Barefoot Running: Part 1

By Chris Ecklund, MA, CSCS, USAW
written for The Independent (Santa Barbara)
Fads drive me insane…

Low Fat Diets
No Carb Diets
The 300 Workout
Juice Diets
The “Lose 12 pounds in 5 Days” Diet
Low rise jeans, baggy jeans, skinny jeans
Bent-billed hats, Flat-billed crooked hats
Mullets, Fohawks

The next infomercial…?

Now that I’ve probably offended all kinds of people out there, let’s move forward. Those that know me could have probably guessed it and are happy I’m admitting to it. I don’t know that there is anything I possess that would qualify as “trendy.” I just can’t do it. It kills me to buy stuff that I know will go out of style or be worthless in a year or less. My shorts aren’t too long, too short, too baggy, too tight… Call me cheap. Call me getting old. Whatever. It’s probably all true. I’ll accept all of the accusations.

I’ve been in the fitness and Strength & Conditioning industry long enough to see that fads and trends just keep making their way into mainstream thought. What’s more frustrating than that is the fact that most are just re-packaged trends from 10-30 years ago.

The latest? Barefoot running. Have you read about it? Or are you already doing it?

Recent pop literature hit the market and has initiated a tidal wave of change within the running community. Chris McDougal’s 2009 book entitled “Born to Run” ( as well as a review of literature and primary research from Dr. Daniel Lieberman ( — Harvard Professor of Evolutionary Biology—has flipped the running and shoe industry on its head…or foot, as it were. It’s not limited to the running culture, though. You’ll find that Strength and Conditioning professionals on all levels are implementing such practices as agility workout in bare feet (

So what’s all the uproar about? After sifting through the mounds of online, hard copy and research literature we can probably boil it down to two primary issues:

1. In ancient times, nobody ran in shoes. Or, if they did, they were extremely simply in construction. Throughout that time, humans were apparently able to do it with little to no injury. See the comparison of heel strike running with and without shoes below (less impact force with correct ball-of-foot ground strike).

2. Several people groups continue to run shoeless (Tarahumara Indian Tribe, Kenyans) and are showing minimal injuries associated with running as well high levels of performance and health.

Interesting, huh? Taking a quick look back at our recent history and you’ll find the modern running shoe was developed around the 1970’s. This is when the big “aerobics” kick spurred by Dr. Kenneth Cooper hit the American scene. Also of interest at that time (and ever since) has been the increase of injuries associated with running. Soles of shoes got thicker and thicker. Eventually we had plantar flexed shoes so we could “heel strike with less impact” and roll into the stride. A few years later we added the heel cups and supinated arch support to add “motion control” because too many people had pronated (flat) arches. Forty years later with exponential growth in technology and information, what do we see when we take another quick look at the shoe industry? Shoe companies designing shoes that marketed as being so minimal that it’s almost like running in bare feet (i.e. FiveFinger Vibram, Nike Free, etc.). Perfect. In 40 years we managed to come completely full circle and end up right back where we started.

Sound like I’m starting to buy in to the “fad” I despise? Bare with me (pun intended).

I watch people run, cut, jump, lift, lower, push, pull and stabilize everyday. The simple truth is this, we don’t move that well. I see it in adults. And, what’s more frightening is that I see it in kids. I have seen elementary aged kids that don’t even know how to skip anymore. Something is wrong there. Hear me on this: making the switch from shoes to shoeless is NOT going to fix this problem. It is not the cure. There’s no magic there. This is where the trendy running sole meets the road, so to speak. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in it for the right people in the right doses.

The research mentioned earlier, although inconclusive as of yet, is offering strong support that there may be value to this barefoot thing:

1. We have done it for much of history so why change now? Were we made for shoes or were shoes made for us (or neither)?

2. Good evidence that landing ground reaction forces differ between shod and barefoot athletes. Leiberman’s study shows increased ground impact in heel strike runners (heel contacts ground prior to ball of foot) and those in running shoes (who as a majority tend to heel strike).  (see figures to left showing shod and barefoot heel strike force–greater with barefoot but poor for both groups)

3. Heel striking during running increases both the braking (deceleration) force as well as breaking (literally adding to possible trauma of soft tissue and stress fractures of bones). Neither of these are beneficial.

