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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Beginners' Guide To Barefoot Training

There are a lot of great reasons to throw away your cushioned, comfy shoes for minimal footwear.  A couple days ago I posted a link to a well written article on barefoot running.  The benefits are becoming more well known but there are a few steps you must take in order to fully maximize the benefits as well as keep you safe.

Step 1:  Understand what you are getting yourself into!  Be Patient!
Yes, reverting back to your natural barefoot state will help you become stronger, healthier, smarter, better looking... OK, smarter and better looking might be a reach, but it couldn't hurt!  You must realize there may be a few aches and pains along the way and it is going to take time to adapt!

For most of your life you have been protecting your feet with cushioned sneakers.  Your feet have become weak.  The bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles in your feet have not been able to function the way they were designed.  It is going to take time to develop the capacity to run, jump and lift barefoot.  You are not going to throw on a pair of minimal shoes and magically experience the benefits of barefoot training!  It takes time, so be patient!

Step 2:  Start by Performing Simple Tasks Barefoot
Start by walking around your house barefoot.  Then around your back yard.  Notice how your feet feel against the ground.  Notice how you are more cautious on harder surfaces.  After a few hours of barefoot walking time you will notice your foot contacts will become much softer.  You will have much better sensory awareness of your feet against the ground.

Step 2A: Let Your Feet Recover!
Some people will have no trouble walking around their house barefoot; some people already do this.  Others will experience some tightness and soreness in their feet and legs.  Give this tightness and soreness time to recover before your next barefoot walking session.  Remember Step 1 above; Be Patient!  Giving your feet and legs time to recover is what makes them stronger.

Step 3:  Perform Non-Dynamic Exercises Barefoot
When your feet and legs feel strong (no soreness at all!) after a few walking sessions, start to perform some basic exercises barefoot.  Do not perform dynamic exercises like running or jumping yet.  Perform movements like squats and deadlifts.  Non-dynamic movements will allow your feet to become exposed to larger forces and different movements with minimal dynamic loading.

Step 3A:  Let Your Feet Recover!
It is normal to experience slight soreness after exposing your bare feet to new movements.  Be patient and let your feet recover fully before exposing them again.

Step 4:  Dynamic Exercises
Now you can start hopping and jumping barefoot.  Start easy!  Simply hopping, skipping or jumping rope can be more than enough dynamic exercise at first.  After mastering some basic dynamic movements you can progress to more challenging ones.  These dynamic movements expose your feet to slight pounding which will help strengthen your feet.

Step 4A:  Let Your Feet Recover!
Noticing a trend here?  Recovery is pretty important!

Step 5:  Now You are Ready!
As long as you have been patient, given your feet adequate time to recover and progressed properly you can now begin to fully train barefoot.  Proper recovery is still essential, and you must listen to your body, so don't just go out and run a marathon.

Progress your exercises gradually.  For example, start by running a quarter mile.  Let your feet fully recover; this may take a couple days or over a week.  Be patient!  Gradually increase your mileage over the course of weeks and months, not days.
"Gosh Mike, that's a lot of steps!  It's going to take me a year before I can start running barefoot!"
Yeah, it might take you a year, or longer.  Some people will progress through this list pretty quickly and be running 5K's barefoot within a couple months while others could take years to develop the capacity to run barefoot.  There are many factors which will determine how quickly you adapt, such as age (the longer you protected your feet with sneakers the weaker your feet are), previous activity level (active people will adapt quicker and have better body awareness) and diet (proper nutrition is essential to fast recovery).

I am a huge believer in the barefoot lifestyle.  We cannot outsmart nature.  The foot has evolved over the course of millions of years.  The modern day sneaker was invented around 1970.  I will take millions of years of evolution over 40 years of sneaker and orthotics marketing any day!

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