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Singapore Business Times interviews SLK

As Barefoot Running rises in popularity, more willPower students are asking questions.  Actually everyone is asking questions. Keep this in mind: barefoot running and foot fitness are different. Barefoot running is a piece of foot fitness.

When SLK agreed to give this interview, she thought it would be a great opportunity to promote wP&g®, and our team of instructors in Singpore. Instead, the interview took a “sharp right” into barefoot running.   Nevertheless – this is great information for you, as a wP&g® instructor – whether you are speaking to clients, students or the media.

Singapore Business Times  2/14/2014

SBT: Please go through the science again of how running barefoot would be as good if not better than running shoes? Isn’t it recommended only for runners of say, a specific weight, age, distance? 

SLK: I will preface this interview by highlighting an important point: willPower & grace®, the program that Momentum is bringing to Singapore, is not a running program. Running is only ONE component of overall fitness – however the recent pop-culture attraction to barefoot running has brought barefoot enthusiasts to me, since I advise on the topic. I have been teaching barefoot movement for 14 years, most typically through The willPower Method®. Underneath the willPower brand,  I teach barefoot running clinics to consumers, personal trainers and fitness professionals around the world.

Also – “Barefoot Running” has become a popular buzz-term.  Many barefoot runners ARE barefoot (naked feet) however – minimal running is essentially the same and MOST barefoot runners are actually minimal runners; that is, wearing a minimal shoe. A TRUE minimal shoe has:

  • NO Cushioning
  • NO Motional Control
  • NO Stabilizing features
  • NO Heel lift
  • A very wide toe box – and, in my opinion – always separates the toes (with 5 toe pockets) so that they learn to spread.

Each foot has 33 joints. This offers the human body tremendous potential for mobility in each foot! The human foot was not designed to tread on leveled, predictable terrain – the amazing foot (a work of art according to Leonardo DaVinci) is designed to articulate on variable surfaces and textures.  Keeping our feet confined to a shoe has essentially stunted the foot’s true functionality. Non-movement leads to stiff joints – atrophied muscles, sticky fascia and neural disconnection. Like any joint system in the body (consider the knee) continually working towards articulation and full-range of motion protects us from movement dysfunction and physical issues (such as arthritis).

Increasing mobility at the joint also requires dedicated effort for stability training as well. (We don’t want hypermobile joints). So – humans who exercise are constantly mobilizing joints and stabilizing joints (muscle & connective tissue).  So here is a question for you:  Why have we stopped working toward these goals with our feet? Human beings are mammals.  In the beginning – we walked on our bare feet  -and it was good.

Now I’ll address some of the features of traditional athletic shoes – designed to help make exercise easier and more comfortable.

  • The small toebox (which also help make our feet look smaller and “more appealing”) de-forms the foot over time, leading to hammertoe conditions, bunions, neuromas +++
  • The arch support has allowed the muscles in our feet to atrophy, and disconnected (nuero-muscular)  (abductor hallucis, peroneal group ++) – and therefore become dependent on the man-made interface that multi-billion dollar footwear companies have created for us.
  • The motion control feature in shoes has also allowed the foot to become dependent – so the feet become weak and stiff and unstable.  In the case of an “emergency” (let’s say the ankle rolls by accident, when walking down the street) the typical foot / ankle complex endures injury. For the body to function efficiently, the intrinsic (small, stabilizer muscles) need to fire prior to extrinsic muscles (larger – movers). When the foot is stabilized, the extrinsics overpower the intrinsics – leading to inefficient movement ++
  • The cushioning feature in shoes has dampened the foot’s proprioception (for example: ability to understand grade of force as it strikes the ground).
  • The cushioning feature raises the heel higher than the forefoot – which leads to a shortened calf-achilles complex, and decreased natural ankle dorsi-flexion (hindering efficient movement – even just walking!).  Also – the heel lift has changed our running gait – and now people land on their HEELS – a force that ranges from 1.5 – 3 times their body weight – being transferred up the skeleton – as many as 1000 times per mile.

