What’s Sexy?

So, what is sexy? Yes, besides Halle Berry . . . 

Ladies: we’ve previously established that Vibrams do not look sexy; “hane-dogger” has been a popular expression on this blog so far. But is the reason we’re still wearing typical athletic shoes, and leaving ourselves open to repetitive stress injuries, because we don’t find minimalist footwear fashionable?! I’ve also seen women grimace at the idea of going completely barefoot because the skin on the soles becomes thicker and feet do tend to become wider. But is our idea of what is popular, or sexy, keeping us from being healthier? 

Men on the other hand seem to view these new minimalist shoes, like Vibrams or Merrell Barefoot, as innovative technology that they’re willing to purchase and try. Completely barefoot, well, that’s rugged and manly. . . which is probably why men do make up the majority of barefoot athletes so far.

Women are barefooting it though (and no, not as in barefoot & pregnant). Barefoot chicks are on YouTube, they’re in your neighborhood park, running miles upon miles. How are these women overcoming popular notions of sexy?

First, lets agree on what’s NOT sexy. Is limping hot? Uh, no. Are crutches?

I’m sure we can agree that injuries are NOT sexy.

And ladies, remember when skinny jeans hit the scene (again) a few years back (2008 or so)? We were all “no, no, not the skinny jean!” Now, a few years later, we’re all wearing them with boots over our pants (again). . . .  Minimalist shoes can be this way too. The more of us barring our soles, the more influence, and the quicker the change.

We can agree that being fit and healthy is sexy. Right? That our skin my change slightly by going barefoot, or we may add a few millimeters to our foot’s width, but if this translates into losing a few inches off our waist, or putting a smile on our face because we’ve experienced that child-like carefreeness of being barefoot again . . . that’s sexy.

I think these new barefoot women have overcome what’s presently popular in footwear by saying I come first and to hell with the rest of it. If so, this is a movement I can get behind . . . .VibramFiveFingers and skinny jeans here I come!

Today’s Run: The Nike/Tualatin Hill Rec Center Figure-8–

Yes, I do love a figure-8 course, and while running this route today I completed 4.5 miles! I added a half mile around the Nike track. (Note for running Nike: Wear a large swoosh on your shirt. This will pull attention away from your footwear.) My calves/Achilles/soleus are starting to feel better! 5 weeks to better legs. Fantastic. So far my knees and heels feel better than they did being previously shod. Plus, all that cortisol building stress I was filled with this morning is gone and I feel calm and energized. What a perk.

Next blog I’ll touch on who else should be considering barefootedness and who shouldn’t.

Finger Toes

Ideally, our toes should work the same way our fingers work. We should be able to fan them out, grip, grasp, and move each digit independently of the others.
Essentially, we can have four hands. Don’t believe me? Check out this woman,  JoBeth Ravellette, who was born without arms. ( I love the part where she changes diapers with her feet. Wow!)

OK, maybe transitioning to bare feet won’t give us four hands, but we can definitely have feet that function better than they probably are now. We can have feet that aren’t in pain, and that aren’t causing pain in other places throughout our bodies (hips, knees, ankles, low back).

Besides simply going barefoot, what can we do to help rehabilitate our feet?

1) Massage your feet! Most of us love a good foot rub, and there are lots of resources on how to best massage your feet. (Yes, I’ll note one of many at the end.) Of course you can also have your husband/wife/partner massage your feet, or simply find a skilled massage therapist.  (I use both tactics.) My favorite foot massage though is this: grab a tennis ball (or something similar like your dogs Tuff Ball or a pickle ball). While standing, place the ball under one foot. Apply an amount of pressure that’s right for you and roll the ball across the entire bottom of your foot for one minute. Switch sides. This will also help your hamstring flexibility. To test this out do a standing forward fold (reach for your toes) before you roll out your feet, and then do a standing forward fold again directly after rolling your feet. How much further can you reach?

2) Strengthen your feet! Here are 2 easy exercises (I’ll post pictures soon):

Like I stated in my past blog– take your shoes off. Stand and look down at your feet. See if you can fan your toes out like your fingers. Lift your toes off the floor, fan them out, place them back down. Do this 5 times.

