoot runs - Using the same theory as the walks, use shoes that are easily removable to add barefoot sections to your run (I would recommend something like New Balance Minimus or Merrell Foot Gloves). Slowly build up the barefoot sections until you can run the whole way with out shoes. I recommend that you start by running on grass until you start to get the technique correct before progressing to harder surfaces. It is a good idea to plan your route with softer sections in it (like grass or dirt) so that if you do need to give your feet a break you can.

A good point to note with barefoot running is that there is definitely an efficient and an inefficient way to run (As I outlined in a previous post here). It is probably worth checking out some of the running technique videos on YouTube or reading up on POSE running technique to get a rough idea of what you should be doing.

4. Recovery massage - The calves and feet will probably get sore after barefoot running for the first couple of times, so make sure you stretch after the runs and use self massage techniques like rolling a golf ball into the calves and the arch of the foot to aid with recovery.

Hopefully this helps some of you to get out there sans shoes.

Happy Running,

Stuart

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What blogs I’m Reading

I’ve come across a few really interesting articles and blogs over the past 2 weeks so rather than reiterate them, I thought I might just share my top 3 thought provoking blogs for the week.

This first one is entitled “No Shoes No Problem: Why Not Train Barefoot?”  from Imprint – the University of Waterloo’s official student newspaper. It talks about the ‘modern’ trend for people to go barefoot.

In a similar vain is “Finding a Sustainable Running Stride” from the New York Times’ ‘Well’ section, written by Tara Parker-Pope. A good mini analysis at some of the alternative running styles that are starting to emerge into the popular market. Touches on Chi running, POSE technique and little on Barefoot. Good read for those interested in learning about different styles.

Lastly is a good one on the effect of Gluten on the body in “No Gluten, No Grains” from Jo Svendblad’s Nutty Kitchen blog. Good information on why to eat primal/paleo and some great recipes too!

Enjoy :)

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The science behind barefoot running

After having a conversation recently with a physiotherapist who asked about the science behind my barefoot running belief, I decided to make a list of my top picks for articles about barefoot running. This is far from an exhaustive list (there are loads of articles available even in local press) but if you want to an understanding of the science, these links will get you started…

#1 Barefoot Running – M. Warburton

An interesting analysis of the efficiency and rate of injuries in different running populations.

#2 Mechanical Comparison of Barefoot and Shod Running – C. Divert, Et Al. 

A study of impact forces of barefoot running on treadmills.

#3 Barefoot-Shod Running Differences: Shoe or Mass Effect? – C. Divert, Et Al.

A good counter-point to the ‘anti-shoe’ crowd. Good food for thought.

There’s plenty more out there, but some of it is a little restricted (unless you have institution log in). As I find more articles (or you guys do) I’ll post them into the comments.

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My barefoot fun run experience

Team Tengeri - barefooters Brad Osborn, Alison Sims and me (Stuart Gadenne)

On the weekend I decided to run the Canberra Times Fun Run, a 10km road run through the nation’s capital, barefoot. Not barefoot as in minimalist footwear but actually barefoot (i.e no shoes at all). Needless to say this raised a few eyebrows from my fellow runners, with reactions ranging from interest to utter disbelief.

It was a very interesting experience and one that raised more than a few questions from those around me, so to that end I have decided to detail my experience here and throw in a few tips for young players on barefoot running.

So firstly, why?

The theory is that by taking away all the cushioning and artificial support we create a situation were the body is forced to compensate for the ground strike force that would otherwise be hidden in cushioning. This results in a more efficient and safer running style. I can attest to the efficiency, as last time I ran this run I remember I wanted to die in the last 2km, whereas this time I actually felt like I had held back, and as a result was able to sprint the finish (much to the dismay of those around me who were probably thinking “at least I’ll finish before this crazy barefoot guy” – wrong).

It’s not all beer and skittles though.

Like Peter Parker (Spiderman) said “with great power comes great responsibility”, and the responsibility in this case is concentration and acute injuries. My cohort in barefootness, Brad Osborn, learnt this lesson before the start of the race when a runner decided he needed to be somewhere else very quickly and the quickest way was over Brad’s toes.

Throughout the race I saw many runners who were totally oblivious of what was going on. The iPod in the ears, the glazed-over look in the eye. Their mind is just about anywhere but here. No such luck for me though as the upside of running barefoot, propriception and being able to feel everything your foot touches also means that your foot feels everything it touches, no matter how bad. And the 1km stretch of rocky gravel road from km 2-3 was pretty bad. Even the shoulder of the road was littered with small rocks that I constantly had to weave through.

