Running Essentials: Everything You Need to Know About Barefoot Running and More

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Running is a movement that everyone should be able to do. Getting from one place to another, with no inventions, no contraptions, no devices, running is simply the fastest and most natural way to do it. As kids, running felt completely natural. But somewhere along the way, right around the time our ability to squat well disappeared, our bodies became tight and imbalanced and due to lack of practice, our ability to run also died out.

I want to help you reclaim that ability. Running is a great way to exercise. It requires coordination and gets the heart and lungs working harder and stronger, but it’s also a highly technical skill so unless we’re doing it right, we run the risk of injury.

Benefits of Running

Running strengthens the cardiovascular system. Your heart and lungs are vital organs in your body, so this is like doing maintenance on your body and keeping your organs healthy and functioning well. As a bonus, you get high via endorphins (aka runner’s high). Fun right? As a form of exercise, it requires very little equipment (just a good pair of shoes… or not even that much) and no gym membership or additional costs.

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Cardio vs Intervals vs Weights: It comes down to the purpose of what you’re training for. If you want to lose weight, nutrition will ultimately be the most important factor. But weight training in combination with interval training will work wonders.

The reason people gravitate towards running at a steady-state (as opposed to high and low intervals) is because it’s a relatively easy habit to pick up. They also think “doing cardio” to burn calories will help lose weight, but lifting weights and interval training is a much better combination for weight-loss since calories continue to burn for much longer after the session is done. Not to mention the long-term health benefits of this combination on your bones, all your vital organs and your nervous system. You’re welcome.

However, if you just want to achieve an overall level of health, picking up the habit of daily running is easier. It’s easier psychologically to get outside and run than it is to dive into a weight training program. If you’re relatively new to exercise and you’re thinking of high-intensity interval training, getting used to the low-intensity version before attempting several rounds of high-intensity intervals is a good idea.

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If you’re into marathons and long-distance running… do your thing. But keep reading to see if there’s anything to fix now before running into trouble down the road (double pun points).

Of course, since I’m writing these articles in preparation for the Tough Mudder, our purpose here is to be able to run between obstacles without feeling too gassed to attempt the obstacles themselves. The combination of medium distance running and weight training will set us up well and as we move into the later stages of our program, we’ll advance to doing more intervals and circuits to ramp up towards the Tough Mudder.

Word on the Street (Theories on Barefoot running and Pose running method)

I’m sure you’ve all heard a fair amount about barefoot running. In summary, what you need to know is this: The bare human foot is capable of running long distances without pain or injury. The nerves, joints and musculature (in theory) is capable. Capacity does not mean you should go ahead and run 5km or even 1km tomorrow in bare feet. If you’ve followed along and have been reading our articles on stretching and mobility, you know we have a pretty bleak view of what our bodies do due to poor postural imbalances and tightness. Given time, patience and targeted mobility drills, the lower body joints can run well again. If you’re curious about it, here is a good starting point.

vibrams

 

My direct response to the recent article about Vibram getting sued: It’s utter bullshit that regulations designed to protect consumers are being turned around and used against an innovative company breaking into the market. Basically, the ad copy Vibram uses claims these benefits:

  • Strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs
  • Improve range of motion in the ankles, feet and toes
  • Stimulate neural function important to balance and agility
  • Eliminate heel lift to align the spine and improve posture
  • Allow the foot and body to move naturally

Since these claims aren’t scientifically supported, Vibram now needs to pay a lot of money for misleading consumers. While it’s true that the footwear will not directly result in these benefits, did these people think that waving a magic wand would fix all their health problems?

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Vibram footwear helps bridge the gap between shoes and bare feet. They protect feet from glass and other sharp objects. They don’t cost much even though they have a very strong hold on this niche of the market and they even provide tips on their website on how to accustom your feet to the change. The problem stems from consumers who injure themselves despite every barefoot proponent’s advice to take the runs slow and easy when starting out.

Although the benefits above aren’t supported by scientific evidence, it’s obvious that a transition into walking and running in bare feet will result in those benefits. I have a pair of Vibrams and I genuinely enjoy walking and running in them. I’ve personally experienced each of those benefits above. I only run very short distances in them and even that took a while to get used to.

Now I don’t mean to sound like a religious fanatic of Vibrams. I just feel that there’s a great deal of idiocy in people who expect magical solutions out of products and cry when those products don’t deliver it to them on a platter. Especially due to their own ignorance. End rant.

The bottom line: To run in bare feet takes mobility, skilled practice, careful trial and error but given all this, the benefits are worth it. Vibrams or other toe-shoes may or may not be used to facilitate this process.

Pose Running

Closely related to barefoot running is Pose Method. This is the term used to describe the form of running that most effectively uses gravity. It was first researched and studied by Dr. Romanov. His former student and now expert coach Valerie Hunt has a step-by-step breakdown to get started. This form of running is completely different from the traditional heel-strikes and long strides we’re used to seeing and is worth trying (especially combined with barefoot running as it helps minimize impact on your joints).

Be warned: It takes a great deal of effort and practice to reprogram your running this way. Two key aspects of pose running are to pull the leg using your hamstrings rather than lifting from the hip-flexors and at a much faster cadence. An upright posture and utilizing the natural spring response in the body are also important elements. It might sound complicated but this all fully takes advantage of gravity while running so that in the end, there’s less effort producing more movement. To learn more on pose running both as a student and to see how an experienced coach cues according to specific errors watch this:

Now if all these new theories sound pretty strange and you’re skeptical, there isn’t too much wrong with running in good old running shoes. Personally, as I work on my pose running, I still go back to my pair of Asics and portions of my runs involve the heel-strike and all. Again it comes down to the purpose of what you’re doing. I still need to develop my cardiovascular endurance over distance and since the traditional running form doesn’t cause pain in my joints, I’ll still do it to train for the Tough Mudder. At the same time, I’ll work on developing the ability to run more efficiently via pose method.

There you have it. The No Shortcuts take on running.

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