My #PreparationDrills for #InjuryFreeRunning #Barefoot:

Over many years of running barefoot in all conditions and on all surfaces, I have come to realize that my ‘off-road’ preparation is the key to avoiding injury and maximizing performance. It has taken me many years to discover and create drills that accomplish that. Thus, the content of the blog post will centre on these and how important that SHOULD be in your preparation for injury-free running (preferably BAREFOOT!).barefoot coach jeff mississauga half marathonI have found that the best preparatory drills (all done barefoot) go as follows:

* start with BALANCE. I do 2 types – vestibular (on one leg with eyes open)* proprioceptive (with the eyes closed)

  • move to running on the spot for 1 minute between 2 pylons, the goal being to finish in the same spot (as you will notice from the photo below, this is NOT easy to accomplish). Doing so means that your body is symmetrical and you do not have any negative rotational imbalances that could lead to running ‘itis’ injuries* incorporate 2 minutes on the SkiEx unit to activate my extensor chain and improve balance
  • followed by 4 minutes on the Health Bridges to release locked up tendons, muscles and ligaments from my lower to upper back. This also improves my posture and has eliminated deep muscle spasms that used to regularly rack me with pain
  • then, I work in 1-legged balancing on the round side of a Bosu Ball with eyes closed (again, proprioceptive balance), trying to hold on each leg for 15 seconds
  • finishing with 1-legged balancing on the flat side of a Bosu Ball, holding for 15 seconds per leg

Doing these every day for no more than 20-25 minutes before I go for a barefoot run, I am convinced, has helped keep me injury-free for decades. The preparation drills help strengthen and balance me so that I land even and squared up with each foot impact. They also help me brace against gravity and land lightly barefoot. 

Even if you DO NOT follow my lead and run barefoot, make sure you DO the preparation drills religiously. That is, of course IF you wish to run long-term injury-free!!

coach Jeff

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#CoachJeff Goes Back In Time Where His #InjuryFreeRunning #Barefoot Began:

As a youngster, I had the privilege of staying at the family cottage on Lake Huron, surrounded by innumerable cousins whose families also had cottage on the same strip of lake shore ‘paradise’, all summer from birth till age 14. These. in hindsight, were the halcyon days of my life. Unbeknownst to me and ALL of my cousins and young buddies during these summer days was the special power of going barefoot 24/7. We walked and ran over any surface barefoot from dawn till dusk – and never gave it a second thought (nor did our our parents, for that matter!). Not only did our feet become impervious to the sharp stones of the roadways, the rugged terrain of the bush and the rough wood of barn beams, we also became lean and strong running through the miles of sand dunes and beaches that were part of our paradise. Further, we NEVER complained of sore ankles, knees, hips, back due to the fact that they were NEVER sore! We played all kinds of sports and games – always barefoot and without injury…unless, of course someone bonked someone else in the head!!

As all of us aged out of summer-long cottage stays, we also aged out of going barefoot at every opportunity. Of course, as you have gathered by now, the old coach ventured back into the barefoot world decades ago – the only one of my summer gang to do so extensively -as far as I can surmise. You see, I long for the day when all of us DO get back to going barefoot as often as possible for the overall betterment of our health. Some of the younger (as in under 12 years old) generation ARE going barefoot more often than not as you can see in the photos below (which lightens my heart and gives me hope for a healthier next generation!).

I take you back to when I was age 17 and working at a camp for the summer. I met a lad  my age named Andrew who was working there as well. We got to know each other quite well to the point where during one of our breaks, he invited to spend a day at his family’s farm in Hanover, Ontario, Canada. Upon arriving, Andrew gave me the full tour and, as it was late summer, the corn had already been harvested. Thus, there was acre after acre of 6 inch high corn shafts lying before us. I knew Andrew was exceptionally fit (he was already a 4th degree black belt in judo) but I had NO idea how tough his feet and MIND were…until he suggested I try to run over the corn shafts – BAREFOOT. Of course thinking that I was a legend in my own mind (and remembering back to my years at the cottage running barefoot over everything – well, ALMOST everything!), I flicked off my sandals and proceeded to run over the first row of corn shafts. Well, that’s as far as I got – I HAD NEVER FELT SUCH SHARP, SEARING PAIN KNIFE THROUGH MY BODY BEFORE…and I had been injured many times playing comp0etitve sports. Thus, I thought I knew how to handle PAIN. After quickly returning to Andrew’s side, he simply smiled, flicked off his sandals, and proceeded to run lightly, quickly and efficiently up AND down the full field of corn shafts. Incredulously, I inspected the soles of his feet and was shocked by the fact that they were perfectly fine…no cuts, scrapes, no bruises. I also noticed how STRONG his feet were and how tough his skin was – he attributed it to years of going barefoot on the farm and whilst training in judo.

