Beginners guide to Barefoot Running or, Ninjas on Patrol Mother Nature Style

Running on the beach a few days ago afforded me with much insight into the idea, as I see, behind running and how to be more efficient with it.

Further I was shown the more intelligent side of myself as when we got to the end of our first phase of running we were met by a military serviceman who was stationed there specifically to turn away everyone as the military was having a live fire event.  It got me thinking that given the lassez faire attitude so easily and readily adopted here in Mexico, there are good odds for potentially unexploded ordinance, ergo, no more running through this particular set fo dunes for me…. The philosopher Seneca and the naturalist Darwin would be proud.  But that was last week, this week, I pushed the odds and was greeted by the familiar sound of whumps and pops as they continued training this week, I decided to use the gift of adrenaline wisely, a true gift, you have almost no control over its release save through your diet and once it hits the bloodstream, you use it or lose it, there is no putting it back in the glands, as with nitrous in a car, its going out the tailpipe regardless of what you do with it.

My point is this, up till now, running was a love of mine that took a lot of energy and left me with aches and pains, the lower back, ankles, knees (remember those spots!), I did it because I loved it, now I still love it and IT CAUSES ME NO PAIN!

Please, read on….

Running…

As best I can now tell, running is a very complex controlled fall and if you use the act of falling as your source of energy, keeping the muscles engaged as part of a shock absorption and rebound unit, things become much easier and more enjoyable with the potential for longer easier runs.  Imagine that, using something as it is intended and getting better results!  No wonder we dont do it right!  Ha!  Just kidding, we have largely be trained to run as we do based on the lack of education from our parents and through the learned behavior brought on by our shoes which we will speak to later.
First, the form.  The form is the key, think of your body as a machine made from a vast array of simpler machines, fulcrums, pulleys and so on.  In anything form is the key isnt it, and I think that perhaps when I watch the runners in the Olympics, I am set back by how they look simply because they move with form, whereas up until now I had very little.

Lets look at over all form:

You want have your back straight, upright, shoulders relaxed, arms loose and slightly bent at the elbows.  If you take a martial art, you know this, except your arms will be protecting your body and not relaxing by your sides.
The hips are the key to my inspiration.  At first I didnt realize I was doing it, then I noticed it, but did my very best to let the motion be, and just keep doing its thing, and then I got it.
I was using them in a side to side motion, but really picking up my entire leg from the hip or dan tien area.
The dan tien is the area in chinese medicine/martial arts that is the seat of your power, one of my students Carlos who is a very good salsa dancer and instructor told me that his teacher taught him to move fomr this area, so we begin to see the strain that ties good movement to this area, so now we apply it to running for you!
In a nasic sense we can view the hip leg area in car terms.  For me, the hip represents the cam shaft, the leg the connecting rod and the piston is the foot.Four_stroke_engine_diagram
If you are not familiar with cars this will be lost on you, here is some wiki love to help you with the picture…
The movement comes from the hips, almost as though you are “sallying” back and forth.
In Baguazhang Kung Fu we have the same movement for the legs with the fixed posture walking.  The entire leg is lifted from the hip and then moved forward and placed, all the time the movement coming from the hips.  This is an extremely slow movement as it is a moving meditation exercise yet, the priciple applies.
Try it, try walking from your hips, of course you can allow for the leg to move from the knee and the ankle will flex, but this will happen due to you being completely relaxed in those areas, they will naturally move.
Many times we actually run in part from the musculature of the knee, I used to do this, it feels natural especially with the way shoes are made.  The thick, shock absorbing soles allow you to feel better running with a heel strike.
This may feel ok due to the padding, it is in fact an incorrect use of the machinery we call the leg.  I call your attention to prosthetic legs used for sports like the Olympics, where does the strike come from in the prosthetic, the front or the back?

oscar_ristorius_leg_prosthetics
if it made sense for the HEEL to be the point of impact, i.e., if that was the anatomically correct way to run, wouldnt it then make sense that the point of impact would be in the back and not the front as we see pictured?  I use this as one example and also would like to bring your attention to the kinetic chain, this is described in detail in another article here.

