After reading studies and articles and debates on this issue over the past 6 months or so, I decided that just reading isn’t enough. After all, most research studies and experiments conducted in labs are very controlled, which is, in my opinion, quite the opposite of real life. I attended a cutting edge training seminar from Z Health called Essentials of Elite Performance and learned even more about how the body works and how important the joints in our feet actually are. Over 1/3 of the joints in our body are located in our feet. What is the main function of joints?- movement! For some reason, our shoe industry and training community have decided that this is a “faulty design” and decided to start designing shoes and orthotics to keep those joints stiff and not allow them to move. Understandably so, as most of our population spends most of our time seated and don’t have the foot strength and mobility to support the impact of running. Running shoes allow those people to get out and run more comfortably. Noble intention, but very misguided. Designing something to support an inefficiency instead of actually getting to and correcting the root of the problem is what we’ve trended towards over the past few decades. We forget how adept our body is to changing and healing itself! So, I entered into my own “lab.” I bought a pair of the Vibram Five Fingers shoes and proceeded to train for a half marathon over 3 months.

My first run was very interesting. I started out small (or so I thought), only running 3 miles (at that point I had an easy 8 mile base in Nike Frees or other running shoes). The first 1/2 mile to mile felt a little strange, and my feet felt a little stiff. Then, all of the sudden, my feet loosened up, spread out, and I took off. My stride shortened into a land and push, my feet opened up at impact, and my toes gripped the the ground. I’ve never felt more sure-footed! I cruised through the remaining 2 miles- feeling disappointed that I was home already, wanting to do more but knowing my body wouldn’t like me if I did much more. As it was, my run felt great, but my calves punished me for the next few days. I realized that I’d tapped into a whole new way of running that my body is going to love… eventually. In retrospect, 3 miles was a little aggressive for my first time.

Lesson learned, I slowly increased my distances over the next few months. My gait changed into an efficient, smooth short stride with a springy push off. I learned to run easy and smooth, which in turn made me fast! I had 6 mile and 8.5 mile training runs that ended up being PR’s! I completed the 1/2 marathon with little problems. I didn’t set any records, but it wasn’t my slowest half, either. I ran smoothly and easily the entire race, but didn’t quite have enough kick to push faster and hit my PR goal. I can feel this style of running gait is more natural and efficient, and I’m excited about where it (and my legs) will take me in the future!

And, as a bonus, my body’s never felt better. The occasional achiness in the knees and ankles I used to get after the long runs is gone. My hip mobility has never been better. In truth, this shouldn’t be a bonus, this is what should happen as a result of our training. We train to get stronger and feel better, not the other way around. Too often, we tend to try to feel better so we can train some more. If our training is breaking us down and making us worse, why are we doing it?!

I can’t attribute this totally to just running barefoot. Religiously practicing the Z Health R Phase Dynamic Joint Mobility Drills has also played a large part in how I feel and move as well.

All this to say, I’m a 100% believer that the closer we are to barefoot, or “natural,” the better our body is going to respond to our training and improve. The more “connection” our brain has with each of our hundreds of joints, the clearer our proprioceptive “map” will be and we will move more efficiently. Not only is there science to back it up, I have first hand experience as well- which in my mind carries a lot more water!

Questions about shoes, running gait, or this new Z Health Training? Post a comment,or email info.fitnessevolved@gmail.com

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