Barefoot Training and Transition – Barefoot Crunches

by Editor on February 15, 2012

Are you a multi-sport athlete? Do you enjoy a game of basketball, volleyball, or soccer as much as a nice morning long-run? If so, you probably recognize the benefits of having a well-rounded workout schedule. In addition to running, you work on explosive movements, squats, jumps, wind-sprints, crunches, and countless other activities that prepare your body for your different sporting activities. As a runner, we have a special term for those non-running exercises.  We call it “Cross Training” and we have to make a special effort include it in our weekly work-out schedule.

For those of us who focus solely on running, regardless of the distance, cross-training may not come naturally. It’s easy to get comfortable simply running day after day.  We know our routes, our times and our distances. Skipping a Thursday run to play racquetball takes us outside of our comfort zone. It makes us work muscles and movements that are not a part of our normal routine. In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of cross-training and make some suggestions around how to effectively incorporate new activities into a barefoot running schedule.

First, the benefits:

Stand up and run in place. No really…get up. You’ll need to feel this to understand.  As you run in place (head up, good posture), place your fingertips on your abs.  If you are running properly, you should feel your abs contracting with each step. Confession, it’s hard for me to feel it right now. I’ve got a bit of a winter coat that is insulating my abdominal region.  But trust me, those abs are working.  Running properly requires more than just strong calves and quads. When you run, your entire core is engaged.  With this in mind, strengthening your core (your abs, chest, glutes, etc) will translate into being a stronger runner.

And what about the legs? You could argue that running sufficiently works your legs. Cross-training isn’t about doing more, it’s about doing something different. Barefoot running typically involves moving forward in a straight line with light steps and a quick stride.  Cross-training, by definition, must be something else. Lateral movements, jumps, squats, and high-knees all work the legs in ways that running does not.

Why is this important? Aside from the added strength previously discussed, I believe injury prevention is a key benefit. Eventually, every runner hits a rock, a root, or steps in a pothole. In what seem like slow-motion, you feel your base crumble beneath you and you wonder if this will be the time you fall flat on your face.  If you are lucky, you regain your balance and come away with nothing more than a good scare and an increased heart-rate.  If you are not so lucky, you end up in a walking cast or in 6-8 weeks of physical therapy while your ligaments heal. While potholes are inevitable, injuries don’t have to be.

If you work lateral movements, explosive motion, and balance into your weekly schedule, you are more likely to survive situations that require quick changes in direction and increased loads on your knees or ankles. If your body is strong and agile, a stumble does not have to turn into a disaster.

Now, the method:

So how do I cross-train in a way that will benefit my barefoot running? First, find something you love (other than movie watching or internet surfing). Cross-training should be a physical activity that you enjoy so that you are more likely to stick with it. Tennis, basketball, rock-climbing, and soccer are just a few examples of activities that will get your body moving in different directions.  If you don’t want to take up a new sport, there are plenty of other options.  There is always cross-fit, yoga, Pilates, or my personal favorite “Insanity”. Consider the muscles you want to work and find something fun that will get you moving.

Once you’ve picked an activity, consider ways to make it “Minimalist”.  Just like running, cross-training activities done without the aid of a shoe will force your feet and calves to work more naturally.  I won’t spend a lot of time here.  If you enjoy minimalist running, you probably already have an understanding of the core benefits.

Having said that, you may not want to run around on the basketball court barefoot. If someone’s size 13 high-top comes down on your unprotected big toe, it’s not going to feel very good.  As an additional warning, the combination of hardwood floors, bare skin, and a little sweat can make for some slippery situations.  I am a big fan of the Vibram KomodoSport for cross-training activities.  I am now also using the new Spyridon LS for many of my indoor sports where grip and protection and important.

Not ready to take the plunge?

Here are 3 barefoot-friendly activities to get you started:

Skipping- It may bring you back to your childhood days, but skipping really works your calves and forces you to push your body off the ground. Focus on driving you knee up and landing softly. 3 sets of 1-minute each should be enough to fatigue your lower legs.

Jumping Jacks- Again, you may have flash-backs of grade school P.E.  Jumping Jacks will work the outside of your legs as well as your inner thighs.  They are great for added strength and stability, as well as some quick cardio.  Just like our skipping exercises, start with 3 sets of 1-minute and see how many you can do in quick bursts.

Crunches- Your core is important.  Lay on your back with your knees in the air and gently raise your chest toward your knees.  Do not pull on your neck or try to throw your head you violently.  Slow, steady movement is the key.  A straight crunch will work your central abs.  Adding a slight twist (Right shoulder to left knee, left shoulder to right knee, alternating) will work your obliques.  Try 3 sets of 20 as a starting point.  Form is more important than quantity, so adjust as necessary.

Final Thoughts:

Cross-Training has several benefits.  It adds strength, it engages new muscles, it helps prevent injury, and it can be enjoyable. You can do the same cross-training activities each week, or you can mix it up. When you are planning your weekly workouts, be sure to set aside at least a few minutes for something other than forward motion. Your body, and your fitness level, will thank you for it.

~Jordan Flowers

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kees van der Meijden February 15, 2012 at 6:42 pm

I agreement that crosstraining have some benefits, i started with kick boxing once a week. A very different workout where you exercise your abs, shoulders, biceps, triceps and your backmuscles. Also your balance is important when training om low kicks. The only bad thing is that through running barefoot i don’t have callus onder my feet, that and the combination of a gynfloor is bad. After training my feet hurt and the last time i lost some skin. So now i ordered a pair of VFF classics to solve that problem! I think iets great to introduce an other kind of exercise.

Rachelle February 19, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Kees,
Thank you for weighing in! We wish you the best of luck in your training.

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