This was a lesson well-learned but one that I did NOT revisit until decades later. I could have avoided many of my ‘itis’ running related injuries if I had simply followed Andrew’s lead. I have no idea where he is now – I cannot even remember his last name. I CAN remember what he looked like and how he ran so effortlessly over the corn shafts. It waa magical…almost as magical as a sunset at my cottage!!!Remember this story every time you bend down to put on some form of ‘coffin’ (shoe or boot) and think twice about doing so. You will NOT regret your decision to go without!!

coach Jeff

The Vagaries of #InjuryFreeRunning #Barefoot:

As the old coach muddles through another Canadian winter (and a rather brutal one thus far!), it has become perfectly clear that running barefoot in ALL conditions for significant distances is virtually impossible – at least for ME. I qualify this by mentioning that I have been running barefoot in MOST conditions on virtually ALL types of terrain for a few decades. Thus, when I say “virtually impossible”, that is most likely the case. There may be a few of my barefoot running colleagues who CAN run barefoot in ALL conditions BUT I have yet to meet him or her. As my younger sister is inclined to say to me “not even our Native Peoples of the Canadian North go barefoot in the winter. Why the hell would you even THINK of doing it!”. Good point, sis!!

Of course, common sense has NEVER been a long suit with me. Thus, I WILL venture out barefoot in our Canadian winters – even on the WORST days – if only for a few minutes. It quite simply wakes up my body, activates my energy systems from the feet up AND, I firmly believe, helps me avoid illness (colds, the flu etc.) along with muscle soreness or inflammation injuries. If someone can prove me wrong, fire away!

As I go deeper into the science of barefoot running, I begin to more fully appreciate the importance of moving quickly, quietly and efficiently whilst bracing against the downward pull of gravity when airborne (see photo below).In training my clients, the process of ‘locking in the body’ is paramount to their success at running injury-free (see photo below of one exercise to help accomplish this).I also began to understand the vagaries of running barefoot. Each time out is a lesson in adapting to the unexpected. Quite simply, when you run barefoot, there is NO place to hide. Responding correctly and quickly to the proprioceptive feedback from the feet upon impact (no matter what the surface) is paramount to safe barefoot running. Each sensation is

slightly different yet exhilarating. You MUST stay in the moment – totally focused on the environment and where you are in space. There is NO room for error IF you want to stay upright!

I find racing barefoot in the Canadian winter IS possible but only under ‘perfect’ conditions. This was the case for me at the Robbie Burns 8 kilometre race this past Sunday in Burlington, Canada. I ran it with a group of my Southdown Strider running colleagues in 6 degree Celsius temperatures with no wind nor snow. The route was littered with rock salt in anticipation of a pending snowstorm.  This is normally the worst case scenario for me when running barefoot BUT I whizzed along the course without one iota of trouble (see photo below).

My commitment to running barefoot even in short bursts no matter what the conditions this winter leads me to believe I was better able to tolerate the rock salt. I felt great post-race and got back to intense physical activity the very next day. 

As I always say, virtually NONE of you will join me in running barefoot under most conditions. As I always ALSO say, go barefoot for at least PARTS of each day to help your body energize itself, keep itself healthy and injury-free.

coach Jeff

The Problem #Running#Barefoot in Canadian Winters? Gotta Wear #Coffins!:

