Following my first barefoot marathon, I decided that I wanted to be able to run on any surface barefoot, without the want or need of any footwear. This especially included technical trails. I have read all I could on barefoot running and most authors take the route of ease and slow adjustment. While I agree with this route, I feel that I have nearly 30 years of barefoot experience missed that I want to catch up on. If I never wore shoes, where would my feet be today? This served as motivation to start a new experiment, to see if I can speed up my return to nature process. But the difficulty is in the fact there is little information out there to accomplish this. I also feel that the stronger the feet we have, the easier the burden on the rest of the body, reducing injury even further. It is my ground up approach. I believe this due to my own experiences not being a small person. I have big strong feet due to my minimalist running and genetics, as well as big calf muscles. I feel both of these have been the key to my ease of running ultra marathons with little to no training and I’m looking to further this theory with some experimentation. And so it begins…
This blog will be continuously updated like all my longer term experiments.
The first thing I did was take measurements of my feet regarding girth and took a picture. I’ll post both in time. The second thing I did was try and figure out where to begin. I researched heavily into the ‘Iron’ methods of martial artists. There was plenty of info on iron palm and the like, but nothing on the foot. I understand this as the foot strike is geared a little differently than any hand strike and can already contain much of the force needed for any kick, which would cease a need for making it any stronger than it was. I realized I was on my own. Deconstruction time. What would make my feet stronger? What could could be done to my feet to make running even easier?
Below is my ongoing experiment. Nothing is in any particular order. My prerequisites are 2 years of minimalist running in Vibram Five Fingers, Luna Sandals, and Run-A-Mocs, and some barefoot running on streets. Form is, above all most important, and mine is pretty efficient. I’ll add new information in red on updates.
1. Surface area: The idea is that if my foot was wider, then weight is spread out, allowing for less stress overall.
– I bought Correct Toes. While very expensive, they seemed the most effective on time. This little silicon device goes in between ones toes as one piece. While my feet have widened alot since I began barefoot and minimalist running, I still have a big toe that curves slightly inward as well as other shoe based results. These may help. It should take time; at least a year, but I’ll find out for myself if this is a fluke or not. Start with a few hours and work your way up. They suggest wearing them daily with shoes that allow toe splaying. So far I wear mine at night and during sleep, 3-4 times a week.
2. Toe, Ankle, and Foot Strength: The idea that if the feet are stronger, they will help on all things from balance to relieving burden of the rest of the body. I believe that the stronger the foot, the easier all strain and stress from alot of standing and movement activities will absorbed from the rest of the body, removing injury possibility and making things uber easy.
– toe presses: While standing, press fairly hard on the ground with your toes only. Sets to reps: 3×10 for 3 days a week to start. This is an isometric activity. Pay close attention as to not hurt and break your toes!
– toe raises: Be cautious on these! Standing on a raised platform, raise your body like a calf raise, only do it with your big toe area of the foot. Do not jerk, be cautious and slow and start with uber low reps. 1×3 once a week to start.
– toe opening: Rubber band wrapped around toes, open your toes and repeat. Currently seeing what should be done.
– ball presses: grab something that will keep you grounded and lift one foot up to just be on the balls. Now, start to press on the balls of the foot, potentially harder. Be cautious as you can feel the strain being caused and injury is not the goal. Start with 1×10, holding for about 5 seconds on full press.
– resistance bands for ankle: tie the strongest resistance band you can find to something and while around the balls of your foot, do reps in each movement: left, right, forward, backward. To be continued.
– BOSU Ball and Balance Disk: I purchased both of these devices because I wanted to continue ankle strengthening and balance activities while reading, working and tv. While I’m skeptical on the claims of these devices, I am not skeptical on strengthening of the ankles and balance. While the BOSU is not cheap, I wanted to see if either of these was more beneficial than the other for suggesting purposes. So far I just stand on them and make sure I am not stable. My ankles do feel a bit worn after about ten minutes so far which is the point. Stay tunes.
– ankle rotations: Do this daily. This is for flexibility and energy/blood flow. Just rotate each foot clockwise and counter clockwise, point down then up, repeat.
– midfoot stomping: stand and stomp your bare foot down pretty hard, landing on your mid-foot. Be cautious on amount. You will have to feel it out yourself. I am at 50 stomps each foot 2 times a week to start. This should strengthen the impact aspects of ones foot but we don’t want to break it!
– forefoot slaps: Similar to the above, stomp your foot down only here you slap your forefoot down. You should not feel the force of a stomp but more of a stimulating loud slap. This seems to get the nerves going as well as blood flow and the light pain so far is slowly going away.
– stretching: while sitting or standing, pull all toes up as far as they will go while on the floor or the edge of a table, etc and bend leg to stretch them a bit further. Hold this for as long as comfortable. The idea is to create more flexibility in time for the entire foot. You will feel this in your arches as well.
– high falling: jumping off of higher places will strengthen the feet on landings. Start at 4 feet and fall, learning to land as light as possible. Work up foot by foot. 1×10, 1 to 2 times a week.
3. Sole and Nerve Toughness: The idea is that if the nerves are not overly sensitive and if the skin is toughened, it will be much easier to run on any surface.
– street running: While not even close to as difficult as technical trail running, the ease is beneficial at first due to it allowing one to go much further, focusing on landing and form. Almost anyone can start on streets with no problem. Be warned of chipseal material and some asphalt is sharp and extra rough. Temperatures are also of concern. My own goal is to run at least 4 miles 3 times a week to work, which is 2 miles one way and back, major hills. I’ve done this before and it helps.
– trail running: the most effective tool. If the trail is overtly technical, meaning rocky and hilly, your feet will have maximum amount of training although there may be alot of pain during, and sometimes after. There is probability of bruising, blistering, even cutting but the benefits outweigh these otherwise. Don’t over do it. My own goal is run a 6 mile loop technical trail every other week to see progress of the experiment or at least on this section. Until I can go faster, the benefits of the strengthening may be minimal observation wise.
– indoor rock training: I have 3 plastic containers, 2ft by 4 ft ish, all half filled with different gravels, for a total of 6 different gravels. The idea is to give my feet an abundant amount of information and additional practice by standing on the gravel of choice while reading and watching movies, and moving my feet over the material, even lightly stepping in place. I would like to be able to work my way up to a stomp, if it is possible. It should add additional toughness to my soles as well as the much needed nerve training.
Any and all suggestions are much appreciated. I am as a beginner at this as anyone else. I am always wanting to learn others methods and trials. Feel free to share below.