4. Running in bare feet will most likely rapidly alter running mechanics toward efficiency. Why? Ever try running in bare feet and landing on your heel? It hurts! Generally the transition to a flat foot or ball of foot ground strike is a rapid adaptation that you’ll learn quickly or suffer the consequences.

5. Other research has shown landing and cutting ground reaction forces ( are better in barefooted athletes. Why? It hurts more to land hard in bare feet so the body naturally decelerates more efficiently.

6. Cutting or changing directions in bare feet requires more muscular demand from the entire foot-ankle complex because there is no shoe to support or provide traction for it. Look back at basketball players in the 70’s and 80’s and notice how little support their shoes had. Anybody notice how ankle and ACL injuries have been on the rise ever since our shoes and playing surfaces got “better?” Makes sense, doesn’t it? Tape an ankle that isn’t injured to add support and what happens…the ankle gets weaker because the tape is doing the work.

So where does that leave us?

“Are you saying do it or don’t do it at this point?!” Neither.

When I recently posed this question to local chiropractor Dr. Neal Barry (who is an avid runner), the response similar. Citing a few current studies he mentioned that the literature is simply inconclusive at this point. There is support on both sides of the fence.

As for me, you’ll rarely hear me say “always yes” or “always no” to fitness or athletic performance questions. The truth (frustrating as it is) is that it depends on you. You can’t box and sell answers. What are your goals? What is your exercise/fitness, health, and training history? Do you have any foot limitations or biomechanical/structural issues? All of these and more must be considered by qualified experts.

I’ll leave you with this: let’s bring back some logic to our thinking. First, can we agree that popular literature (including this article) should not be treated as God or gold?! Because it’s in writing does not mean it’s truth. Second, progression. Going from zero to 60 in anything is unwise. We know it so live by it. If you’re going to go down this road, use slow gradual progress and ease in to it. And finally, if it hurts…stop!

Stay tuned for Part 2 when we’ll address more specific biomechanics of running, cutting and landing as well as why I think 75% of people in Santa Barbara who are “running to get in shape” should stop running.

February Core Conditioning

Here is the February program for my Core Conditioning training class at Hayashida & Associates Physical Therapy Clinic. For those of you who are athletes, weekend warriors, or just looking for something different than the typical “gym” workout…put this into effect for a month and watch your agility, stability, balance, explosiveness and core strength improve. If you are an athlete, you can utilize this program as a pre-season, in-season or off season program for improving strength and power endurance.Variations and progressions exist with each exercise.
Holler with questions:

Dynamic Warm Up (5-10 minutes)

Core Circuit (2-4 Sets / 30 seconds each / 0-5 seconds between exercises)
Leg Raise Flutter Kicks
DB Stability Squat (uneven load)
Side Bridge w/ Acceleration or Max Velocity Leg Action
Repeat above (other side)
Standing BB Russian Twist
Bicycle Crunch / Prone MB Passes

Explosive / Balance Circuit (same sets/time)
Single Leg Ipsilateral BodyBlade
Kettlebell Swings (we used DBs)
Squat Push Lateral
Single Leg Balance and MB Slams
Jump Rope (vary pattern)

Agility / Lift Circuit (same sets/time)
Handstand Push Up
Partner MB Agility Tosses (one tosses while other squats)
Switch above role
Forward/Backward Walking Lunge (AC or MV Leg Action)
Shuffle 5 yards/Sprint 5 yds
Pull Ups or Alternating Lat Pulldown

Active-Isolated Stretching Cool Down (5-10 minutes)
Arm Hugs
Knee Hug Walks
Quad Stretch Walks
Straight Leg High Kick Walks
Piriformis Stretch Walks
Hip Circles

Make sure you can do exercises with perfect posture and landing technique prior to progressing to more difficult variations.


