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Monday, February 22, 2010

INTRODUCTION to BFR - & I'm done!

Hey my run mechanics DVD is finally available - I will be able to ship them out in about 3 weeks - watch the website.

A Coach’s suggestions to introducing BFR to your routine

(This article goes out with a clear warning – no NOT try this without first clearing with your physician)
This process can be a little easier for triathletes who do spend some time running barefoot from either the water to the bike, or the dismount to the run and hopefully training for that.
The trick with moving from fully shod all the time, to experiencing the conditioning, mechanical and performance benefits possible through BFR, is gradual progression – just like regular endurance training.
· Your specific mechanics (including weight)
· Foot wear transition process and suggestions
· Venues and surface
Somewhat obviously your specific mechanics are the most crucial aspect as pertaining to the entry process to BFR. If you are a serious over-pronator with collapsed arches who originally chose your footwear because of pain or injury due to this, you need to pay special attention.
Use this as a disclaimer (speak to your doctor). Bottom line – your feet could always use some strengthening and everyone can benefit from addressing their running mechanics, BUT SOME FOLK REALLY WOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN ABLE TO RUN AT ALL WITHOUT MODERN SPECIFIC FOOTWEAR. If you have issues either structurally or with soft tissue that logically and in the opinion of a respected expert, preclude you from efforts to do some running (or even walking) bare foot – stay away. As an individual you will know from informal barefoot experience whether this is a route for you to try or not.
Lastly, remember that the likelihood of early man, the runner who chased his lunch down, had a body fat of over 10% is highly unlikely – they had no high fructose corn syrup! An individual’s weight is key going into a BFR integration process. As an example, I set goal weight targets (based on a % body fat) for my beginners before they transition from walking to running and from run/walk to running. Similarly, neophyte triathletes from a swim background (or to a lesser extent, a biking or highly sedentary background), must first do some walking, foot strengthening and bone density increasing activities before beginning BFR. So too should any athletes who have clear limiters to BFR regarding their physical suitability.
Once you have jumped through the hoops to ensure you can safely launch into a BFR process then it’s time for HOW.
The first HOW is footwear. You might say well, if we are talking BFR then let’s go do it – run without shoes – but easy there Tiger, not so fast. A good model is the one of orthotics – have I said a bad word? Often individuals who opt for orthotics, maintain the same support shoes & end up over-supported – it is essential to reduce the amount of support you get from your shoe if an orthotic is doing much of the work already. Also consider that often an orthotic does its work in a very short time & proprioceptively improves your foot function meaning you need less orthotic VERY soon. Lastly the greater the amount of support, the greater the weakening of the foot structure as its function is taken over by external devices. This, by the way, is the whole argument of the BFR fraternity – these shoes have weakened our feet to such an extent that we have become dependent upon them. Ironically, this is also the voice of reason in the whole process: yes strengthen your feet, gain as much natural strength & function as possible & reduce the support & cushioning of your footwear to the safest point possible. The whole idea of course is to run as fast as your physiology permits & you desire & then also remain injury free, (which is the secret to optimal fitness any way – consistency!)
So using the orthotics model – the greater your dependence upon supportive shoes & orthotics & the less effective your own natural mechanics, the slower the process. This might mean wearing slightly less supportive shoes as your specific process begins, while another, who wears a neutral racer or racer/trainer can possibly go straight to barefoot work or to some kind of minimalist footwear.
Lastly the surface that is to be run on needs to be carefully considered. While thick grass is good, there are some inherent challenges: hidden dangers like glass, rocks, splinters & dog poop landmines are an ever present possibility. Grass is also uneven & can cause sprains & the like. Dirt is somewhat hard & stony. So those surfaces often require some sort of covering of the foot sole like a cross country racing flat. I really like synthetic grass surfaces – they are soft enough & firm enough & somewhat clear of debris & reasonably accessible.
1. Start off by walking about the house & garden barefoot for ever lengthening periods – good luck with the garden in northern climes (or way southern climes) in the winter!
2. Spend some time (a maximum of 10 minutes) “playing” with minimalist shoes (no heels or real cushioning or support) – Frisbee, throwing a ball, light soccer, kids, etc
3. Before run sessions, after a brief barefoot walk, run around on a smooth, softer, safe surface at a comfortable pace for a maximum of 5 minutes & gradually increase from there.
4. If you do regularly sprint or stride & do plyometric drills, begin doing some small part of these barefoot or in minimalist footwear
5. Build these until you have achieved the desired effect & you have determined a level of footwear cushioning & support that suit your needs for performance & safety
& for goodness sake – have fun with it!

Bobby McGee

Look out for my new DVD on Run Mechanics & Drills in the next 3 weeks on my website & from USAT or Endurance films

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

MORE words on barefoot running...