Begin this exercise the same as the last. Lift your toes off the floor, fan them out, and hold. See if you can lower and lift your big toes only. Try it with your baby toes. Can you lower your big toes and baby toes and keep the other 3 toes lifted? (No? Keep practicing!)

3) Stretch your feet! I’ll give you my favorite. Have a seat cross-legged (if this is comfortable), or otherwise extend one leg straight out and place the opposite foot in your lap. Just like you would fold your hands together on top of a desk, fold your fingers in between your toes; you’re holding hands with your foot. You can try both sides simultaneously, or one side at a time. Fingers too big? Try pedicure spacers, or pencils.

An excellent foot resource is the WillPower Grace website. Check it out. If you go to Sole Training there’s a 20 minute video you can purchase with massage, strength and flexibility for the feet. (No, I’m not getting paid to say that. I wish!)

Please use the comment feature to send me any questions.

(I’ve been posting every other day. Next post will be Wed.)

Where’s My Comfy Cushion?

I just got off the phone with my mother. We talked about my blog. Here’s the end of our conversation:

My mother: “Well, you still need cushion in your shoes, right? To protect your feet?”

Me: “I thought you said you read my last blog?”

My mother: “Yes. I did. ”

We paused here and it dawned on me that I wasn’t able to get my point across. Now I believe there are two reasons for this:

1)      I didn’t word it effectively

2)      As people, once we truly believe something to be true, even when evidence states otherwise, we are slow to consider the alternative. Like I said, I had to sit with the idea of barefoot training for an entire year before I tried it.

So, I’m going to try again. If I miss you on this next try, don’t worry, I’ll keep trying!

Here’s what my blog is telling you: there is no beneficial cushion in your shoes. Nope. Never has been. We all just believed what advertising told us. I did too. Even the advertisers and shoe sellers believed cushioned high-heeled athletic shoes were the way to go.

So let me tell you where the beneficial cushion ACTUALLY is: inside your feet, and the rest of your body. Our bodies are perfectly engineered to walk and run without additional assistance.  There’s a harmonious perfectly balanced relationship between our movements and the forces that cause them.

Here’s what Barefoot Ted says about running bare:

You are most likely in the process of rehabilitating your feet and legs from years of being differently-abled, shoed, and cast. Atrophy, loss of range of motion, weakness, neglect – the foot has not been treated well lately. All the padding and support and protection has not led to stronger feet…sadly….Alas, the hallmark of my barefoot running philosophy is regaining connectedness, mindfulness, and presence in your running and in your body.

Barefoot running is not about blocking or pushing through pain, or at least it shouldn’t be. Rather it is about tuning-in to your own body’s highly sophisticated set of integrated awareness systems, systems that communicate through feelings and senses that are being collected in real-time as you move. From my perspective, learning how to run well means learning how to tap into the feeling of running well, which more often than not requires baring the foot to get the full feel of what happens when you move. .. So, the first key is to start slowly, incrementally and avoid over-exuberance, avoid being driven by your ego. Think orchard growing, not fast food. Think lifetime of development and growth. Think joy. (http://barefootted.com/coach/philosophy.html)

(Ah, the voice of wisdom and experience. Thank you, Ted.)

On that note, here is how one month of barefoot running is shaping up for me:

The Lake Oswego 4 mile–

There’s a figure-8 I like to run in LO with some varied terrain. The barefoot stride of allowing my body to fall forward and strike with the forefoot, then land on the midsole and heel last, is starting to feel very natural and welcomed. The shortened stride has helped my speed – especially up hill. I ran up Fosberg (.55 miles) and found myself sprinting. Yep, breathless. Legs felt great. Must work on the lungs. I kept walking the downhills though because I couldn’t find my stride on a decline.

Home to Gym 3.5 miles (8am this morning)

Today I ran to teach my 9am yoga class and I found my downhill stride! Here’s the secret, the motion is the same as running on flats and uphill, except you have to shorten your stride and don’t lean into the stride quite as much (more upright). By shortening your stride I mean, staccato! Hot potato steps! Works beautifully and you can maintain your quickened pace that way.