Consult a physician prior to beginning any exercise program and stop at the onset of any pain or dizziness.

January Core Conditioning

Here is the January program for my Core Conditioning group training class at Hayashida & Associates Physical Therapy Clinic. For those of you who are athletes, weekend warriors, or just looking for something different than the typical “gym” workout…put this into effect for a month and watch your agility, stability, balance, explosiveness and core strength improve. If you are an athlete, you can utilize this program as a pre-season, in-season or off season program for improving strength and power endurance.Variations and progressions exist with each exercise.

Holler with questions:
Dynamic Warm Up (5-10 minutes)

Core Circuit (2-4 Sets / 30 seconds each / 0-5 seconds between exercises)
Swiss Ball Off Bench Obliques
Cable Squat w/no Rotation (arms at 90 flexion)
Cable Standing Y-T-W-L
Prone Bridge w/Acceleration Punch
Supine Bridge w/Acceleration Punch
Explosive / Balance Circuit (same sets/time)
Shuttle Repeat Jumps
Cable Lift Half Kneel (Explosive)
Fast Squat Progression (1/4, 1/2, Full)
1/4 Turn Jump & Stick (or in Agility Ladder)
Mountain Climbers on Slide
MB Tramp Side Toss
Agility / Strength Circuit (same sets/time)
Cable Squat and Chest Press (Jammer)
Agility Ladder (Push/Recover or 90 degree Hops)
Swiss Ball Leg Curl to Hip Lift
Squat – Bicep Curl – Shoulder Press
Figure 8 Runs (or use roller chair)
MB Alternating Lateral Lunge (or on Bosu)
Active-Isolated Stretching Cool Down (5-10 minutes)
Arm Hugs
Knee Hug Walks
Quad Stretch Walks
Straight Leg High Kick Walks
Piriformis Stretch Walks
Hip Circles
Make sure you can do exercises with perfect posture and landing technique prior to progressing to more difficult variations.
Consult a physician prior to beginning any exercise program and stop at the onset of any pain or dizziness.

It’s Simple: Stop Resting/Work Harder/Do More Table Pushaways

“I’ve been walking 3x/week for 3 hours and I can’t lose any weight.”

“I lift weights for 1 1/2 hours – 2 hours 4x/week and I can’t gain any muscle or get definition.”

You think I’m kidding, but people actually tell me this stuff. And here’s the kicker…they’re not lying. This is the truth.

As you well know by now (hopefully), the main issue with Americans gaining weight and having a variety of cardiovascular related disease issues is that we eat too much and don’t exercise enough. It’s not really rocket science. The equation hasn’t changed much over the past decade:

Burn More Calories than consumed/day = Weight/Bodyfat Loss

Consume More Calories than Burned/day = Weight/Bodyfat Gain*
*this is in the absence of hypertrophy-type exercise

What about all the hormonal issues, genetic and metabolic issues that people are dealing with that may lead to weight gain? Yes, they exist, but I think we have been putting a bit too much emphasis on those issues over the last couple years. If you’re following the above equation and can’t lose bodyfat, then go to your physician and get a physical to find out if, in fact, you do have something medically that must be dealt with. Otherwise…get to work.

So what’s with “Stop Resting/Work Harder/Do More Table Pushaways?”

First, let’s agree that everyone has the same 24 hours/day. So be honest and decide what is realistic for you to achieve with health/performance goals with the time you have to spend. If your goals are out of balance with the time available, you either need to sacrifice time in other areas so you can use it for exercise or modify your goals to match your time. Now let’s get down to it.

1. Rest Less = Burn More
I love it when I see people in the health club sitting around reading the paper in between sets, or even when they are doing cardio. Then the same person makes one of those statements up above. Anyone home? Of course you can’t hit your goals…you’re wasting too much time.

Mistake #1: Most people rest too much in the gym. It is more beneficial to rest less and work more in the gym.

