A few years ago as part of my grading for Karate, I had decided to add twice-a-day runs to my workout routine to elevate my fitness level for the grading.
For quite some time, daily runs were part of my routine, however I decided to add a second run to my day, three times a week. After that first week, I was experiencing a lot of leg pain and exhaustion but I knew I wanted to continue with this training so I did a lot of research on ways in which to alleviate the pain.
This is when I discovered what was called “barefoot” running.
Barefoot running consists of running in a shoe with minimal support and no pitch. By running in this kind of shoe, it supposedly would ease the pain and allow my body to recover faster. This intrigued me so I researched and bought my first barefoot running shoe!
At first, I started out slowly to test the waters, only running about 20 minutes at a time. I began by running only on trails, never on concrete since I was trying to build up my leg strength. After just a few runs I was shocked; I didn’t experience the pain any more!
After just a couple of weeks training with my new shoes, I began to increase my runs up to 30, then 40 minutes. I was feeling so much stronger and my distance was improving as the result. With this shoe, I was forced to be very mindful of how I positioned my body and it heightened my peripheral vision as well. I felt like I had a sixth-sense because I could so easily feel the ground underneath me.
In addition to my barefoot training and on days when I couldn’t run outside due to rain, I added what’s called Tabata training to my routine, which consists of high intensity interval training as a strategy to help me get stronger so my legs wouldn’t burn out so easily. This training consists of a 2-to-1 ratio, which is 20 seconds rest, 10 seconds of hard power, on an elliptical machine, with a resistance of 15, for 20 minutes. This really helped with my stamina and allowed a low impact range. So, I was still doing cardio and had an active recovery at the same time.
[Related Reading: Learn How To Target Your Your Heart Rate During Cardio Workouts]
After a few weeks of this combination, I felt myself getting even stronger as I was able to run faster and longer. As the result, I decided one day to step off the trail to finally test my new barefoot running style on the concrete. I did not know what to expect at first. Before, I would usually drive a mile from my house, up the road to the trail and then begin from there. But on this first day, I decided to run on the concrete from my house, up to the trail. I initially felt like a duck out of water; it was hard and cold and I couldn’t feel the soft earth under me. When I got home, I was in pain again so I knew I needed to do some more research on how to run “barefoot” on concrete.
There was so much information, it was overwhelming, I spent a few hours pulling together various tips and techniques from multiple coaches and decided to apply these using a treadmill at first then work my way up to the concrete. I thought about running on trails and realized the heel of my foot would hardly ever touch the ground. Could I apply the same technique to concrete? I practiced and practiced on the treadmill and felt minimal pain, my technique was working and I felt I was ready to try again on concrete. I also invested in the newest, latest and greatest “barefoot” shoes to start my concrete routine.
I left the house and I was off! By increasing my stride, distributing my body weight evenly and gently allowing my heel to touch the ground slightly, I was able to complete the mile long concrete run to the trail with no pain. The trail run was strong as usual but I still noticed my heel was much higher on the trail than on the concrete. So I continued to practice, I practiced that 1-mile concrete run from the house for weeks, Gradually my heel was gliding away from the concrete and the ball of my foot was in place. Over time, it was getting easier and less painful.
I began to mix it up, alternating longer concrete runs with the trail. By now, my Karate grading was only a few weeks away. My calf muscle strength was strong, as were my leg muscles, which translated well to my bag kicks and it was noticeable to others at the Dojo. They started asking me what I was doing, how was I training? I told them barefoot running, which was met with mixed reactions.
I understand that this kind of training isn’t for everyone. But, it has helped me tremendously, not only in my posture but also other things I had going on in my body. By walking around for so long in traditional running shoes, that put my body at a constant pitch, leaning forward and causing stress on my hips and knees. Slowly converting to a “barefoot” shoe, all the time, and not just limited to running, helped realign my kinetic chain. Now, any hip and knee problems are a thing of the past.
At Premier Fitness Camp, we are all about getting out of our comfort zones and trying something new to experience optimal weight loss. As Albert Einstein said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” To grow we have to push ourselves to new levels. We have to continually test, evaluate and adjust and eventually positive change will come!
The next time you are looking for a way to push yourself to new fitness levels, give barefoot running a try!
Johnny Archer, Certified Personal Trainer
Johnny was born and raised in London, England. He has studied martial arts for 30 years, 2 of which were spent in Japan. Johnny studied dance at the New York School of Ballet and has danced professionally for 35 years. Johnny is a member of the International Fitness Association, and holds a NASM certification. Additionally, Johnny is a Certified Spin Instructor, Gravity Instructor, Zumba Instructor, Group Fitness Instructor and is Kaiser certified.