As we head into the end of January in what has been a brutally cold, snowy winter – in my new hometown of London anyway – I thought it appropriate to blog on the challenges of running barefoot in such conditions. As you will notice below, it IS possible to do so – just not particularly practical.The risk of frostbite is generally simply too great. Having said that, if air temperatures are not lower than -10C, you CAN run barefoot over most surfaces. It simply takes progressive adaptation AND a focus on quick foot-turnover. You might ask yourself, “why bother”, to which I would respond “it’sthe only way to stay connected to the positive energy sources of Mother Earth”. In the darkest days of our winters, that is MOST important to ensure a healthy, strong mind AND body.Having said THAT, I actually am NOT a total fool. Some might argue otherwise – however, in the worst of our winter conditions, I WILL revert to the use of what I call my ‘pseudo coffins’ (which translate to light-weight, ultra-flexible footwear with Barefoot-Science inserts inside to more fully activate my feet). These include my Sockwas (see photo below),my Vibram Five Fingers (see photo below),or my Skoras (they are the all-black ones in the top left corner beside the red Vibrams). I do NOT wearsocks no matter what the conditions – thus, I get somewhat closer to natural stimulation. I can also fit my 3/4 length Barefoot-Science inserts in all of these. It’s not perfect BUT it’s a hell of a lot better than running in full-on ‘coffins’!! Just can’t do it…my feet have changed that much (from size 10 to 12.5 and a triple D width since going barefoot with ultra-high arches and phenomenally strong feet muscles, tendons and ligaments). All of this results in NO avoidable running injuries AND illnesses. If I MUST put on ‘coffins’, they are of the ultra-flexible type (I can roll them into a ball) and ultra-lightweight.

If you are serious about running barefoot for better health and SAFER running over the long term, then you will take it upon yourself to do so – no matter what the conditions. That does NOT mean putting yourself at risk of frostbite or worse. What it DOES mean is “take the time to step barefoot into the snow, onto the ice, over the exposed frozen grass or dirt trails” – even for a few minutes daily. Only then will you experience the positive energy of Mother Earth coursing through your body. The adaptation process will then carry over to the ‘better’ Canadian weather when running barefoot becomes a ‘piece of cake’!!!

coach Jeff

#CoachJeff makes Emotional Return Trip to #SpecialStratford:

It is not often I blog about something other than barefoot running. This is one of those times. My theme today revolves around a return trip to Stratford, Ontario, Canada – the quaint town located 2 hours north-west of Toronto, Canada. As you may recall, it is also the hometown of my mom AND dad. Having recently moved to within a 40 minute drive of Stratford and retired from my main business career, I am able to make the trip regularly and easily.

I headed up there yesterday and my first stop was Cedarcroft Manor to visit a friend from our previous neighbourhood in Port Credit, Ontario. Her name is Jeanette and she is 94 years young! We were neighbours for 30 years and got to know each other well.

As you can see, the Manor is a converted Victorian mansion from back in the day and the ownershave retained some of its natural beauty. This creates a more home-like atmosphere for the residents.Not having seen Jeanette in at least 6 months, I was not certain of her physical and mental condition. She had fallen in her home and broken a hip, had surgery and was in hospital for over 2 months last summer and fall. Her family finally got her a room in Cedarcroft. I found her in the TV room with other residents and, after a few moments of “do you know who I am, Jeanette?”, she responded “oh, yes”! I am not certain she know me immediately but, after I gave her a chocolate bar treat, her memory seemed to clear!! Once a chocolate lover, ALWAYS a chocolate lover!! We proceeded to her room – rather spacious, clean and bright – perfect for her. Once there,  she took the time to open our card and read most of it before indulging in her sweets.It was the chocolate that continually won out during our visit – and I certainly was NOT going

to restrict her intake!!! As you can see in the photos, she savors EVERY bite.

Even though it is difficult to see someone you remember as independent, feisty and inordinately ‘dialed in’ even at such an advanced age, it quite simply is the cycle of life…reminding me yet again how important it is to live each moment as if it is your last AND never forget those who touch your life. Take the time to visit, engage and support those who you know and even those you do NOT know. All it takes is some of YOUR time.

No trip to Stratford is complete without a visit to my parents’ grave site – even a few minutes in their presence is enough to set my world straight. They always pass along energy – I can literally feel it coursing through my veins. A sense of calm confidence settles over me – that is when I know it is time to depart for my next stop.If you can remember from an earlier blog, the next stop was inevitably to Gordon Street Home – the residence of my second cousin, Andrew – he who inspires me during each visit!!!As you will notice above, he greeted me equipped with his communicating binder & iPad – WAY more technically proficient than the old coach!!! After an enthusiastic welcome, I gave Andrew a package of Smarties BUT he wasn’t remotely interested in them! You see, this was FaceTime day with his parents (my first cousin, Jim and his wife Brenda). As I soon found out, NOTHING gets in the way of THAT!!!One of Andrew’s long time key care-givers is a SPECIAL, God-sent person named Brad. As you will notice in the photo below, he and Andrew are strongly connected. It’s as if they understand each other at every level. Brad explained to me that ever since Andrew moved into Gordon Street Home 9 years ago, he has thrived. He is animated, active and engaging whilst communicating his thoughts, needs and feelings emphatically. I always LOVE being in his presence.