To date barefoot running feels fabulous except for my calves and the area around my achilles. Once I’ve rested for 48 hours the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) subsides and I’m ready to run again. This seems to be a common theme among new barefoot runners. We’ve got to rehabilitate that portion of our legs.

Weekend Exercise:

Take your shoes off at home. Stand and look down at your feet. See if you can fan your toes out like your fingers. Lift your toes off the floor, fan them out, place them back down. Can you move your big toes independently from your other toes? Little toes?

Send me a comment and let me know how it goes.

Next blog I’ll give you some additional exercises to strengthen your feet . . . and ladies I have a special secret for you that I’ll be posting soon.

Laziness Afoot

It’s 2011 and our feet here in the industrialized world are lazy. Please, don’t be offended, it’s just true. Since the 1970’s we’ve all been wearing the latest shoe fashions: thoroughly cushioned athletic shoes, high heeled shoes, pointy toed shoes, shoes that lend themselves to very little natural movement or form. (Wait, I know what you’re thinking, I too just bought this totally awesome pair of open toed ankle high boots in green suede with  3” heels, and hell no, I ‘aint taken them back to Nordstrom, but I do promise to save them for special occasions . . . like when it’s my 10 year anniversary and I can actually get a babysitter. We all know these shoes are made for sitting on our butts anyway. OK, back to my point . . . . )

At the same time physical fitness, specifically weight loss, has been highly publicized: The Biggest Looser, Jackie Greene Trainer to the Stars, FitTV, Fitness magazine . . . you get what I’m saying.

And it’s AWESOME to be fit, BUT we’ve been focusing on training every part of our bodies (even our necks – check out this crazy contraption http://www.buynecklineslimmer.com/ – you’ve got to be kidding) and NOT OUR FEET!

Would you buy a house that was built on a weak foundation? No!

Why not? Because you know it would cost you an insurmountable fortune to fix the damn thing, right?!

Same with our feet.

Our feet are our foundation and we need that foundation to be solid; strong, flexible, and able to move in the way nature intended. The last thing any of us want is to be in pain and have to pay doctors and surgeons to fix us. Talk about spending a fortune.

Example: I’ve been working in the fitness industry for almost a decade and have never once heard someone tell me their orthotics cured their plantar fasciitis. (And at $200-$500 a pop! I’d be pissed!) However, I have heard people say that their orthotics provided relief temporarily. In the long run though (pardon the pun), orthotics just don’t work.  I have heard clients and fitness professionals alike tout the relief they’ve found from repetitive stress injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, from going barefoot or by wearing minimalistic shoes.

Ah, so now we’re getting to preventative care and the entire point of the blog . . . the barefoot/minimalist shoe movement.

Now that we know going barefoot can strengthen our feet and prevent repetitive stress injuries, how do we progress from a shod lifestyle to an unshod lifestyle? Answer: VERY CAREFULLY! With a smile.

Progressing to bare feet can be a liberating experience, but we need to start from the beginning.

Ask yourself how often you are barefoot presently? If your answer is:

a) “I NEVER go barefoot. I wear shoes around my house.” Then, I would start by taking your shoes off at home. Simply get comfortable with leaving your shoes at the front door.

b) “I have a yoga practice and take pilates. I don’t wear shoes in my house.” Then you may be ready to walk barefoot or go for a short jog; 100-200 yards.

c) “I’m uber-active and spend some decent time barefooting it around the yoga/pilates studio and at the beach.” OK, put on some Vibrams and try a SLOW mile or two walking or jogging. (If you run an 8 minute mile, I’d bring it down to 10 or 12!)

The key is, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If your feet and legs feel sore or fatigued . . . STOP. Progress slowly. Allow your body to rest and recover and then continue to take one barefoot step at a time.

So, I’m going to put my suede boots up on the mantle now as a piece of antiquated artwork and go for a run in my Vibrams. I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow.

Oh, and my best friend, Megan, wants you to know she thinks these minimalist shoes are absolutely “hanedogger” (as in heinous and visually offensive). . . . But Megan, THEY JUST FEEL SO DAMN GOOD!

For more in depth information on foot strike and the modern shoe go to: http://www.barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/1WhyConsiderFootStrike.html

Bare Running, or Barely Running?

