Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Save Your Sole: Run Barefoot -- Part One.

Well, at least toughen your sole anyway.

Spring is creeping its way north once again and people are getting outside to exercise. More and more people will go outside and lace up those running shoes and go for their first runs of the year or the their first runs ever. While it appears the "craze" part of the barefoot/nearly barefoot running thing has died down, sooner or later a new runner will be in a race or on a run in the park and see someone running barefoot, in "those toe shoes," sandals, or something that looks like slippers. A brief conversation with these minimalist runners may lead one to question what the guy at the running shoe store told them about over pronation.

There are some things to know before ditching one's shoes though. If a runner is accustomed to old there will be pain, oh yes, there will be pain.
fashioned running shoes (yeah, I said old fashioned) and enthusiastically jumps on the Tarahumara bandwagon without a solid transition,

Over the next few posts here I'll share some things to watch out for if you think you would like to switch to less shoe.

These are close, but still not barefoot.
Today I'm discussing heel - toe differential. If there is a 16mm difference in the heel and toe in your shoe, your heel is 16mm (more than half an inch) higher than your toe when standing in those shoes. If you switch from this to running in a shoe with zero differential, your foot will be in a more natural position, but your muscles haven't been operating this way so there is some adjustment to be done.

If a personal training client came to me complaining of some low back discomfort, told me they had a desk job where they sat in an office chair 8-10 hours per day 5 days per week, I'd already be betting on a particular cause. I would check to see if when standing their pelvis tilted forward. Sitting all day for large portions of life will cause some changes in the muscles. The hip flexors (which pull the knee forward toward the torso will get used to the sitting position, making them shorter and tighter. Meanwhile the hamstrings, getting used to their new position will lengthen and become looser. This is what causes the unnatural position of the pelvis and therefore the lower back pain. Stretches and exercises would have to be done to correct the muscle imbalances.

The same goes for the foot.

Changing the angle the foot with shoes that lift the heel off the ground allow the calf and hamstrings to stretch less, therefore they shorten and tighten. A sudden change in how far those muscles have to stretch could overload the muscles and tendons causing calf pain or injury, hamstring pain or injury, achilles tendon pain or injury. . .

Don't give up though, there is hope.

First of all, thanks to the pendulum swing towards barefoot, and the swing back looking for balance, it is pretty easy these days to find out what the heel-toe differential in your shoe is. If you've been running in a 16mm drop shoe and you want to make a change you don't have to go to zero. Talk to your trusted running shoe person about your goals and they can help you find a shoe with a less high heel.

Another tool in your toolbox is stretching. Find a good stretching routine to lengthen your hamstring and calf muscles. You will here a lot about how stretching doesn't prevent injury and impedes performance, and how you shouldn't stretch before a workout. The purpose of stretching is to improve the range of motion. In this case, a runner needs to improve the range of motion, so after a workout, stretch those calves.

Strengthening. Running requires eccentric contractions of the calf muscles on each footfall. Get those calves ready with some good strengthening exercises. Meanwhile, since we are lengthening the calves with stretching, lets also strengthen the front of the leg with some exercises for the anterior tibialis.

Slow down, and shorten your run. If you switch from a 40 pound weight to a 50 pound weight you would reduce your repetitions. The same applies here, the muscles are working more on each footfall, so give them fewer footfalls at a slower pace.

Use these tips and you can start a transition to a more natural running style. This is only one aspect of the difference between old fashioned running shoes and much older fashioned running on your feet, so stay tuned for more.