The Last Word on Barefoot Running

April 2, 2010


A self portrait of me in my VFFs.

I just read an article in the Globe and Mail on barefoot running. Perhaps the last two paragraphs should have been used as a disclaimer at the start of the piece. I quote:
Dr. Lieberman cautioned that a transition to barefoot running should be done gradually. Runners should not increase the distance they run by more than 10 per cent a week, he said, and should stop and seek medical advice if they experience any pain.
“My big worry is that the biggest challenge of barefoot running is that it requires a lot more calf muscle strength and Achilles tendon stretching and people can be prone to Achilles tendonitis if they don’t transition gradually and carefully,” he said. “It’s not for everyone.”

The research shows that there are solid arguments for barefoot running and after only 4 days of wearing Vibram Five Fingers myself, I know the barefoot experience will work well for me; having said that, I also know that people tend to glom onto the latest fade often with disastrous results. They expect miracles without experimenting with their personal organization in their activity of choice and/or seeking professional advice. So all of you out there that are considering barefoot running, do some research first.

My friend Susinn, whom I wrote about at the beginning of my articles on barefoot running, tried the Awareness Through Movement® lesson I posted a couple of days ago. She made the following observations (to clarify things for my readers, I have added comments which have been bracketed and put in italics):

I was hiking this morning with my 'dog' group and when I came to going down hill I did the atm you posted. …I found that my foot strike was different, more of a heel strike when I held my pelvis from moving (that’s when it feels like a pile driver is going into the knee and/or hip joint) and I had midfoot strike when my pelvis was swaying (this way the force is transmitted through the whole system like a shock absorber). I also noticed that it was hard to not move my pelvis (Susinn is a Feldenkrais practitioner and has had lots of years of practice moving her pelvis efficiently—a thing that most people find difficult); I had to imitate the people I was walking with who didn't move their pelvises that way at all. How do people live like that; it even changes how I think! I had to tighten all my flexors to hold myself from moving!

The Awareness Through Movement lesson Susinn is commenting on is for anyone that runs downhill, not just barefoot runners. So if you haven’t tried it I’m posting it again for your convenience.

Try the following Feldenkrais® Awareness Through Movement® lesson before you start running downhill:

1. Stand on a horizontal surface (in other words not on a slope). Keep your back straight and bend your knees and ankles a little. Now alternate bending one knee more and then the other as you wiggle your butt from side to side. Notice the range and quality of your movement.
2. Now, at the same time you bend your knees and ankles bend forward so that your hip joints actually move backwards and your butt sticks out. At this point you should look like a zigzag starting at your feet and going up to the top of your head. In this position alternately increase the bend in one leg as you straighten the other and then do the opposite and your butt will automatically wiggle your butt from side to side. Notice the difference from the first movement you did.
3. Now you’re going to do the same thing on a slope. Start with a straight back and slightly bent knees and begin moving downhill. Notice the amount of effort required. How do your knees and hip joints feel?
4. This time go into to “zigzag” position with hip joints, knees and ankles bent a little (your center or gravity should now be over your feet). Start down the hill again and notice that it’s much easier to let your butt move from side to side and that this increases your options as the terrain shifts under your feet. Notice how this differs from the straight backed version.



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