Tag Archives: natural running

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.


Filed under Benefits of exercise, Exercise science

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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Filed under Exercise science, Natural movement, Nutrition

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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Filed under Benefits of exercise, Exercise science, Natural movement

Progression to Barefoot Running

The Shoe Progression - (from left to right) Nike Free 5.0, Nike Free 3.0, New Balance Minimus, VFF Bakilla, VFF KSO and the mark 1 HumanEvo Foot.

Whilst talking with some of the attendees of our Natural/Barefoot Running Workshop recently, it occurred to me that more focus needs to be given to exactly how you progress from normal shoes to barefoot. As one person pointed out “I went straight from running in shoes to running in Vibrams (Five Fingers); it caused so much pain afterwards that I haven’t  put them on since.”

The progression to barefoot running can be tricky for some people. I consider myself lucky in a lot of ways when it comes to this – being Australian most of us by default spend at least a month or two barefoot or close to it every year. There are still a lot of people who very rarely free their feet from shoes and for these people the transition from wearing shoes (also known as shod) to barefoot can be pretty extreme.

Even though it can be a long and sometimes difficult path to walk, at the end of the day the change from un-natural and often disfunctional movements to the way we were made to move is always worthwhile. So I thought I’d share how I progressed to barefoot running, as well as some things to expect when you try it.

My progression

As I mentioned, I’d already had a little bit of a head start, being accustomed to what it feels like to walk around on rough (and often hot) ground during the Aussie summer. The martial arts I had practiced while growing up also showed me that you didn’t necessarily require footwear in order to conduct some fairly arduous activities with your feet.

A few years back, I became interested in the science of running after Nike released its ‘free’ series. Like most people I always believed that stability and cushioning were most important, yet here was a shoe that totally opposed all that I thought was good and right in a shoe. So I started to look a little deeper. The more I read on running technique, biomechanics and shoe design, the more this theory of ‘less is more’ seemed to make sense. So I bit the bullet and bought a pair of Nike free 5.0. I wore them literally everywhere. On runs, while training people, out walking, out for dinner under jeans, everywhere.

My knees didn’t explode, my back felt fine and feet felt stronger than they had in years. So next up was Nike free 3.0 (the thinnest Nike had at the time). Not a huge step so the transition was fairly mild. From there I decided that I would try out these weird toe shoes that had just started to pop up on the market, Vibram’s Five Fingers (VFF). I started by wearing them around the house, then out walking while still doing the main bulk of my training in the free’s. I then started jogging in them on grass areas, mainly to adapt my running technique, and then transitioned over to solely running in the Vibrams. At first it felt like my calves were going to explode, as the change in running technique caused me to land on the forefoot (I landed on my heel once in the VFF and learnt my lesson). But with adequate rest and a little self massage, I soon become accustumed to the Vibrams. The process from free’s to Vibrams was about 4-6 weeks (although I’d probably recommend taking a little longer for most people).

Once I was used to running in VFF I found it difficult to run in any type of shoe after that. The next step was obviously barefoot. Although I felt this would be an easy transition, this was not the case. It took a while to get my feet used to feeling everything on the ground, to harden up and to de-sensitize them before they could handle the impact of running and the roughness of certain surfaces. I mainly ran on grass at the beginning before moving on to trails, rocky ground and then Tarmac or road surface.

I still find these last surfaces difficult when running on them for extended periods, and they do inevitably cause some sort of injury (grazes, blisters or light bruising) however they are now tolerable. Soon I’m sure it will be a breeze.

Tips for those wanting to make the switch

Fit the shoes correctly – Sounds like a no brainer but when it comes to minimalist shoes it is really important – and a mistake I see too often. There needs to be enough space in the front to allow your forefoot and toes to expand and stretch forward to ‘feel’ the ground.

Take your time - Too many people try to go too hard too fast and end up having a pretty ordinary experience with barefoot running. Have patience and take your time while progressing.

Learn the right technique - It’s not quite as simple as buying the right shoes (or wearing none). For most people the extra cushioning has meant that we end up with a drastically different running style to a barefoot or natural running style. If you try this technique in minimalist shoes or barefoot, you will almost certainly cause yourself an injury. Seek out people who can teach you the proper running technique and learn how to run first.

Self massage - As all the stabilising muscles in the foot and lower leg are under increased stress for the first time in years, they are going to hurt. Learn where your sore points are and use a golf ball, tennis ball or your thumbs to massage these muscles and help alleviate pain.

Physiological changes - Your feet are going to get wider and harder (on the soles). This can come to a shock to some people, especially when you have to wear shoes. You may feel like your feet are cramped and stuffed when in shoes. Basically what you feel is what you’re supposed to – that wearing shoes all the time is unnatural.

Have fun - Running is supposed to feel good. When I run barefoot, I feel free and I enjoy the run. Barefoot running can give you a connection to your surrounds and to your own body that just isn’t possible in shoes.


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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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Filed under Natural movement