This URL is brief & says plenty; check it out: watch the video; Very clear

Yes there is less pressure on the knees of people who run on their fore foot, or at least strike there 1st. The problem arises for most runners however if they do not follow this with the heel at least lightly “kissing” the surface as the great 800m runner, Sebastian Coe puts it.Remember that a number of elite athletes do run on their forefeet, in shoes, as they were born to run. I am a plodder & run on my forefeet for heaven’s sake. A highly supportive shoe kills me, but even though I teach biomechanical drills, can demonstrate most forms of running, spend my entire childhood & much of my adult life barefoot, I cannot & would not run barefoot on asphalt – I never run on concrete; I rather run through shrubbery! And my goodness, how unnatural, I wear gloves, as this wussy South African could never finish a 30 minute session in a Boulder winter without them! My genetically given foot structure is that of a high arch with zero ability to pronate (natures natural shock absorber & foot spring). I need protection & some cushioning.Not all heel strikers are equal either – remember the heel is far closer to the body’s dynamic center of mass than the forefoot & therefore promotes a partial passing strike of the surface, allowing the body to be somewhat more upright. This landing under the body, instead of ahead of it, is a very good thing & leads to a rolling, efficient way to run. This is also a rotational force & deflects & loads quite effectively. The foot serves as a partial wheel & rolls smoothly from heel to toe. Poor heel striking, with the shin angled backward & the heel striking the ground way ahead of the center of mass, with the toe up high & the shin working like the dickens to decelerate the inevitable slap down & inward that is to follow is a sure way to entice every running injury in the book. This happens because these runners are truly mimicking walking (& how most everyday runners learned to run) – they are simply launching & dropping onto the ground in a display of aerial power walking. This comes from a lack of background in running & these individuals (the majority) have progressed their natural walk to a launched version & call it running. Of course it is unnatural, has damaging peak forces & without highly protective footwear will injure them. Again, I am all for education & returning our nutrition, etc to a simpler way, but at the rate at which safe healthy information gets to the majority of the community that requires it, we will create more problems than we solve if we allow every runner & prospective runner to hurl themselves into BFR. A well designed study done at the University of Cape Town Sports Science Institute, under the auspices of the world renowned scientist & author of what is commonly acknowledged greatest running book ever written, Dr. Tim Noakes produced interesting results. The instigator was a Dr. Nicolas Romanov, he of the POSE method fame or infamy, depending where you seat yourself. He says also that we should ALL run on our forefoot. Now similar to these other studies done on BFR, this study found decreased pressure in the knee joint & supported Dr. Romanov’s notions. Anecdotally however almost every individual in the study developed achilles tendon problems soon after the study completion. Dr. Romanov says the transition may have been too rapid. Add to this of course that there was no footwear intervention either, but I surmise that this is the biggest issue that will arise if we have a mass exodus of runners over to being savannah plains runners on the paved & cobbled streets of the world – a huge increase in achilles tendon & similar injuries.I believe I have 2 more of these (BFR blogs) in me: One on footwear that might meet the biomechanical requirements of BFR & no, not minimalist in the least, & how to transition from shod to some BFR without irreparably dinging yourself.Till then, take care, be your swiftest & have a blast.
Bobby McGee

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The interest in barefoot running rages on

So there it is… so much more information out there – good stuff too, lots of research being done, some out in the public domain & larger studies to come—hooray! Remember how I said that there are way more intelligent people than I out there who know so much more? So the evening after a day of BFR back & forth in the popular press, there’s a great piece out of Beaverton, Oregon. Check it out on NPR & search for barefoot running. Then there are also the groupies, who at least are passionate, whether well-informed or not.
You know how it goes, a few individuals are super keen, have a valid story about themselves to tell & then sell it as the norm or the answer to world peace - & this cuts both ways – for or against. My appreciation to those who replied/commented as a contribution to the blog; I am glad that some have taken the time (& even admitted getting injured), but persisted & strengthened their feet & proceeded to find a level of barefoot, or minimalist running that allowed them to continue enjoying an activity they love. Also remember the silent majority who run miles, effectively, enjoyably & with shoes of some form or another. Those experts that I work with on a daily basis & who do sell shoes for a living have confirmed in their attention to my clients that sometimes too much shoe is prescribed, but in general, most people receive footwear that provides the minimum of what they need. Look at it this way, sure we were meant to run barefoot, over soft natural terrain, in certain climates. We were designed at some point in our evolution to run down our food because even though much slower than almost all our prey we had superior breathing apparatus that allowed us to go slowly for VERY long periods of time & that we dealt with heat way better than our lunch did hence we drove them to exhaustion. Nowadays we only drive ourselves to exhaustion in an effort to ward off the fact that our food no longer avoids us & just lays there; & in most cases it is barely food at all! We no longer naturally operate that way through necessity (hunger!), & we certainly are not that light, nor do the surfaces we mostly have access to allow barefoot running.
Another factor seemingly not considered is that of speed. Converts to barefoot running as the only way to go can initially, for very short distances run gingerly on their forefeet & gradually adapt to a level where they get some distance & some speed – however, once conditioned, they still need some slight cushioning & protection in the form of shoes to be able to run where they please, as fast as they are able. While they do report miraculous healing from chronic conditions, they aren’t saying much about speed. I do agree with the argument put forth that the slowness of the process of conversion is exactly what we need & it matters not how long it takes, but only that we take the trouble to recreate our feet & legs for long term health & fitness. Some (& this is most people I believe), who have developed themselves as runners & figured out what works best on their feet & are successful at doing what they want to do would be loathe to go back & relearn the process entirely & suffer the injuries en route to reinventing the wheel. If they live in an environment unsuited to the sans shoes approach, why risk it? Whether we run or play racquet ball recreationally, if we push the limits – barefoot or not we will become an injury statistic at some stage!
More next time… Like heel striking is not evil, but not all heel striking is created equally either…
Take care, run well, be adventurous & sure wonder out (or in) where it’s safe & very gradually strengthen those feet!
Bobby McGee