Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Official Book Review: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Barefoot Running

If you are interested in joining the latest "revolution in running" (as I am), then The Complete Idiot's Guide to Barefoot Running just might be for you.

Written by Dr. Craig Richards (find him at Hunter Gait) and Thomas Hollowell (find him at Barefoot Running), this book "steps you through a training program that allows your feet to feel, flex, and respond to the ground naturally—and helps you build strength and improve your form at the same time." As you know, I have FiveFingers so I was all too thrilled to receive a copy of it.

I've been thumbing through it ever since. When I read books like this, I like to actually learn from them as they are meant to be learned from. My college-girl years come flashing back, and I whip out the Post-It notes. Never a highlighter, I wasn't one to deface my books in this way. But plaster Post-Its everywhere? Yeah, I was that girl. And apparently, I still am:

I've since made my way through Chapter 6 (Warm-Ups, Stretches, and Exercises), but am still only halfway through. So why am I writing this review right now? I couldn't wait any longer to tell you all about it. And besides, it's finally beginning to look like Spring out there which means you might be moving yourself outside. Far, far away from that treadmill. And so, once again, if you have any interest in barefoot running. Go and get yourself a copy of this book. Just to be clear, I don't think you're a complete idiot.

Care to know what I've read so far? I thought you'd never ask. A few of my favorite tidbits:

1) Anyone can do it. And apparently, those of us who have never gone barefoot running are known throughout the community as tenderfoots. Why? Because as you build up your barefoot running abilities, you also build up the strength in your feet. Perhaps even the skin on your feet, too. Although you can run lightly without shoes, you cannot always tread lightly because your feet will come in contact with some rough surfaces. Those surfaces aren't, however, unmanageable and that's where barefoot training comes into play. And you'll get a lot of advice in that respect between pages 1 and 336 of this book.

2) "Because of the interconnected relationship of the mind and body, runners can also benefit mentally from barefoot running." I love this. In shoes, we often struggle to become one with the ground. To some, that may sound cheesy. Even incorrect, but to barefoot runners, it is a true testament to one's ability to connect every ounce of their running game to every crack, pebble, blade of grass and more that the bottom of their feet come in contact with. This is huge. "Ultimately, the mental stimulation brought about through foot-to-brain communication helps keep the mind assured, calm, and more aware."

3) Apparently, we humans can only run up to 27 miles per hour. When you read Chapter 2, you'll learn more about this and "your barefoot potential." Meaning, you'll get a bit of the history of our running game. Right down to the mechanics within our body. Think ligaments, muscles, tendons and natural springs. Otherwise known as the arches in your feet (which are often compromised in modern running shoes, as the chapter explains). Speaking of arches, this brings us to one of the main goals of barefoot running: "to help you move more efficiently, using your legs' natural ability to move you efficiently forward." In other words, barefoot running lets us use our arches, our knees and everything in between in the exact way that they were meant to be used.

4) Barefoot runners use a mid- or forefoot strike. Runners in shoes strike with their heels. And this is what causes one to be an over-pronator or a supinator. So if you've been classified into one of these two categories, believe it or not, you can blame it on your shoes. "The heel is designed as an instrument for walking, not running, so when a heel-strike is used in running, the resulting impact causes the area to move awkwardly." If you, you over-pronator or supinator, were to ever try barefoot running, you might be surprised to find the problem has left you.

Beyond these facts, more of which you'll find within, the book goes on to describe (in great and good detail) how to begin a barefoot running program. For example, I learned that my quick transition to Vibrams may have not been the best of moves. Idiot's Guide suggests beginning the adventure with a bare foot, walking around your own home or on the sidewalks outside. All in an effort to build up the muscles in your feet. And of course, the skin on the bottom of your feet, too. To start here, and to progress according to the program outlined in the book, is to up your chances of finding success. And yes, they even outline when you can begin introducing minimalist shoes into your plan.

And if you're not sure which minimalist shoes are right for you, Richards and Hollowell cover that, too. Just remember, when it comes to barefoot running, easy does it. As with anything, if you do too much too soon, you'll feel it. And not in a good way. You can read all about that in the book, too.

I leave you with this:

Question: Have you read this book? What did you learn? Regardless, I'd like to know what inspires you to run barefoot?


Tara said...

I've been interested in bare foot running for a while! I'm asking for a pair of vibrams for my birthday. I wouldn't totally convert because of cross country, but I'd love to try it out on easy days or even just for walking.

TARA said...

You would LOVE them for walking, at the very least. I wear mine all the time. And I wear them on light running days, too. Just to keep things interesting.

Renee said...

Hi there, I started running last year and am at the end of my 40's. I love running and got strapped into a pair of strong motion control shoes. I quickly started having knee and foot problems. Everytime I would stop and start over again (I built up to running gradually through run/walk) I would have the same problem. I finally had it and started researching barefoot running while healing this round. I am on chapter 9 of this book which I checked out of the library. I like it so much I ordered a copy the other day. I have been walking barefoot. When my achilles tendon is better I will again start gradually running, this time barefoot. Thanks for the review. I am new to all this and it is helpful to read other opinions.

TARA said...

Hi Renee! Nice to hear that you're enjoying the book. And that you're taking up barefoot running. Be sure to take it slow. At times, you will feel like you can keep going and going, but trust in your body's need to take things slow. Sometimes, or bodies are slower than our minds! Just keep up with it, and you'll be running comfortably in no time. Keep me posted on your progress! Thanks for reading!

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