When you’re in the gym, stop resting. The goal is to burn calories to create that caloric deficit (and increase Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption…but that’s for another blog). You’re not in high school anymore. You’re not not trying to become Mr. Olympia (I hope). So stop worrying about how much you can bench or how big your biceps are (in truth, nobody really cares anyway). Use your “rest time” effectively. I hate it when people tell me they don’t have time for core or cardio or balance training or corrective exercise work. YES YOU DO! Do it during your down time.

Instead of doing what I call a Straight Set routine (do a set of reps, rest, repeat), start doing Tri Sets or Mini Circuit workouts.

Tri Set = 3 exercises in a row
(see Tri Set Routine blog for examples)

Mini Circuit = 4 – 6 exercises in a row
(see Mini Circuit Routine blog for examples)

By the way, if you’re holding on to the handles on the cardio machine for dear life, you’re not burning more calories…you just beating the heck out of your joints.

2. Work Harder
Another favorite statement is the “I do cardio for 3 hours everyday” claim. If it’s actually true…great. But if you’re not seeing results…not great.

Mistake # 2: Putting in the time but not the effort to burn enough calories (and see results).

If you do one of the workouts I just recommended, chances are your intensity will automatically go up. But, it is still important to to simply work harder. If you are working at intensities that do not challenge you to a level of fatigue, you’re probably not working hard enough. This is true of resistance training and cardiorespiratory activity. No challenge = Body has Adapted = Less Calories Expended = Less Results.

If you put the concepts of Work Harder and Rest Less together, you should get the idea of more workout density. That is what you want…more bang for you buck…more calories burned in less time.

3. Table Pushaways
Can’t take credit for this one. Got this idea from Mike Boyle (Nationally Renowned Strength & Conditioning Coach). Here’s the final deal: if you want to get in caloric deficit to lose bodyfat, it is a lot easier to NOT eat 500 calories/day than to eat it and have to BURN an extra 500 calories/day.

Why? Takes one decision not to eat 500 calories. Takes about 30-60 minutes (depending on exercise intensity) to burn off 500 calories.

So do some table pushaways and don’t eat as much. Eat 5-6 smaller, balanced macronutrient meals each day.

Q&A: “Training Zones” and Calorie Burn

Q: How do I know the heart rate zones and calorie counters on aerobic machines are accurate?

Simple…they aren’t. The numbers that you see on a typical cardiovascular machine related to “Training Zones” for heart rate and “Caloric Expenditure” should be viewed as guides. They are helpful in gaining some understanding (especially for beginning exercisers) as to where to start, how much effort is necessary for improvement, and what the resultant product of the exercise session is. However, in the long run it will most likely be detrimental (or frustrating, at its least) for an exerciser to plan or base his/her workouts on these numbers.

Let’s back up for a moment and review Exercise Physiology 101. Heart Rate is used as a guide to measure exercise intensity as it closely mimics oxygen consumption (which is held as the gold-standard but impractical to measure outside of the laboratory). There are currently several equations that are utilized to estimate where an individual’s optimal heart rate zone is for maximum training effect. Generally, the equation used on many cardio machines on the market is the Target Heart Range formula (220-Age x 50% and 90%). Again, while this is a good start, it often under or over estimates the correct range by as much as 15 beats/minutes (bpm). There are many variables which can effect the final decision as to what is the appropriate range, such as age, gender, exercise history, goals, medications, health concerns, etc. Ultimately the above formula is a good range for cardiovascular improvements, but utilizing tools such as the Rate of Perceived Exertion or Talk Test are helpful in adapting the range more specifically to your current fitness level. For example, at the lower end of your training zone you should be able to carry on a conversation having only to catch your breath every few sentences while at the upper end having difficulty holding a conversation at all.

Caloric Expenditure—determined by mL of Oxygen consumed per kilogram of bodyweight per minute (mL/kg/min)—is a bit more involved procedure. Again, outside the laboratory this is difficult to determine and is affected by all of the factors listed above. In addition to this there are the components of weight, body fat percentage and adaptation to activity. Cardiovascular machines cannot account for all of these factors. Ultimately they will provide the user with some sort of estimate. But if it is important for you to determine a more accurate number (i.e. for goal achievement), you may want to consult a trusted Personal Trainer/Exercise Physiologist who can aid in that process.

