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Functional Barefoot Running

By Bruce Wilk, PT, OCS,

Coaches have long used mindful and purposeful barefoot running as a part of a training program. In fact, it is an important part of performance during a triathlon.  I was taught more then 20 years ago that the most efficient way to run the first transition, or T1, was a flatfooted, very balanced stride. You would not want to use a forefoot sprinting stride because of a risk of delaying transition vasodilatation, or the widening of blood vessels. Blood has to be moved from your swimming muscles to biking muscles. This process takes time even in the fittest triathletes.

 Since the run from the water to the staging area can be a half-mile or more on asphalt, you wouldn’t want to use a heel strike pattern. You want to protect your heel from inadvertently over-striking your heel on hard, uneven surfaces. You can practice barefoot balance exercises in front of a mirror in order to develop a balance barefoot stride for this portion of the race. You can also perform stride drills to practice running barefoot on a safe surface.

 Once you reach the run leg of the race, it’s time to revert back to your usual training shoes and stride. Have confidence that you will run faster and safer in a properly fitted, manufactured running shoe, than if you ran this portion of the race barefooted.

HOW TO: Techniques for Glide Drills

 Glide Drill #1 Arms In (M27)   

Action

  1. During glides, purposely overswing your arms in front of your body until you begin to feel out of balance.

  2. Bring your arms back into correct armswing position to find your balance. 

Focus  

  • Notice how the position and motion of your arms affects your balance. 

 Glide Drill #2

Arms Out (M28) 
 

Action

  1. During glides, purposely rotate your armswings outward, away from your body, until you begin to feel out of balance.

  2. Bring your arms back into correct armswing position to find your balance. 

Focus  

  • Notice how the position and motion of your arms affects your balance. 

 Glide Drill #3

  Action 
  1. During glides, purposely rotate your leg inwards, toes pointing in, just until you begin to feel out of balance. (Don’t rotate so much that it causes you to stumble.)

  2. Rotate your legs back into a normal, forward position to find your balance.

Focus  

  • Notice how the alignment of your legs and feet affects your balance.

 

Glide Drill #4
Feet Out (M30)

   Action
  1. During glides, purposely rotate your legs outwards, toes pointing to the sides, just until you begin to feel out of balance. (Don’t rotate so much that it causes you to stumble.)

  2. Bring your arms back into correct armswing position to find your balance. 

 Focus 
  • Notice how the alignment of your legs and feet affects your balance.

 

 Glide Drill #5
Hands on Head (M31)

    Action
  1. During glides, place both hands on top of your head.

  2.  Keep the elbows pointed straight out to the sides. Do not twist the upper body.

  3.  Tighten the muscles of the trunk to help control your balance.

  4.  Run with your body straight, feet straight, and chin tucked.

  5.  Running motion should be staright forward, not side to side.

 Focus
  • Maintain the alignment of the trunk over the pelvis while keeping the arms stationary.

 One-Legged Armswings
Barefoot (M10)

   Regions
  • BASIC
  • Toes, arch

Equipment

  • Hand weights

Starting Position 

  • Stand barefoot on a level surface, with “straight” posture.
  • Bend one knee 90 degrees so the lower leg is parallel to the floor (kickback position).
  • Holding a hand weight in each hand, bend elbows to 90 degrees.
 Action
  1. During glides, place both hands on top of your head.

  2.  Keep the elbows pointed straight out to the sides. Do not twist the upper body.

  3.  Tighten the muscles of the trunk to help control your balance.

  4.  Run with your body straight, feet straight, and chin tucked.

  5.  Running motion should be staright forward, not side to side.

 Focus
  • Maintain the alignment of the trunk over the pelvis while keeping the arms stationary.

 Barefoot Push-Up
 (M15)

   Regions
  • BASIC
  • Toes, heel

Equipment

  • None

Starting Position 

  • Barefoot, stand in “straight” posture, elbows bent 90 degrees.

Action

  1. Raise one knee to the “high knees” position, keeping your foot aligned under the bent knee, and hold.

  2. Move your armswing to the coordinated position for balance, and hold.

  3. Push up through the big toe of the weightbearing leg, lifting the heel off the ground. 

 Focus
  • Try to maintain a small, smooth, controlled motion as you transition from the flatfoot position to the big toe.
  • Try to keep your body straight and balanced while your weight moves forward and up into a pushoff position.
  • Create symmetry.
  • Build up to your glide rhythm and target time.

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