Essentially, the kinetic chain is how energy travels through the body.  If you move rightly, there is no problem, you use the machine as intended, move incorrectly, you begin to break down your machine at many points eventually resulting in medical problems.

The forefoot is flexible and made up of a chain of bones and muscles, made to flex, the heel is a solid extrusion of bone with a ball at the end.  It is completely inflexible and if it wasnt for the thickness of your shoes, I assure you, your gait would naturally begin to take and make use of the forefoot strike.

The Forefoot Strike.

Forefoot_Midfoot_Hindfoot_diagramIf you look at the forefoot pictured, you will see the two balls of the feet are perfectly situated to absorb impact using the network of ligaments and tendons, the small bones can absorb a lot of shock and distribute it evenly and in such a way as to dissapate said shock at each foot strike.  The toes are there for a vast array of fine tuning the movements, many times they will not be put into play.  In the beginning, as you learn the nuances of your new running machine, you may find that you are sore and get cramps in various parts of your feet.
With time this will pass, it is only becuase you are literally re learning how to move, as when we learn most things we become tense, your feet will especially become tense and tired very quickly during this initial stage of learning to fly.
The forefoot will come into contact with the earth and the heel will begin to collapse the foot downward as it too comes to the earth.  It will never touch, only for the briefest of moments and it will not be a starting point for your forward motion.  REMEMBER, you are not using your heel for anything in your new stride.  It briefly graces the earth and is off again.
So how do I move forward if Im not pushing off with my heel or pushing off from the knees!?!
Youre falling.  We all have heard at times, perhaps you have, thatnwalking is nothing more than controlled falling.  This is totally correct, and once we start utilizing our bodies as the machines they were created to be, we will notice this effect in an almost exaggerated way.  Therein lies the beauty!
So much energy is lost in running by simply using the wrong muscles to make forward propulsion, where I am suggesting you use the power of gravity from the fall coupled with a fulcruming action with every step.  Your energy loss drops to a third of what you most likely have been using.
Here we are, picture this…
At the start – Your leg is essentially a machine arm that has three MAIN points of movement:
Ankle
Knee
Hips

The ankle and the knee you Do Not need to focus on except to keep them relaxed and loose.  Movement will come from the hips and yes, this will feel wierd at the beginning, thats Ok, when you first learned to walk it was wierd as well, embrace the wierd.
As you pick up your foot from the hip, the knee will naturally break as it responds well to gravity and is a joint that goes back and forth, if you lift the upper leg, the lower will swing as the foot follows gravity downward.
You move forward due to your upper body being erect, spine straight, tail tucked, mass centered over your hips and slightly forward, this is how you control your speed, the more forward you lean your upper body, the more aggresive your forward motion will be.
Your hips will begin to “piston” , in other words, if a person were looking at you from the back, or I guess the front=], your hips would look like a see-saw when viewed from the side.
As you progress with your training, and do PLEASE remember to give yourself time, you will notice that you will begin to find rigid postures for your legs, i.e. That at times it will make more sense for you to use a minimal amount of energy to ensure that yournlegs are moving only at the hips and at the ankle, the knee is nearly locked and you are now operating a more advanced running machine.  If this happens embrace it!  I only write about it so you know that in my idea, it is totally O.K., it just took me a while to get to that point, you got there quicker… SWEET!
When striding, I find I can really kick out a jam, float over sand, even loose sand and it will feel and seem very ninja.  Many times, with loose sand as that is my primary medium of late,   I will hit three to four big strides, one or two small ones, two to three big ones a small one, back and forth, its such an amazing feeling to use this machine correctly.

