Is Barefoot Running Right for YOU?

Is Barefoot Running Right for YOU?

Over the last few years, this question has been common among fitness enthusiasts and in my clients who are runners.  Much of the idea originating from a book titled, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, that told us the story of the blissful Tarahumara Indians, who, Isolated by Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons have honed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury.

Leigh Mills and I chose this as our topic for tonight’s fitness segment tonight both because we want to help you understand whether or not barefoot running is right for you, but also because it persists as a good example of how a fitness fad can confuse people, and in this case, lead them down the wrong running path.

No question that barefoot running is working for the Tarahumara Indians, the author of the book, and for many others who have adopted this technique with success.  For the rest of us, however, the idea that barefoot running might be more beneficial is questionable and complex.  Complex because just like so many other health and fitness options, the right program, technique, or strategy for you, very often looks very different from the needs of someone else.  Mostly, because we are all individuals with different body types, different fitness levels, different ages, different goals, and ultimately different movement patterns.  Most of us, for example, have not been isolated in the canyons.

When it comes to the available research on the topic of whether or not there is a best way to run, there is inadequate information to draw any kind of meaningful conclusion.  And yet we find a proliferation now of those funny little shoes with the individual toes.  And I have witnessed on many occasions people running with these ‘barefoot shoes’ and yet still striking the ground in a dangerously abrupt gate pattern likely to cause real problems for them over time.

Iain Hunter, a biomechanics researcher at Brigham Young University and who works directly with USA Track and Field had an opportunity tackle these questions last Spring when he filmed world class runners in action during the 10,000 meter Olympic Trials.  His video, which you can find inside the New York Times article I used to put together this post, is revealing.  Because what you see is that each athlete that passes the camera hits the ground in his own unique way.  As such, in his research Dr Hunter did not find any correlation with how each athlete’s foot hit the ground and their overall performance.

More specifically to the barefoot question, another biomechanics researcher, Rodger Kram of the University of Colorado sought to answer the specific question about whether or not barefoot running is better than running in shoes.

Proponents of barefoot running say that it is more efficient and more natural, resulting in an increased efficiency.  Some of this argument has come from the ideas set forth in the book I mentioned in the first paragraph, and some comes from the idea that when you wear a shoe, you require extra energy to lift the shoes and that the added cushioning in the shoe actually absorbs force that could be used otherwise to propel you forward.

While barefoot running might provide that increased efficiency for world class athletes who are finely tuned and who have expert control over their entire kinetic chain, and who can move their body along without causing damage, the idea that this method of running is better or more efficient for non-elite runners has simply not held up.  And in my professional opinion a bit dangerous.

When you run barefoot, you are forced to move from striking the ground with your heal first, to hitting the ground with your mid or forefoot first instead.  However, as quoted in the New York Times Article, Dr Kram states that “those who eulogize the benefits of barefoot running and and as an extention the idea that a midfoot or forefoot gate pattern is more efficient ignore three studies showing that this is in fact not the case.  In addition, Dr Hunter who was mentioned earlier in this post has found that the very fastest distance runners are often heel strikers.

This does still leave the question about whether or not the cushioning in a show actually slows people down.  And in a study published this year by Dr. Kram, results showed that runners wearing light-weight shoes were actually more efficient than the barefoot running subjects.

What Does this Mean for YOU?

What this means for you is that just like with any other fitness fad that comes along, you need to be very careful and cautious about whether or not what is being recommended is actually right for you and your body.  For example, in the case of the barefoot running, does barefoot running really make sense if you’ve never run before, you are unfit, or if you are carrying an extra 30-50 pounds?  Probably not.

What you really need to do if you want to find the most efficient running path, is to have your running gate (the scientific pattern of your running stride and foot strike) evaluated by a professional who can then go about recommending the right kind of foot strike and in turn, running shoe.  Otherwise, you will likely find yourself with just another fitness gadget in the form of some expensive shoes with impossible to clean toes taking up more space in your closet.  Space that could be used more efficiently by some other more appropriate gadget.  Like a neoprene knee brace.


Discover The Real “Secret” To Training Harder…

I’ve found that most people skip a good warm-up prior to their strength workouts.  Yes, they might get on the treadmill and walk for 15 minutes, but very little time is spent actively engaging muscle in a way that will maximize power production during workouts.

Why is This?

Mostly I think the reason is that just like with so many other small strategies in your health and fitness program, most people underestimate the physiological impact of a good solid warm-up.  Much in the same way they underestimate the impact of a nutrition program that contains that 2 to 1 carbohydrate to protein balance I’m always talking about.  Or about how important nutrition is in general.  But I digress…

In the end, most people get on the treadmill, the bike, or the elliptical trainer, move for about 5 to 15 minutes and call it a warm-up.