I could tell he was excited to see and speak with his parents. Once Mom appeared on the screen, his eyes locked onto her and he started working the communication board big time!

Once Dad joined the conversation, Andrew was totally enrolled in the session (see photo above). I asked Brad if Andrew understood him. Brad did not hesitate – he said “Andrew understands EVERY word I say to him”. He further added that “he is a supremely intelligent young man. His brain operates at a high level”. Having interacted with Andrew monthly over the last few months, I am beginning to grasp what Brad already knows about Andrew. This is one amazing gentleman realizing his full potential with the support of incredible staff AND loving, caring parents/family. I am humbled in Andrew’s presence.

To his dad, Jim, I say “thank you for being an inspiration and role model for Andrew…and ME!”. I never knew that you take Andrew on hour-long walks regularly during the summer around Stratford and our beloved Inverhuron Beach (when he visits there).  Well, Andrew certainly let me know about that via his communication board and Brad verified the details. You do not just walk him, Jim. You engage him in conversation and stimulate his brain and body by exposing him to the natural beauty of both venues. Good on you, cuz!!! The bar for the rest of us has been set high. I challenge you to engage someone you know positively and powerfully – if you are NOT already doing so.

As I said at the outset, it is NOT often that I blog about something unrelated to barefoot running. I think all of you will agree…doing so today was well worth it!!

coach Jeff

#Squat-Scoot #BarefootRunning – the Younger the Better:

Benefits of Barefoot Running from a Young Age:

 As an Exercise Physiologist and nationally (Canada) certified coach, I have worked with kids of all ages (1 through 19) and abilities (inactive, physically and mentally challenged and elite) over many decades.

One thing I have found in common – none of them have been encouraged to go BAREFOOT nor assessed for body symmetry and balance. My work with kids through my company – Team Over The Top – has been focused on changing that…!! The ultimate goal is to get ALL children moving safely, efficiently and quietly- barefoot – no matter what the level of activity. I do this by improving their running technique via my Squat-Scoot method of barefoot running.

Process:

Whether I am working with youngsters one-on-one or within a group, I follow virtually the same protocol. This involves:

  1. Assessing their natural running technique
  2. Assessing their ability to balance on one leg with eyes opened and then closed followed by running on the spot with eyes closed for 1 minute
  3. Assessing their body symmetry
  4. Assessing their ability to brace against gravity

Next Steps:

It is one thing to do all of the above assessments. It is quite another to interpret the results and integrate positive change where necessary. What I find with virtually ALL youngsters is they learn and adapt quickly no matter what the circumstances IF they are guided properly! With this in mind, please note the following techniques that I use to incorporate barefoot running and the benefits thereof:

  1. Taking the children from lumbering, noisy, ground-pounders to tight, light, forward-moving machines by teaching them how to brace versus gravity
  2. Teaching them how to strengthen their weaker side to improve balance and stability – thus reducing the rotational forces and decreasing the risk of injury
  3. Showing them how to unlock the side of the body that shows up with that leg shorter than the other (thus, asymmetrical). It is impossible to move safely against gravity when asymmetrical
  4. Teaching them basic core-activation drills to improve the ability to move quietly against gravity

Going Barefoot:

Now to the crux of the article…benefits of running barefoot from a young age! Please note that once I get the youngsters barefoot, their:

  • Energy increases
  • Attention span improves
  • Ability to move quickly, quietly and around objects improves
  • Ability to balance with eyes open, closed, on unstable objects (like the Bosu Ball) and when changing directions quickly improves
  • Ability to run without pain in the joints lowers to no pain
  • Ability to move more economically increases
  • Ability to run longer with less fatigue (and, thus, less risk of avoidable injury) increases

As you can see from the photos of my young charges, they land more on the mid-foot and literally spring forward off Mother Earth (or any man-made surface, for that matter). They maintain almost perfect balance due to both vestibular and proprioceptive awareness, thus avoiding potentially dangerous ground impact. Finally, they move with confidence and purpose – there is NO fear!