Written for SB Fitness Magazine Vol.3 Is.3 (Click here to visit site)

How important is the warm up and cool down in each cardio workout?

As I get older, I find that my answer, increasingly, is “more and more important!” In truth, performing a proper warm up and cool down for each cardio workout provide a variety of benefits. First, understand that a “proper” warm up and cool down that will enable maximum benefits depends on several variables such as current fitness level, age, activity to be performed, goal of the activity, etc. However, most literature would agree that for a recreational/intermediate exerciser a warm up lasting 3 – 15 minutes of continuous movement is appropriate. This warm up should gradually increase in intensity until the desired training intensity is achieved. Note that the warm up should, with few exceptions, be performed doing the same activity that will be performed during the training. A quick reference here to whether or not stretching should be a part of this routine. Most literature is now showing agreement that static stretching pre-activity may not significantly reduce injury and may actually decrease performance of activities involving power or speed (i.e. most sporting activities). So if those are your goals, spend the majority of your warm up performing activity specific movements and possibly utilizing a foam roller or “The Stick” for self-myofascial release to increase ROM [Range of Motion]. But if you’ve got an emotional attachment to static stretching… go for it! The benefits realized from warm up?

a. Increased utilization of fat for energy: allows for more efficient decreases in body fat and greater duration of cardio workouts.
b. Increased muscle temperature: decreases risk for injury and allows faster muscle contraction and relaxation.
c. Increased vasodilation/blood flow to working muscles: allows more oxygen and nutrients to reach muscle and clears wastes increasing exercise performance.
d. Decreased viscosity of joint synovial fluid: decreases joint friction.

Here’s an analogy I often use. Ever pull a rubber band out of the freezer and try to use it? If so, you’ve probably noticed that it is far more fragile and does not recoil as quickly when you stretch it. In many ways your muscles respond the same way without a warm up. The cool down should mirror the warm up in length and activity and provides much of the same benefits in reverse.

a. Gradual decreased blood flow and heart rate: decreases incidence of dizziness and fainting.
b. Clears wastes and byproducts from working muscles: decreases recovery time.
c. Decreases Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: less soreness is experienced in the days following workout bouts.

I am a firm believer in the “something is better than nothing” philosophy of exercise. But there is also tremendous longterm value in adding a few extra minutes of warm up and cool down to increase performance and decrease recovery.

Written for SB Fitness Magazine Winter 2007 Issue (click here to visit site)

Which is Best? Treadmill vs. Elliptical vs. Outdoor Running.

I can’t tell you how often a question like this one finds its way into a conversation with a client. A good and fair question, to be sure, but one whose answer is difficult to “put in a box.” However, if you’re looking for the quick and easy answer so you can be on your way to some good surfing before the sun sets, head in to your physicians appointment, or on to your next article, here it is…There isn’t a “best,” there is a “better.”

Let me unpack this question a bit. Ultimately, there are several facets that affect the final answer to a question like this such as an individual’s goals, health and medical history, genetic makeup, exercise history, and interests. However, to be concise, I’ll break it down into three main areas of consideration: Consistency, Caloric Expenditure and Biomechanical Adaptations.

Think of the Consistency issue as the “Will you do it?” issue. I truly believe this is one of the most overlooked aspects of the whole exercise and wellness equation. We so easily get caught up in the “what’s going to get me the fastest result in the shortest time” mindset that we honestly forget to consider whether or not we will stick with it for the long haul…or even long enough to get any benefit at all. So let’s be honest here, which one are you going to do for more than just a couple of weeks? That’s where you need to start.

