Barefoot Running - Must Do Beginner Exercises
Barefoot running promises everything most people want from exercise: a healthy, injury free, cheap, and fun form of movement. And the evidence supporting the benefits of natural running appears to be increasing daily. However, as exciting as this all is, going from highly supportive running shoes to jogging in bare feet can lead to injury if not prepared. With these four simple exercises you can prepare yourself for a pain free brave leap into barefoot running (with or without minimalist shoes).
The concept of barefoot running is very basic: when we run without supportive shoes, we have a different, more natural gait. In shoes we tend to land on our heels, while in bare feet we land more on the ball of our foot. If you look at the structure of the foot, in the arch there are multiple bones and ligaments that act as great shock absorbers and when your feet can feel the ground these can naturally adapt and stabilize the rest of the leg. Conversely, our foot is not designed to strike with the heel, which is a jarring motion even if we don't feel it as much through the shoes. Also, the padding reduces the foot's ability to feel and respond to the ground, so we have less stability. For these and other reasons, running with shoes eventually leads to injuries as most runners can attest.
So, the faster you get into barefoot running, the better, right? Well, not quite. After years of running with shoes on, trying to switch too fast can lead to problems. Even if you wear five fingered or other minimalistic shoes to protect the now softer skin of your feet, you still haven't built up the muscles in the foot the way you would have if you had been in bare feet all the time. Therefore, taking a few weeks to build up strength and responsivity again will help your transition into the world of natural running.
The obvious first step is to start walking in bare feet as much as possible. Don't wear shoes around home, and if you can take your shoes off and walk in the park while the dog is fetching sticks, this is a great first step.
To build up the foot's ability to flex and balance, a simple exercise you can do every day when brushing your teeth or talking on the phone is stand on one foot. Make sure your weight is on the ball of your foot. It is okay if you wobble a bit at first, just keep getting your foot to adapt rather than trying to sway to keep yourself upright. Try and work your way up to doing it with your eyes closed. This will also help strengthen your calf if the weight is forward enough.
I was first told about this move by a friend as a means of combating sore feet after a night in high heels, and it works here because it helps to stretch the muscles in the arch of the food. Place a tennis ball, or anything similar, on the floor and stand with it in the arch of your food. Put as much weight down into it as you can before it becomes painful. Then slowly roll the ball under your foot, massaging out the muscle. This might hurt a bit at first, so don't go too hard.
If you really want to build up your feet muscles fast, the best thing you can do is walking on loose sand. The need to adapt and stabilize as the sand moves underneath the foot builds all the required muscles that will help you when you transition to running barefoot. This can be quite intense, and also places a lot of strain on your Achilles tendon, so go slow and build up.
Utilize as many of these exercises as you can, and when you get your new shoes or start going natural, always make sure you spend a few sessions just walking, then alternating walking and jogging before moving onto your normal training program.
Taking the time to build up the muscles in your feet will save you from injury and ensure that you get the most out of natural running.