Are there any negatives to having our youngsters go barefoot? None that I am aware of. The positives listed above are only a small sampling of WHY are youngsters SHOULD be barefoot for the majority of each day.

If you do NOT have your youngsters going barefoot already, it is not too late to save them from the ravages of the ‘coffin’ (shoe mass marketing) world. Ironically, I love the Nike shoe company line…JUST DO IT!!!

coach Jeff

 

 

Avoiding #Frostbite to Support #InjuryFreeRunning #Barefoot:

Recent 7 day weather report for the coach’s new home – London, Ontario, Canada (sometimes known as the ‘Banana Belt’) – temperatures in degrees Celsius including windchill. Snow accumulation in centimetres:

1. -25 & 5

2. -20 & 10

3. -19 & 15

4. -22 & 5

5. -18 & 12

6. – 20 & 15

7. -25 & 5We truly ARE the Great White North this winter – at least as of January 5, 2018!! I outline this as a lead-in to today’s blog. I will tell you categorically that even I cannot run safely barefoot in conditions like this. Having said that, I can and do run in minimalist coverings on my feet AND still activate my body by exposing my feet to the extreme cold and snow daily – in LIMITED doses.Generally, when it gets SOOOO cold that even the husky dogs go for cover, I slide on my Sockwas with the Barefoot-Science inserts…sans socks, of course!! You may ask “why in God’s name would I choose to run like this??” Well, the answer is 4-fold:

1. having gotten used to activating my body from the feet up by running full-on barefoot over Mother Earth (‘earthing’, ‘grounding’, ‘connecting’ or whatever else you want to call this) for decades, I need to simulate this as much as possible. Thus, I go with the next-to-nothing Sockwas, the body activation Barefoot-Science inserts (see photo above) AND no socks when the weather is simply too cruel

2. no injuries nor pain AT ALL. Thus, why would I run any other way??? It simply would NOT make sense. By running like this in all conditions over all surfaces, my body is fully ‘turned on’ AND I am totally aware of where I am in space. Thus, if I ever hit an uneven surface, I get instant proprioceptive feedback that allows me to stay balanced AND avoid needless injury. I also never get toxin build-up that carries over to the next day. My blood system is so efficient that any toxic running residue is flushed from my body quickly

3. no illness. I cannot recall the last time I even had a cold or flu bug. I quite simply do NOT get sick now. Running barefoot in all conditions (or at least exposing my feet to the elements daily) helps my body ‘kill off’ any negative bacteria that could lead to illness. I’m no medical doctor BUT there does not seem to be any other explanation for my excellent physical well-being

4. no mental health issues (some of you may not believe this one!! :-D). I am constantly in tune with my mental state – remaining positive no matter what the situation. Again, the neutrons transferred into my body regularly from Mother Earth help keep me mentally alert, balanced and energized...no drugs required

Avoiding frostbite in our winter is the biggest challenge. Here’s how I do it:

  1. take regular ice cold showers to prepare my circulatory system
  2. go barefoot down to -5 to -10 temperatures when it is not slushy and icy (usually into early winter)
  3. wear the least amount of cover on my feet no matter what the conditions
  4. find cold water on my runs where it hasn’t totally frozen over to dip my feet into wearing the Sockwas
  5. take my Sockwas off and gradually build up to 30 to 90 seconds running in the snow even at -20+ temperatures
  6. #5 is the key where you MUST react to the sensory feedback from your feet. As long as your feet are tingling slightly, you still have adequate circulation BUT, if you suddenly feel nothing but warmth in your feet, look the hell out. This is the first sign of frostbite. You are not in SERIOUS trouble yet BUT you are on the way. Get indoors immediately and warm up the feet in blankets ASAP. If you catch this early enough, the worst that will happen is some dead skin (usually under the toes) will form and blacken. All you have to do is let it peel off, put healing ointment on the raw skin and get back to running (not barefoot for awhile tho!). The chances of this happening are slim IF you respect your body’s natural ability to protect itself

If you truly want to maximize the benefits of full body activation AND take advantage of Mother Earth’s natural protective powers, then GRADUALLY introduce yourself to barefoot contact YEAR ROUND – especially if you live in areas of the world where winter means cold, snow and ice!

coach Jeff