Today I want to share with you a warm-up I’ve implemented in my own fitness program, and that I plan on sharing tonight on NBC 15 with Leigh Mills.  It incorporates the stability ball, and would be a perfect addition to your 5 to 15 minute warm-up walk.

Warming up on the stability ball ramps up your physiology in three very important ways:

1. Working with the ball improves the mobility of your joints.  Especially as we all get older, constant management of our joint mobilization is essential for good training.  I’ve passed the age of 41 myself and at no other time in my life have I placed so much importance on a good warm-up and cool down.  If I skip either of them my training is affected in a negative way.  Lack of either or both of these important training strategies always leads to more soreness and pain, and less effective recovery.  All of which inevitably affects my next workout and the results I gain from my training.

2. Using the stability ball also activates your stabilizer muscles.  These are all of the small muscles that you can’t see in the mirror and that work all the time to keep your spine and joints aligned as you ‘move heavy stuff’ in the gym.  Your treadmill walk doesn’t activate these muscles the way a small amount of work on the stability ball does.  All of which allows you to lift heavier.  And lifting heavier is the key to building not only strength, but two of life’s most precious assets – your muscle and bone.

3. Working with the stability ball also helps build flexibility in your muscles.  Do you remember the phrase I gave you a year or so ago in a previous segment?

That’s right, Length is strength!

Longer muscles are able to generate more force.  Longer muscles also recover more efficiently, and are less prone to injury.  It is vital to remember that all this strength work is great stuff, but that it is also shortens your muscle tissue.  If you’re not doing anything on a regular basis to lengthen your muscles, soon you may be all rolled up into a little sphere – kind of like one of those rubber band balls…

Tune in tonight on NBC 15 here in Madison, WI.  I’ll be demonstrating a short warm-up routine I created using the stability ball.  It involves about 10 different moves that can be done in one continuous string of strength and stability, and will leave you stronger than you’ve ever been for your next workout and for every workout after that if you keep it up.

If you miss the segment, tune back to this blog over the weekend and look for the archived video at the top of this post.

Have a great weekend!


PS  The Nomad Kick Start program has already sold out in April.  If you would like to lock in a spot in May, I suggest you go right now to to lock-in your spot.  If you don’t want to wait that long, we are also currently accepting applications for our semi-private training program.  You can find more information about that program here:

PSS Two weeks from today I will start an 8-week Yoga program that will meet on Fridays from noon to 1:30 PM every Friday.  I have one spot left in this program for the right person.  If you’re interested in this program, don’t call the studio and don’t send email.  Call me directly at my personal office at 608-663-5045.

The Irony of The Information Age…

We live in a society built on the promotion of instant
gratification. The iphone itself is a perfect example.
Have a problem? Search out an application, download it
and get to work.

Often of course, it’s not actually
work, but some other consumer driven pursuit that
we’re after. Whether it’s a new song, a new car, or
maybe just an ihome clock radio so that we have a place
to park our phone at night, some of us are always living in our heads.

The point is that often, we are caught up in a society
that promotes and encourages a plethora of pursuits
that prevent us from staying grounded in the present,
and as a result, we’re never sure of our next step and of
what is truly important in our lives.

Ironically, I recently found two great apps for the
iphone that capture both the essence of our existence
as human beings, and at the same time are made
immediately available through the use of a technology
that often promotes the opposite. That I guess, is the
irony of the information age. Today, we have access to
as much as we want. The challenge is to choose

The two apps are made by a company called “HappyTapper”
with a tagline of “Zen at your Fingertips.” I love
that, and I love the apps.

The first one is a gratitude list and putting a
gratitude list in place in your daily life will change
everything. Especially in these times, it is vital to
take a few moments each day and remind yourself about
what is truly important in your life. This practice
itself will keep you more grounded. And being more
grounded means that you are more likely to make better
choices for yourself each and every day.

The second one is their Vision Board and is made to
help you lay out your goals in a creative way with
pictures, post it note graphics, etc. You can
categorize them, color them and really spend some
quality time mapping out what you want to accomplish.

When it comes to your health and fitness, both of these
pursuits are an important part of the process. By
taking time to note what you are grateful for, you will
reamain more connected with the importance of why you
want to get in shape and live a healthier more balanced
life. This will keep you steady on the journey of
achieving peak fitness. Because whether you believe it
or not right now, peak health and fitness is not a destination,
it is a journey. And being grateful for everything you accomplish
along the way, will keep you on that path I’m always talking about.
You know, the one that leads to that sandy beach where the
water trickles over your ankles in ecstasy.