Another factor to consider with regard to consistency is a principle that is becoming fairly well known to the masses: The FITT Principle. The letters in this acronym represent Frequency (how often), Intensity (how difficult), Time (how long) and Type (which mode of exercise). These are four easily adjusted variables for cardiovascular exercise that can be used for a variety of purposes, such as: avoidance of boredom, avoidance of plateaus and avoidance of overuse injuries. Truthfully, all of these factors are going to play a large role in an individual’s continuing efforts toward health and wellness. Since we are focused on the “Type” of cardiovascular exercise, let’s address the question at hand from the FITT Principle angle: Which exercise is going to be better of the three mentioned here? One that is constantly changing in order to keep you interested, constantly improving toward your specific goals and away from injury. That may mean outdoor running on different surfaces or inclines, alternating between the treadmill and outdoors, going different directions on the elliptical trainer, or varying between all of these.

Caloric Expenditure. How many calories will you burn for the time you spend? This is often a significant concern. So what’s the answer here? Will the treadmill, outdoor running, or elliptical trainer provide the best workout? The simple response is this… based on the research I have come across there appears to be a slightly higher caloric expenditure (all things held equal) with treadmill use over elliptical trainers. It’s easier to control treadmills (as opposed to outdoor running) in the research setting, so all of the studies I’ve come across have used treadmills and have not included outdoor running. However, is it reasonable to assume caloric expenditure will be similar for these two activities? I would say so.

There is, of course, one caveat to what I’ve mentioned. Let’s apply the FITT Principle to the caloric expenditure issue. As we know, the more often you engage in a physical activity, the better the body becomes at accomplishing that task. For example, you run a mile 3 times a week for 3 months. By the end of the 3 months you’ll run it faster and easier than when you started. Pros? You’re in better shape, you can run faster, you can perform at a higher level. Cons? You will burn fewer calories doing that activity at the end of the 3 months because your body has become more efficient…you have ‘adapted’ to that stress. Therefore, if your goal is to burn more calories in each workout, it’s wise to regularly adjust one of the four FITT variables in order to keep your body guessing, so to speak. Otherwise, continue onward adjusting the variables to help you improve your times.

Biomechanical Adaptations…sounds nice, doesn’t it? But what are we talking about here? What happens to your body (i.e. bones, ligaments, joints, muscle firing patterns, muscle memory) as a result of engaging in cardiovascular exercise? Let’s keep it simple. You want to engage in the activity (or activities) that are going to provide the safest, most efficient progress toward the goals you have in mind, right? Let me give you another principle that may not be quite so well known as the first: the SAID Principle. The letters stand for Specific Adaptations to the Imposed Demands. In short, our bodies will adapt specifically to the demands we place on them. Example: swim far and you’ll get better at swimming far, swim fast and you’ll get better at swimming fast, run far and you’ll improve at distance running, lift weights and you’ll get stronger, etc. Notice I did not say swim far and you’ll become a world-class sprinter. There is a time and a place for many things in your training, but if you want to become a better outdoor distance runner or sprinter, guess what…do it. Believe it or not, our bodies can be that specific to improvement. Running on a treadmill is slightly different than running on the ground (forces applied change, equilibrium is slightly different, etc.). Ever step off a treadmill and try to take off on a quick jog and feel like you just had a few too many to drink (but didn’t)? It is, in part, due to the adjustments your body has made to maintain balance and stability on the treadmill and therefore feels awkward walking on the ground. Subtle, but true.

So does that mean no treadmill or elliptical if you are an outdoor athlete or competitor? No. Like I said, there’s a time and place. Treadmills offer the advantage of training indoors during poor weather, often have softer impact on joints and allow for Strength and Conditioning professionals to evaluate running mechanics in a more controlled setting for athletes. Ellipticals offer the lowest impact on joints (little to none at all) and are therefore much easier for those struggling with joint issues. They can also be beneficial to those who are just beginning a weight loss program that have considerable weight to shed as progression might be slower and easier.

Which is best? None. But there is one that is better for you. Which one will you stick with? Is caloric expenditure an issue for you? Which type of activity is more applicable for you and your improvement? How will you vary your mode to help you avoid injuries and plateaus? Answering these questions will help you decide which mode of exercise is best for you and your goal.

Written for SB Fitness Magazine Fall/Winter 2006 Issue (click here to visit site)

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