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Friday, January 7, 2011

Embrace the feet..

Take a look at your shoes that you train/exercise/run in....did you buy them for looks or for the functional purpose they serve? Odds are you went to the store saw the pair that looked the coolest and snagged them. At least that's what I used to do up until a year ago when I started researching "minimalist footwear" and its effects on strength, conditioning, and overall health. 

I've received a couple questions via email and lots of folks at PSKC have been asking about my shoes (Inov-8) and why some many hardcore kettlebellers train barefeet or with minimal footwear (like the funky toe condom looking Vibrams). So much so that I spent the first 10 minutes of class yesterday to further explain/demonstrate the importance of the foot (more on that later). 

Essentially the whole point behind miniamlist footwear movement is mimicking being as close as possible to barefeet when you exercise, run, walk, etc. So why the hell do you want to do this stuff barefooted?

God engineered the human body to run, jump, throw, climb, and lift heavy do any of these things requires some significant mechanical effort from the feet (1/4 of the bones in the human body are in the feet). I don't mean to speak for the Man Upstairs...but I don't think He had cushy Nike shoes in mind when he designed the human foot. You can pretty much do all these things straight out of the box without having fancy footwear to support you. 

So maybe the fact that you've been wearing these cushy elevated heel supported shoes your entire life has actually impaired your ability to run, jump, throw, climb, and lift heavy things. And maybe the source of your knee, back, hip, shin, etc pain could all be generating from your feet?

Let's look at the mechanics....

If you're wearing a cushy elevated heel, you don't feel any direct contact with the ground. Furthermore you're up on the balls of your feet at an angle. See illustration below..
Figure (A) demonstrates proper posture and body alignment (how many times do you guys hear me say "shoulder over hip, hip over knee, knee over ankle"? If any of those joints aren't stacked over one another you're out of alignment), having your foot "rooted" and connected to the ground. This is essential for kettlebell and strength training. 

Figure (B) demonstrates the higher angle in your heel, the farther away you move being connected to the ground

Figure (C) demonstrates the compensation factor you stress upon your body to achieve standing up straight. 

Tim Ferriss explains a bit better in why he wears Vibrams. 
"Postural compensation is unavoidable while wearing shoes that elevate the heels. It’s necessary to maintain balance.Chronic use of heels can result — and usually does — in some degree of kyphosis-lordosis and related pains in the lower back and mid-upper back."

So some of you maybe thinking, that's great Dale but I don't work out in heels....or do you? I bet if you take a hard look at your sneakers right'll notice quite a bit of elevation in your heel compared to being barefoot. Simply leave one shoe on and take one off and notice how far your foot from the ground really is. It's like wrapping a pillow under your foot.  
Looks cool...but notice the high elevation of the heel. 
Inov-8s the shoes I train in...only a 3mm difference from heel to forefront

Minimal footwear and kettlebells.....

For strength and kettlebell training, one of the legends in kettlebell training, Steve Maxwell, explains it best;

"minimalist footwear for resistance training and kettlebells assist the feet in transmitting more stimulus to the brain which in turn results in recruiting more muscle fibers, which in turn allows you to lift more weight or perform more explosively in exercises like the KB Snatch or heavy deadlifts. Wearing thick soled, heavily padded shoes creates dumb feet, a sort of neural amnesia. The brain doesn't know where the feet are in space or relationship to the ground surface."

Don't believe me? Here's what I had some of my folks do the other day to illustrate the importance of being "rooted" to the ground. We were working on single kettlebell deadlifts...

So this is what you can a couple reps of the single leg deadlifts on each side with your shoes on. Then take your kicks off and do the same amount of reps on each side and see if you don't notice immediately that your balance and strength has increased because your feet are allowed to actually feel the ground and therefore recruit more tension throughout your body...more tension equals more power, equals more strength.

Twins of Awesomness learning to use their feet...
So am I saying burn all your pairs of sneakers in favor of being barefoot all the time? No not'll need some time for your feet to be "broken in". The easiest transtion is to get a pair of Nike Free 5.0 and try them out for awhile and then start moving down towards the Inov-8s or Vibrams. I love my Inov-8s and probably would like the Vibrams too as multiple people swear by them...but honestly I just don't see myself wearing them because they are just a little too weird for me.

