With the release of "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen," Christopher McDougall's book about the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon in Mexico (Knopf 2009), interest in barefoot running has soared. The author himself became curious about barefoot running as a potential means of improving foot strength and running mechanics in order to become more competitive in ultramarathons (50-kilometer and 50-mile distances).
This new awareness of barefoot running has prompted many exercise professionals to integrate some barefoot training into their program design. IDEA Fitness Journal takes a look at barefoot running, reviews running popularity, injuries and injury prevention strategies, and presents a number of barefoot training program ideas.
Here are ten steps that exercisers can use to introduce barefoot running techniques into their routines:
Step 1. Do not start the program with barefoot running. Begin by doing various activities of daily life without shoes; for example, gardening, walking to the mailbox and walking barefoot around the house.
Step 2. Introduce some movement activities on an even grass or indoor surface. Perhaps do some walking, jogging, calisthenics and games (e.g., volleyball or frisbee) at a park, in a grass field or on an indoor track.
Step 3. Adopt a progressive overload approach, as you would with any exercise training program. Do multiple short sessions of barefoot training during a regular workout (e.g., 10 minutes at the beginning with another 10 minutes at the end), or do two to three 10-minute bouts throughout the day.
Step 4. For the first 2 weeks (or more), keep the total barefoot training time per session to no more than 30 minutes.
Step 5. Gradually increase the time, and/or combine the shorter sessions into one longer session.
Step 6. For variety, go with a combination of indoor and outdoor (grass and/or sand) movement activities.
Step 7. Progressively transition barefoot training to harder-surface (e.g., sidewalk) walking and movement activities. However, be very aware of rocks, glass and other harmful surface disturbances (e.g., holes, rough spots).
Step 8. Consider using a fitness facility, indoor location, mall or school gymnasium during inclement weather conditions, since cold environments can be a deterrent to barefoot training.
Step 9. Injured runners should avoid doing any barefoot training until the symptoms of their injury have subsided. Runners with diabetes should be aware that barefoot running can be contraindicated for them because peripheral neuropathy (a common complication of diabetes) can lead to a loss of protective sensations in the feet (Warbuton 2001).
Step 10. Several shoe companies and footwear manufacturers are now promoting new footwear products that purportedly simulate barefoot training. Some may prefer this option. Note that consistency is important with barefoot training, as data shows there is a loss of gained strength in the lower extremities when training stops.
For the full scientific look at barefoot looking and more tips, visit IDEAFit.
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