Imagine, you have heard that we only use 10 percent of our brain right?  So imagine that through learned behavior and modern technological comfort the same is happening to your body!  You are literally being led to your own destruction physically.  And I do not feel I wax poetic.  One need only look at shoes to see whats what, as a human gets older, their shoes usually have thicker and thicker soles and padding until it looks as though they are walking in bumper cars, assuming they are even capable of doing so, many times we see walkers and even carts on people that if they took time to re use thier bodies correctly would begin to move right.
How many older generations in the very poor countries do you see with carts and walkers?  Not many, why, many times, I believe, it is due to thier lack of being able to afford nice shoes, they instead must make do with flat sandals usually made from recycled tires.
The most popular shoe craze right now is the minimalist footware explosion, currently being led, again, in my humble opinion by Vibram and Luna sandals.  Both of which are made of a thin, flat piece of hard rubber for the sole and minimal upper if any.  In the case of Lunas, they are modeled after the Tarahumara style sandal, this is an indigenous population of Indians in Northern Mexico who are known for thier ability to run mind boggling distances.  Another argument for minimalist shoe wear is the prescribed shoe wear of martial artists, yes, I am speaking about the Bruce Lee shoes.  That is minimalist footwear!  And now a word on the Tarahumara…  Thier footwear is called Huaraches=]

Excerpt from Wikipedia:

2 TarahumarasThe word for themselves, Rarámuri, means “runners on foot” or “those who run fast” in their native tongue according to some early ethnographers like Norwegian Carl Lumholtz, though this interpretation has not been fully agreed upon. With widely dispersed settlements, these people developed a tradition of long-distance running up to 200 miles (320 km) in one session, over a period of two days through their homeland of rough canyon country, for intervillage communication and transportation as well as to hunt.[2]

The Tarahumara also use the toe strike method of running, which is natural for barefoot running. The long-distance running tradition also has ceremonial and competitive aspects. Often, male runners kick wooden balls as they run in “foot throwing”, or rarajipari competitions, and females use a stick and hoop. The foot throwing races are relays where the balls are kicked by the runners and relayed to the next runner while teammates run ahead to the next relay point. These races can last anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days without a break.

Pre-tool humans may have used persistence hunting universally to hunt prey. Humans in excellent physical shape, given the time, can outrun quadrupeds, which slow down when fleeing over long distances and lose their ability to pant while running.

This has been thier style running implement for 300 smoe years, the only changes have been the materials used, what once was hand woven or stretched leather, is now more often than not a re-used motorcycle or similar tire.

I trust you have a bit of the idea of the look and feel so to speak of this way of running.  Now I waould like to suggest some ways to make this an easier transition and suggest some good places for you to try out your new form and get positive feedback from nature.

I mainly run barefoot in two conditions, sand and grass.  When my feet are super ninja I can do light to mediam gravel, but for this takes some time to build up to and has really only happened living in Hawaii.

SAND

Its absolutely fantiastic running in sand as more often than not it means there is a beach close by and I can think of no better place to stretch ones legs then by the shore.  Clean air, beautiful scenery and the perfect after run cold, depending on what beach, soak for your feet!

One of the tips I can offer is that if you live in an area which has patrolled beaches, go for the tire tracks and guides.  usually the sand will be firm enough, the tread pattern of the tire will provide light stimulation of the foot and the sand beneath the tread will be like a think one time use form fitting mattress for each step.  There is also a stretch of sand somewhere very near and sometimes in, the edge of the surf zone.  This 3-5 foot band will feel like running in a very thick, one time use, memory foam mattress and will provide you, in both cases, will provide you with valuable foot imprints.  These imprints will tell you a lot about your gait, foot strike, angleation [is that a word] of your feet, the splay, basically everything.  I suggest getting to the beach early so that you may have the fewest possible other footprints to muddle yours.  You want to be able to focus and have quality feedback from mother nature about what you are doing.  After the run, take a look at your starting tracks, your mid tracks and your finishing tracks.  You are looking Sherlock Holmes style, for a forefoot strike, light heel imprint and ninja claw action from your toes on each step.

As much as possible, you want your feet to be pointing straight ahead, too much side to side splaying on the imprint indicates a lot.  If you see this, focus on having your foot land straight ahead.  It may take time to switch from a duck or pigeon type step, thats O.K., start now, slowly but surely and you’ll be fine.