Whew.

Should this be limited to a specific weight, age, distance? Not at all.  Anyone can learn to do this – and it results in less impact up the kinetic chain.  I’ve taught hundreds of people to run for the first time in their lives! All ages, and sizes. The critical keys are SLOW ACCLIMATION… PRACTICE, PATIENCE. One exciting piece here – the rating of perceived exertion (RPE)  is much lower than traditional running (long strides, heel strike.

SBT Tell us why this program is named willpower & grace®? What is in the program and why do runners need to be trained in it? 

SLK: willPower & grace® provides exercises full-body and equipment-free movement (you learn to move your body – instead of getting distracted by equipment).

wP&g® offers movement in 3 planes of motion (runners over-train in the sagittal plane – but we train you in the frontal and transverse – so very well balanced).

wP&g® offers cardio endurance work, and cardio strength work (anaerobic drills for our advanced students) as well as flexibility, alignment, and mind-muscle control.

We train completely barefoot (naked feet) – stimulating the neuro-receptors in the skin, as well as the proprioceptors in the joints.

We help people to understand grade of force, and teach them to land without a sound (grace). We help people connect with themselves and get focused (willPower).  And – we encourage people to set goals – and attain them (willPower).

The philosophy behind the name willPower & grace® is the physical manifestation of mental / emotional control and release.

All of our students are different; our runners typically have LOTS of willPower (driven self-control), but often (with due respect and a smile) not much grace (elegance of movement, balance, flexibility).

Additionally, we coach the feet, and landings – so that our students THINK about their feet with each step (people typically don’t think about their feet until they hurt).

willPower & grace® is a repetitive sequence – (just like running!) However, our 60-minute workout offers approximately 68 different exercises.  Once the student learns the sequence, he will improve his performance each time he steps into class (similar to running!) For these reasons (and more) willPower is a good match for the Type A personality.

Of course, it’s difficult for me to be entirely objective here- but I will stand behind my statement: willPower & grace® is one of the smartest cross-training workouts available for runners. All runners should begin with 3x/ week for one month – and then scale back to 1-2x week for as long as they are running. It will keep them safe, balanced, flexible and strong through multi-planar movement. It will engage their full body from it’s foundation.  I like to say that it’s smart training: from head to toe.

SBT: A few years after barefoot running took off, what is the new “evidence” Or understanding of our physical bodies, and runners’ gait and physiques? What has changed? 

SLK: Well – to begin, there is still no evidence proving athletic shoes prevent injury. And, clearly (based on the very simple information above) the traditional athletic shoe does not ENHANCE our function.

Research conducted by Dr. Daniel Lieberman, Harvard University addresses foot strike patterns of shod vs. unshod runners. With a “proper” foot-strike, (mid-foot OR forefoot) the foot is able to more properly disperse ground reaction forces / impact force. When barefoot running efficiently (by this I mean acclimated, well-practiced) the body learns to depend on it’s own natural suspension system – a myo-fascial complex – and proper foot function has a direct connection to the pelvic floor and core muscle complex. So – proper barefoot running becomes a completely integrated action – a functional primal action.

We know that the majority of runners endure both chronic and acute sports specific injuries. Typically – these injuries are a result over-use and overtraining. Faulty alignment and gait patterns lead to joint issues, shin splints – (fractured anterior lower leg bones – as a result of heavy heel strike)+++.  We also know that most runners are type-A personality – they are competitive, they like repetition, and they and become slightly addicted to the “runners’ high”.  Therefore – even with impending injury – they don’t give themselves adequate rest and recovery.

What we have learned is that barefoot running ALSO produces injuries – but it’s an entirely different situation.

A 2013 estimate shows that 75% of runners are heel strikers (land on their heel). So to transition to barefoot (or minimal) running means learning a new skill altogether.  The turnover rate is typically much higher (~ 180 steps per minute), alignment is different, beginning with: shoulders over hips, hips over heels…  and foot strike pattern is different (mid-strike or forefoot strike).

