Home Posts tagged "Barefoot Training"

Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/26/12

Here is this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Light Lifting, Big Muscles? - I was interviewed for this Chicago Tribune feature by James Fell.  It was particularly cool for me to be featured alongside one of my mentors, Dr. William Kraemer.  Dr. Kraemer was actually on my master's thesis committee for my graduate degree at the University of Connecticut.  

Cressey Performance In-Service: Get-up/Swing - Tony Gentilcore (with help from Greg Robins) gave this week's staff in-service at CP, and Tony videoed it and put it up on YouTube.  If you listen carefully, you can hear me playing catch in the background with one of our baseball guys.  Sorry about that!

The Who-What-When-Where-Why-How of Barefoot Training - I got a question the other day about my thoughts on barefoot training, and I referred the individual in question to this post.  I thought I'd reincarnate it from the archives for you, too.

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The New Balance Minimus: The Best Minimalist Training Shoe on the Market

I get asked all the time what sneaker I recommend for strength and conditioning.  While no shoe is perfect for everyone and all tasks, I’ve certainly grown to love the more “minimalist” options on the market today that simulate barefoot training.  In addition to strengthening the smaller muscles of the feet, barefoot training “accidentally” improves ankle mobility in athletes who have been stuck in restrictive shoes their entire lives.

That said, not all minimalist footwear options are created equal – and I can speak from experience, as I have tried out just about every version on the market today.

My use of old-school Converse All-Stars (“Chuck Taylors") could probably be considered my original “foray”into minimalist footwear, as I gravitated toward them because they were flat-soled and allowed me to better drive through my heels while squatting and deadlifting in powerlifting.  Unfortunately, they weren’t very comfortable, weren’t particularly aesthetically appealing, and I couldn’t really do much single-leg work or sprinting in them the way that I wanted to because they just felt restricting at the ankles (admittedly, I had the high-top version).  Plus, I always felt like people automatically lived in my parents' basement and played Dungeons and Dragons because I wore them.

From there, I went to the Nike Free back in 2006 – and was pretty impressed. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm tailed off quickly, as I beat these sneakers into the ground almost overnight.  The panels on the bottoms would fall off all the time when we pushed the sled (we find 3-4 new “pieces” of Free on the floor at CP every day).

And, the sneaker design actually seemed to “de-evolve,” as the upper and sides seemed to get stiffer while the heel lift increased (pictured below is the 7.0, and while the lower digit versions are a bit less stiff, there still seemed to be a general shift toward "normalcy" in terms of heel lift).

Looking for an alternative, I tried on a Reebok Travel Trainer (yes, only one) on in a store – and quickly returned it to the box before lacing up the other sneaker.  It felt so low in the back that I literally thought I’d come out of the shoe altogether if I tried to run – and this was a sentiment echoed by my wife, who owns a pair and has worn them a whopping one time for a training session…a mistake she’ll never make again, as they are buried in some closet with her 13,000 other pairs of shoes.  Using an excavating helmet and my Dora the Explorer flashlight, I managed to find them:

Then, earlier this year, an employee of Vibram Five Fingers kindly gave me a pair of their shoes to try out.  I really liked it for walking around the facility and training my bilateral lower-body lifts, but was not a fan of it for single-leg training, as it beat up my big toe on the trailing leg in lunges.  I'm also a heavy supinator, so it wasn't a good fit for me with sprinting.

However, I do love the material on the bottom, as it is one solid piece that couldn’t fall apart like the Frees do.  I also liked the pliability of the upper section; it had just the right amount of give.  That said, like most folks I’ve met who wear the Vibram Five Fingers, I could have done without the “Five Fingers” part, from an aesthetic standpoint. It's the absolute closest you can get to true barefoot training.

Luckily for me, though, the clouds opened up and I finally found a pair of minimalist sneakers that I love "all-around" when I got hooked up with a pair of the New Balance Minimus.  The new "training" shoe, which is pictured below, actually debuted in July of 2011, with more colors and styles added to the product line in the months that followed.  These bad boys are the real deal: durable bottoms, the same upper “feel” of the Five Fingers (they actually collaborated with Vibram on the trail version, which feels similar to the Five Fingers, minus the toes), and just enough protecting at the big toe to keep me from getting banged up on lunges.  There is also sufficient padding in the back to ensure that you don't slip out like one does with the Travel Trainer.  Tony and I each have a pair, as does the First Lady of Cressey Performance (for the record, Tony's are the pink ones):

I’ve used it for everything from sprinting, to jumping, to lifting and felt great.  I feel like an absolute rock star because I don’t have to change footwear halfway through a session in my strength and conditioning program, and while that may be a sad commentary on my life, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a damn good training show that I’ll be rocking for the foreseeable future.  It's also quickly become the single most popular training shoe on the floor at Cressey Performance on a given day, as many of the athletes have followed our lead and been thrilled with their purchases.