GRASS

I love it, takes me back to the end of my second divorce when I went to Australia to be a lifeguard at my mates waterpark in Ballaratt and forget about it all.  I started my trip in Surfers Paradise and found myself without running shoes.  As there was a large grass footi [Australian Rules Football] directly out the back gate, I decided to just go barefoot.

My life has never been the same since.  The freedom I felt that day was electric and inspirational in a way.  It felt good for the first time since childhood to have a body, that may sound a bit far out, but there it is.  No longer was my bag of bones a restriction, it was a blessing and I rocked it well.

Since then I have really progressed in my running and find there are many types of grass.  When you start you want to go for the lush stuff if you can find it.  The Bermuda, the golf course style lushness, not as short as that will negatively impact the shock absorption factor, but not so long that you are Indiana Jonesing it either.

If youre lucky you will find the type of grass that will give you the feedback we talked about earlier in relation to the sand.  Remember, feedback is key so you can continually fine tune your running and always become more ninja.

As you progress, you can begin to get into tougher and tougher grasses as this will activate different points on your feet and in reality, you want your feet to be as strong as, well, as strong as humanly possible, I mean, it makes sense right!?!?!

Another way to do this and make it fun is ULTIMATE FRISBEE!  I have played in both Hawaii and Singapore and both times barefoot.  The Singapore one was a bit much as I was playing with pros and the grass was more of a dirt field with patches, but it was such a good sore by the time the game was done, well worth it.  Make sure that you are well into your training and can already handle long runs barefoot.  You will end up running back and forth so much chasing that little disc you wont realize the distance you are truly covering and could end up doing some damage.

Remember your tomatoe plant, when you are eating the tomatoes, THEN you think about playing sports barefoot!

TIME

Give yourself a truckload of it and then some.  Chances are you have been pitter pattering all over for the last however long in all sorts of varying degrees of shoeness.  Thick soles, high heels, shitty flip flops etc.  Your gait and style of movement are more than likely wholly suited to the bumber car shoe future.

When you start, try walking for 5 to 10 minutes, three times a week.  At the end of the first week, you may have some soreness.  Using this as a base, AND making sure to inspect your step to ensure proper progression, gradually build your workout.  Do this very slowly as it will be extremely easy to over do it at this phase in training.  You will be re-activating very small, but very strong musculature, tendons, ligaments, bones will be fortifying them selves in this time, a lot will be going on.

So give it time, a great way to do this is find a medium speed growing plant, like a tomoato, plant it and as you see changes in the growth, use it as a rule for advancing your workout.  Many of you havent a clue of the human timeline anylonger as it has been taking a beating with smart phne technology, internet, social media, deadlines, simply being pulled in a million directions all the time with a global system that never sleeps.  The timeline of natural growth has been upset so totally that many of us now need help and guidance to re-learn if you will how to go about making the changes we say we would like to see.

Add in Genetic modification of food, plastic surgery, crash diets, weight loss in 30 days or less pills, etc.  You are being bombarded on so many levels a sense of urgency that it is TRULY a serious task getting your timeline back in order.  Another way to look at it is your baseline.  Please read the article on baselines here.

HEALTH

Many people may never realize the true damage done by imporperly using your feet via the condition called SHOES.  It is amazing what happens when yuo tinker with the kinetic chain in a seemingly easy way.  Would you be surprised to find out that many ailments, knee pain, hip pain, bunyons, planatr issues, low back, back in general, shoulder, neck and even migraine headaches can be caused by using shoes.  Its amazing and its a scientific reality.  I strongly urge you to walk barefoot as much as possible, as we are born is how we are meant to live.  The machine called your body is made, literally to work in certain ways.Through the artifice we call culture or civilization, we are doing harm to this machine on such a broad and sweeping range that it truly boggles the mind when you get into it.  For now we are focusing on the feet.  love them and treat them as the ninja devices they are.  they are perfectly made to be what….. NINJA!

Aloha!

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