Your goals, of course, are essential to the process of
living better and being healthier because they provide
the map down this path. Void of a daily connection
with what exactly you want to accomplish in life and
in pursuit of peak health, it is easy to fall into the
rivine, and soon find yourself drowing in a sea of

Here’s the link for tha site:

If you have an iphone, go get both apps today. If you
don’t, that’s OK. Paper and pencil still work just as
well as they always have 🙂

PS Here’s my Gratitude List for Today

Today, I’m grateful for…

1. My accountant and all the help and support she provides my business. She’s also very sweet, so it’s always a pleasure to see her each month.

2. My studio coordinator, Lisa, who constantly makes my life easier at work

3. My wife Laura and all the work she does to support my business

4. My chiropractor Dr. Anunson who always sets me straight and helps me keep my body in top form for everything I do

5. My beautiful and energetic kids, Carl and Ana. I couldn’t have received two more profound and precious gifts in my life 🙂

5 Musts for Your Winter Time Exercise Habit – As Seen on Channel 15 News on 1/15/2009

Alright, it’s damn cold out there right now.
In fact at 10:30 PM on Thursday night it’s a
whopping -10 degrees with a wind chill at -27.
No one’s going outside right now, except to
see what it’s like 🙂

This weekend, however, when the weather
warms into the 20s, it will be time to get back
outside for all of the winter fun and games.

Before you do that though, check out these
5 tips for staying warm and safe. I will be
covering these in detail on Channel 15 news
Friday at 5 PM. And you should know that these
segments have become so popular that they have
moved them up in the line-up to 5:05 PM! So,
get home and tune in, or at least check it out
at the top of this blog over the weekend or on

5 Musts for Your Winter Time Exercise Habit

Winter comes and we all spend more time
inside. It’s cold. The days are shorter,
and let’s face it, there’s nothing like
curling up by a nice fire and reading a book
on a cold and snowy day.

The problem is that our winter hibernation
has the potential of quelling even the most
avid fitness enthusiast.

So, fold up that blanket you have wrapped
around you, put on a warm coat and stocking
cap, get outside, and get moving, or
shoveling, or whatever it takes.

Outdoor winter exercise is a sure cure for
cabin fever and your winter blues. It will
double your energy level and boost your
immune system as well. Studies show that
moderate exercisers get 20 to 30 percent
fewer colds than non exercisers do.

But before you go, here are 5 things you MUST
keep in mind for your winter exercise

1. Lay it on, baby!

One of the biggest mistakes cold-weather
exercisers make is overdressing. When
exercising outside, you have the potential of
generating so much heat that it will actually
feel 30 degrees warmer than it actually is.

This can result in a quick chill when you are
finished, leaving you very little time to get
back inside before you get too cold.

The solution is to dress in layers that you
can remove and replace as needed.

Start with a thin layer of synthetic material
such as polypropylene, which draws sweat away
from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet
next to your skin. And try fleece for

Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer
layer. A heavy down jacket or vest is a
terrible choice, because it will cause most
people to overheat.

Also, once the temperature dips below 10
degrees, you should really wear a face mask
of some kind for protection from the wind.

2. Protect your extremities.

When it’s cold, blood is shunted to your
body’s core, leaving your hands and feet
vulnerable to frostbite. Try wearing a thin
pair of gloves under a pair of heavier gloves
or mittens lined with wool or fleece. You
might want to buy exercise shoes a half-size
larger than usual to allow for thick thermal
socks or an extra pair of regular socks. And
don’t forget a hat or headband. Remember, 30
to 40 percent of your body heat is lost
through your head.

3. Remember sunscreen.

It’s as easy to get sunburned in winter as in
summer. In fact, it’s often worse in winter
due to the sun’s reflection off the snow
and/or when exercising at higher altitudes.

Make sure and wear a sunscreen that blocks
both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of at
least 15 or higher. Use a lip balm that
contains sunscreen, and protect your eyes
from snow and ice glare with dark glasses or

4. Pay attention to wind chill.

The wind can penetrate your clothes and
remove the insulating layer of warm air that
surrounds your body. Fast motion such as
skiing, running, cycling or skating also
creates wind chill because it increases air
movement past your body.

When the temperature is 10 F (-12.2 C) and
the air is calm, skiing at 20 miles an hour
creates a wind chill of minus 9 (-22.8 C). If
the temperature dips well below zero (-17.8
C), choose an indoor activity instead.

5. Drink plenty of fluids.

Drink water or sports drinks before, during
and after your workout even if you’re not
thirsty. You can become just as dehydrated in
the cold as in the heat from sweating,
breathing and increased urine production.

Click Here for Immediate Access to Your Nomad Fluid Pyramid