Having the ability to feel the road meant that I had to react to a steady stream of information coming in at me. Where’s the next smoothest part of the road? Can I run on the painted lines? What’s the next best step? Will this guy in front of me stop spitting on the ground every 10 meters? This is part of the allure of barefoot running for me. I can’t just plug into my iPod and day dream my way around a track. I have to concentrate on what I’m doing. I have to be in the moment and constantly adapt to the surroundings.

At around the 7km mark I started to notice blisters at the very front of the balls of my feet. I quickly realized that this was due to a running technique problem, namely I was slightly twisting when taking off. Although people would probably see this as a negative, I see it as a positive. Having the awareness of what my feet are doing meant that I could analyse and adapt my running technique on the run, allowing me to fix an inefficiency and improve my overall technique. This didn’t magically make the blisters disappear but I’ll know now for next time.

Another surprising side effect of running barefoot was the noise, or lack thereof. It sounded like I was surrounded by steam engines and elephants, with all the panting and foot slapping. It made me feel sorry for some knees out there that just aren’t going to make it past 35. It was very amusing (to me) when I silently padded up next to someone to surprise them.

Although a bit painful in parts the run, barefoot was definitely a worthwhile undertaking. It showed me, and hopefully those around me that 30 years of sporting technology and clever marketing don’t necessarily trump hundreds of thousands of years of natural human evolution.

So now for all those who suddenly feel the need to throw out their shoes and run around like hippies, here is a quick ‘Top 5′ tips for running barefoot:

1. Build into it

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were your feet. Running barefoot is not something I recommend for someone who is used to wearing shoes. Start slow by walking around barefoot as much as possible, taking some walks and eventually integrating some slow jogging spurts. And always carry shoes, just in case.

2. Learn POSE technique

The pose technique is basically an efficient way to run to help absorb the shock of ground strike and then utilize that energy to help propel yourself. It’s an easy and formulated way to learn how to run naturally. You can try and learn by yourself, but why re-invent the wheel?

3. Run with your ears

I always try and tell people, whether running with or without shoes, that they should run like a ninja. Ninja don’t make any sound (and they’re cool). If you’re hearing the ‘slap’ of your foot striking the ground it’s a good indication that you’re hitting the ground too hard. So … run like a ninja! (minus the the black mask and sword).

4. Be in the moment

This basically means concentrate on where you are going. Cushioned supporting shoes may allow lazy running technique and carelessness of terrain but, when barefoot, concentration is king. Of course the first time you step on a sharp rock or thorn this lesson will be burnt into your memory but I thought I’d at least warn people anyway.

5. Smile

At the finish line with fellow barefooter Ben Winter-Giles

Seriously. You’re out in nature, reconnecting to your surrounds and your own body. It’s not supposed to be a chore, it’s supposed to be an opportunity. OK so you may not be the type of person who finds ecstatic joy in running, but as a general rule if you hate it, you’re probably doing it wrong.

So hopefully that helps answer some questions out there and gets some of you thinking a bit more about the way you move. If you have any more questions, queries or doubtful points please feel free to contact us. Anyone interested in learning or doing more barefoot or natural running can get in touch with the Canberra Barefoot Runners group on Facebook or keep an eye out for our Tengeri barefoot running workshops coming up in October.

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Why run barefoot?

Should you run barefoot or should you run in shoes? Which is better, and why? 

If running barefoot is actually better for our bodies, why do we spend so much money on the latest and greatest running shoes? There is so much science and technology that goes into making a running shoe, and we are led to believe that the right shoe will make us faster, stronger and less injury prone.

For this reason, running barefoot doesn’t seem like the most efficient and effective way to move. However, there are many myths and misconceptions about running with shoes (also known as running ‘shod’). In essence, running shod might prevent injuries and provide support in the short term, but have you ever thought about what running shoes are doing in the long term?

Essentially, a supportive running shoe does two things:

  1. supports the feet and ankles, removing the need for the smaller stabilising muscles to do any work to keep your feet and ankles in the right position
  2. forces your body into a position which isn’t natural.

For example, if you pronate (meaning your feet roll inwards when you run), you may be prescribed orthotics to prevent your feet from rolling. The key point here is that this isn’t actually fixing the problem, it’s merely addressing the symptom. The reason your feet are rolling inwards in the first place is most likely because either you are lacking strength in the muscles around the ankle, or your technique is forcing your feet to roll inwards. So, there’s a high chance that correcting your style and building strength will not only remove the symptoms, it will fix the problem all together.