So is it possible to run barefooted? Hell yes it is and it's quite healthier for your joints to do so..I'm not a big distance runner so I'm not gonna give advice on things I don't know about....but look at it this way. Where are the best distance runners in the world from?....Kenya baby and the majority of them run in their barefeet....coincidence? I think not....ohhh and side note...what in the exercise world causes the most injuries year in and year out?'s no wonder why now.

You've got thousands of people who are forced to be heel strikers because of the cushy shoes they wear. If you run in barefeet you immediately notice that you must run with your legs underneath you on the balls of your feet.....for all you runners out there I highly encourage you to research this in-depth...and more importantly start looking at the POSE Method

And since I have a lot of running nuts at PSKC....below is an article discussing barefoot running. Do your own research and experimentation...but I think if you go with minimal footwear you'll avoid a lot of unnecessary injuries in the long run and become much more stronger...see you guys Saturday at 11am!

Running Barefoot Creates Less Collision Force Than Running in Cushioned Shoes, Study Says

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News
Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 27, 2010 -- Running barefoot causes less collision force to the feet than running in cushioned shoes, a new study says.

Researchers reporting in the Jan. 28 issue of the journal Nature show that runners who run without shoes usually land on the balls of their feet, or sometimes flat-footed, compared to runners in shoes, who tend to land on their heels first.

Cushioned running shoes, which date back only to the 1970s, may seem comfortable but may actually contribute to foot injuries, say Daniel Lieberman, PhD, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, and colleagues.

The scientists, using motion and force analyses, showed that barefoot runners who strike on the fore-foot (land on the balls of their feet) generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers.

The researchers say that although there are anecdotal reports of reduced injuries in barefoot populations, more work is needed to test their view that either barefoot runners or those with minimal footwear (such as sandals or moccasins) have reduced injury rates.

Running Barefoot Can Be Comfortable

By running on the balls of the feet or the middle of the foot, runners avoid more forceful impacts, equivalent to two to three times of body weight, that shod heel-strikers repeatedly experience.

"People who don't wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike," Lieberman says in a news release. "By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most shod runners generate when they heel-strike.

"Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world's hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain."

He says a few calluses can help runners avoid injuries.

Build Up to Barefoot Running

Lieberman and colleagues analyzed the running styles, or gaits, of five groups of people -- U.S. adult athletes who had always worn shoes, Kenyan adult runners who grew up barefoot but now wear cushioned running shoes, U.S. adult runners who grew up wearing shoes but now run barefoot or with minimal footwear, Kenyan adolescents who have never worn shoes, and Kenyan adolescents who have worn shoes for most of their lives.

And they say they found a striking pattern.

Most shod runners, which would encompass 75% or more of Americans, strike their heels when they run, experiencing a large and sudden collision force an average of 960 times for every mile they run, "making runners prone to repetitive stress injuries," the authors write.

On the other hand, people who run barefoot tend to land with a step toward the middle or front of the foot, causing less impact force to the foot.
Madhusudhan Venkadesan, PhD, a co-author and researcher in applied mathema
tics and human evolutionary biology at Harvard, says in the news release that heel striking is painful when running barefoot or in minimal shoes "because it causes a large collisional force each time a foot lands on the ground."

But barefoot runners point their toes more at landing, avoiding the collision effect by decreasing the "effective mass of the foot that comes to a sudden stop when you land, and by having a more compliant, or springy leg."

Modern people have grown up wearing shoes, so running barefoot is something to be eased into, Lieberman says. Modern running shoes are designed to make heel-striking easy and comfortable. He suggests runners who want to shed their shoes do so slowly, to build strength in the calf and foot muscles.

1 comment:

  1. excellent post, man. I just finished reading "Born to Run" which you summed up here rather nicely. I will also swear by my Vibrams for KB practice; they just help me get a better feel for what it is that I am doing. I also run, and this year is the first year where I am doing both KB and running - and not a plantar problem in sight (knock on wood)...

    Keep up the great work!