Bare running, as in barefoot, not bare naked. Of course there are specific dates, places and times you can try out bare naked running too, such as Bare to Breakers in San Francisco . . . but that’s a different blog. No streaking through the quad here.

I’m new to the barefoot running community, and am actually starting in minimalist shoes, and the most popular option; Vibram FiveFingers. So far I’ve only traveled as much as 100 yards purely barefoot (at any one time). Wow, what an experience!  Watch where you step!

At this point you may be asking what most people ask, which is, “Why in the world are you doing this?”  

Well, I started thinking about barefoot running a year ago when I attended a barefoot running lecture. I should note here that I’m a fitness professional and I attended for continuing education credits and only with a fair amount of interest in the subject. However, by the end of 75 minutes I was convinced barefoot running was the way to go: less impact on the body, reduced chance of injury, and completely FREE (except for the $9.99 I paid for the book Barefoot Running: How to Run Light and Free by Getting in Touch with the Earth, $100 for the Vibrams and $1.50 for Vaseline to keep from getting hot spots on my still-tender-36-years-of-shoe-wearing feet). And then I still had to sit with this idea for another full year before I felt ready to go.

So, my reasons for trying barefoot/minimalist shoe running are:

#1: The Data Suggests that Barefoot Running is Healthier for My Body

Reasons to run barefoot or minimalistic –

  • Low impact
  • Promotes proper running form by landing on balls of the feet first (toe-centric)
  • Strengthens feet
  • Increased sensory connections provide stability and adaptability
  • So far hasn’t had any negative effect on my pedicure; the polish is still there and in good standing

Reasons not to run in shoes –

  • High impact
  • Promotes improper running form with heel strike
  • Weakens feet
  • Poor adaptability due to sensory deprivation of the feet
  • Sometimes too many miles chip away at my nice polish, and this kind of pisses me off

(I know the last bullet points may not be considered “health” reasons, but still . . . )

 #2: I’m a Fitness Professional and Want to do a Personal Investigation

Going barefoot is one of the newest and hottest fitness trends going right now, and so I must do my due diligence . . . . Plus, I’ve been wearing my Vibrams to the gym to teach my various classes and my class participants keep asking me about my “crazy” new shoes.

 #3: It’s Just Sort of Awesome!

Listen, I’ve been active my entire life, and I’ve been running regularly for more than 20 years. I’ve taught yoga and pilates barefoot for the past 8 years, and here is what I experienced . . . .

Last Saturday, at 8am, I headed out the door to a crisp, quiet and sunny Portland, Oregon morning. I had my Vibram FiveFingers on, and was glad, because the ground was super cold, but I loved that I could actually FEEL the temperature with my feet! It was new and refreshing. After about a half mile I felt pretty warmed up and took off onto a trail through the woods by my house. It had rained the night before and the bark trail was muddy and soft. Mud seeped through the mesh of my new shoes and coated my feet.  I felt the ground give way to smooth dirt and then back to the solidity of the pavement. I felt lighter and quicker than I have in a long time as I effortlessly fell forward into a rhythm. The sensation of strength and freedom in my feet moved up through my body, and like yoga, became a moving meditation. I smiled. It was so simple. Now, who doesn’t want to feel that?!

BUT WAIT! This is my first month of barefoot/minimalist shoe running and we still have to see what happens. My plan is to progress slowly. I’ve gone from 2 miles to 4 miles in one month. I take my Vibrams off for the last 100 yards of each run. Right now that seems to be all my feet can handle. I’ve read that calves and the area around your achilles become fatigued and sore. Yes, so far I find this to be true! Michael Sandler (the author of the book I mentioned above) says the first 6 months are crucial, and it can take a year or two to fully transform into an unshod runner. I want to give this new running style a year. See where it takes us. . . . Maybe I’ll be disenchanted at the end of this journey and go back to my Adidas Classics (or whatever they’re called now), maybe I’ll be such a holistic barefoot convert you’ll see me getting kicked out of the neighborhood grocery store for “no shoes, no service,” or maybe we’ll find a new challenging and exciting way to move through the world . . . . . Maybe.

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