It’s pretty simple, but to validate the above theory, here is an explanation of the science behind running barefoot.

Speed and efficiency

Despite the fact that nearly all elite level athletes compete with shoes, there is evidence to suggest that running barefoot is more economical [2]. Firstly, the weight of a shoe has an impact when we run, as it takes more energy to accelerate and decelerate when wearing shoes [4]. Therefore by running barefoot you are using less energy as you don’t have the added weight of a shoe.

Secondly, when we run with shoes, we have a certain running pattern or style, which usually results in the heel striking the ground first. By landing on the heel, and thus behind our centre of gravity, the body is not able to utilise the energy we create by striking the ground as efficiently as when we run barefoot. The further forward we land on our feet, the more we are able to utilise this energy to propel ourselves forward. Therefore, ground strike as elastic energy is lessened when we run with shoes [3], so in theory, this would also slow us down.

Injury prevention

When running shod (with shoes), the decreased proprioception (i.e. your body’s ability to feel where your feet are without looking at them) and increased height off the ground (i.e. increased lever arm) may lead to an increase in ankle sprains, the most common acute injury to runners. Decreased proprioception basically means that your body doesn’t know what you are running on, and the increase in height off the ground means that you raise your foot’s centre of gravity, increasing the chance of your foot destabilising. This increased injury susceptibility can also be caused by other corrective equipment such as arch supports and orthotics [2].

Once the muscles have weakened as an effect of using supportive equipment (in shoes or other corrective equipment) support must be used [2]. Basically the muscles don’t know how to act or are too weak to act as they did before. It’s a self-defeating cycle.

When changing from our natural running style by wearing shoes, we alter our running gait (step) to one that is much more injury prone [5]. The extra cushioning encourages us to land on the heel first or ‘heel strike’. This changes the angle at which the foot strikes the ground, decreases the number of muscles utilised in the lower leg and increases the shock up through the leg [6].

Benefits of barefoot running

Barefoot running forces the body to compensate for the lack of cushioning underfoot. It allows a mechanical adaptation resulting in less mechanic stress and a softer heel strike – all of which decrease the chance of injury [2, 7, 8]. There has even been evidence that the more cushioning – and thus expensive – the shoe, the greater the chance of injury [2].

Getting Started

Like Yoda said “You must unlearn what you have learned”. Most of us have spent our lives learning to move in a totally unnatural way and running is no different. But this is a process that takes time. Those who are accustomed to wearing shoes will find that the soles of their feet are relatively soft. To ease yourself into barefoot running, start by walking around barefoot whenever possible, to ‘toughen up’ your soles. Consider the use of a low support shoe or minimalist footwear (Vibram Five Fingers, Zen, Luna Sandals, Stem) to help build up those small stabilising muscles and help fast track your barefoot development. When you begin running, break it into run/walk segments, with more walking than running at first. Slowly transition in more running and less walking, until it’s all running.

Remember that the experience of running barefoot is different from running shod. You can no longer just plug in the iPod and shuffle mindlessly for kilometres. You must be alert and attentive to your surrounds. The terrain can constantly change, which will affect your style, gait, speed and level of attention and you need to be mindful of obstacles and dangers. But that’s half the fun of barefoot running!

References

1.                  Jungers, W.L., Biomechanics: Barefoot running strikes back. Nature, 2010. 463(7280): p. 433-434.

2.                  Warburton, M., Barefoot running. Sportscience, 2001. 5(3): p. 1-4.

3.                  Divert, C., et al., Mechanical comparison of barefoot and shod running. International journal of sports medicine, 2005. 26(7): p. 593-598.

4.                  Divert, C., et al., Barefoot-Shod Running Differences: Shoe or Mass Effect? International journal of sports medicine, 2008. 29(6): p. 512-518.

5.                  Willems, T.M., et al., A prospective study of gait related risk factors for exercise-related lower leg pain. Gait & posture, 2006. 23(1): p. 91-98.

6.                  von Tscharner, V., B. Goepfert, and B.M. Nigg, Changes in EMG signals for the muscle tibialis anterior while running barefoot or with shoes resolved by non-linearly scaled wavelets. Journal of biomechanics, 2003. 36(8): p. 1169-1176.

7.                  De Wit, B., D. De Clercq, and P. Aerts, Biomechanical analysis of the stance phase during barefoot and shod running. Journal of biomechanics, 2000. 33(3): p. 269-278.

8.                  Divert, C., et al., Stiffness adaptations in shod running. Journal of applied biomechanics, 2005. 21(4): p. 311.

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