So when we take the existing runner – and tell them that they need to cut back to only 1 slow mile a day to begin… of course the runner is not interested – so they jump in faster than they should.  Plus – since the perceived exertion is SO LOW – they run faster and much farther than the body is able to manage in the beginning.  BOOM! The most typical injuries are extreme delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), specifically in the calves and foot bone edema.

Many of the barefoot running related injuries are a result of improper acclimation.

SBT Tell us why this program is named Will Power & Grace? What is in the program and why do runners need to be trained in it? 

SLK: willPower & grace® provides exercises full-body and equipment-free movement (you learn to move your body – instead of getting distracted by equipment).

wPg® offers movement in 3 planes of motion (runners over-train in the sagittal plane – but we train you in the frontal and transverse – so very well balanced).

wPg® offers cardio endurance work, and cardio strength work (anaerobic drills for our advanced students) as well as flexibility, alignment, and mind-muscle control.

We train completely barefoot (naked feet) – stimulating the neuro-receptors in the skin, as well as the proprioceptors in the joints.

We help people to understand grade of force, and teach them to land without a sound (grace). We help people connect with themselves and get focused (willPower).  And – we encourage people to set goals – and attain them (willPower).

The philosophy behind the name willPower & grace® is the physical manifestation of mental / emotional control and release.

All of our students are different; our runners typically have LOTS of willPower (driven self-control), but often (with due respect and a smile) not much grace (elegance of movement, balance, flexibility).

Additionally, we coach the feet, and landings – so that our students THINK about their feet with each step (people typically don’t think about their feet until they hurt).

willPower & grace® is a repetitive sequence – (just like running!) However, our 60-minute workout offers approximately 68 different exercises.  Once the student learns the sequence, he will improve his performance each time he steps into class (similar to running!) For these reasons (and more) willPower is a good match for the Type A personality.

Of course, it’s difficult for me to be entirely objective here- but I will stand behind my statement: willPower & grace® is one of the smartest cross-training workouts available for runners. All runners should begin with 3x/ week for one month – and then scale back to 1-2x week for as long as they are running. It will keep them safe, balanced, flexible and strong through multi-planar movement. It will engage their full body from it’s foundation.  I like to say that it’s smart training: from head to toe.

SBT:  What’s your presciption/advice for running barefoot? 

SLK: I will summarize – because this is a long-time practice.

  1. Foot strike should be mid-foot or forefoot
  2. Land gently – with feet below hips – standing upright – not leaning at the hip.
  3. Foot turnover should be approximately 180 strikes per minute (yes – this IS fast)
  4. Body should stay relaxed – without clenching. Dr. Lieberman’s term for this is compliance  meaning all the joints and muscles “give in” – working together – rather than opposing one another.
  5. Cross train. Cross train. Cross train.  I know you love running. I understand.  But – please stretch, twist, bend. Your body was designed to move in 3 functional planes.  Use them! Let me make it simple: do willPower & grace®
  6. Take good care of your feet:  self massage often. Walk on variable terrain. Stretch your calves every single day.
  7. Patience, grasshopper. Progress SLOWLY. Existing runners (heel strikers) should consider taking a season off – get your cardio elsewhere – and learn this “new skill”. Compare it to: a tennis player learning the game of squash.  It’s just different.

SBT: Can runners do half and half? run barefoot and with shoes? 

SLK: I’m assuming you mean traditional shoes with cushioning, motional control, stability etc. Yes – they can. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. However – I don’t advise it. The body needs time to learn something new.  In my personal opinion: practice the new skill – get the body acclimated and then SLOWLY increase and enhance performance of your new skill.  Your body will thank you for it.

***

Read the published article on the willPower Blog.

willPower Education Team

willPower Education Team

willPower Teacher Trainers and Development Coaches guided by program creator, Stacey Lei Krauss. This Team develops tools to enhance your professional skills and fuel your motivation.