You can check out the different styles of Minimus at NewBalance.com.  I also liked this great interview on the research and development that went into creating the Minimus; it’s worth a read if you’re a geek like me.

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Flat Feet and Hypermobile: Okay for Barefoot Training?

Q: I read with great interest your recent review of Muscle Imbalances Revealed, and in particular, your comments on Mike Robertson's presentation that touched on factors related to excessive pronation.  I have this excessive foot pronation, plus a spondylolisthesis, a history of ankle sprains, double-jointed elbows and knees, and hips that move around like John Travolta's in Saturday Night Fever. Basically I should have given up my career and gone into the Cirque de Soleil.

What I want to know is that specifically with my feet if wearing a supportive shoe with orthotics is such a bad thing. Everyone is on this barefoot kick, but it just doesn't work for me. If I go barefoot my hips move out of correct position and my ankles and calves ache. In fact, when I was a child, my dad had to massage my calves and arches at night because I'd be in tears from the pain of being flat-footed. Once I got my first orthotics at age 7, I was so much more comfortable. I feel that orthotics and a nice flat shoe for me helps me use my feet correctly and allows me to stay away from internal rotation of the tibia and femur, and reduces pelvic tilt, etc.

Or, I could be mistaken? What do you think, and have you heard anyone else talk about this? Other hypermobile people and I have talked about this and we all seem to feel the same: barefoot is not the way to go for us.

A: Extensive barefoot stuff is definitely not for everyone, and if you were having issues that significant at such a young age, you're probably just someone with a structurally different foot type.  There are definitely scenarios where orthotics are indicated, and the fact that you've gotten so much symptomatic relief from them tells me that they're a good thing in your case.

That said, you might still benefit from just a bit of barefoot training - like deadlifting barefoot and doing some bowler squats and the like.  Basically, just use it for situations where foot positioning doesn't change.  Then, you don't have to mess around with how it affects the gait cycle.  I think you'll get some of the benefits of strengthening the small muscles of the feet and improving proprioception (in light of your history of ankle sprains) without all the unfavorable compensations further up.  And in folks who don't have your hypermobility, improving dorsiflexion ROM would be an added benefit.

Layout 1

I wouldn't say that it's specific to hypermobile individuals, though.  A lot of them probably have issues with barefoot training because they lack the strength and underlying stability required at the lower leg and hip to take the ground reaction force stress off the feet.  Remember that mobility and stability are always working at odds with one another; if you've got too much of one, you have to train the other one to pick up the slack.  My hunch is that most of these people don't have structural pronation; they have excessive functional pronation because the anti-pronators - specifically the hip external rotators - aren't strong enough to decelerate that pronation.  Check out the valgus (poor) positioning on the left here:

tuckjumplanding

Of course, in the general population, we see it for this reason, as well as the fact that most people walk around in terrible cinder blocks footwear that completely "tunes out" the joints and muscles of the feet.

A lot of the folks that try barefoot training and wind up in pain get that way because they're idiots and jump right in full-tilt.  You can't go from wearing cross-trainers to wearing thin pieces of cloth/rubber overnight.  And, as Nick Tumminello wisely pointed out recently, while our ancestors were barefoot all the time, they weren't barefoot on CONCRETE for loads of mileage.  And, they weren't as overweight as today's society is, with such low relative strength. As always, people get hurt because they are stupid and not because a specific training modality is bad.

Typically, in a broad sense, I recommend that people do their 1-leg (pistol) squats, all deadlifting variations, and box squats without sneakers.

As long as they aren't really overweight - or presenting with a history of foot problems - we'll also have them do their warm-ups without sneakers.

Everything else (including more quad dominant squatting variations) are done with footwear. I'm a big fan of the New Balance Minimus; you can read my full review at the following link: The New Balance Minimus: The Best Minimalist Training Shoe on the Market.

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Stuff You Should Read: 9/16/09

I'm headed to a Sox game tonight and have plenty to do around the facility before I go, so I thought I'd just use today to throw out a few quick reading recommendations: Re-Building the Reverse Hyper - This great newsletter from Mike Robertson goes into some excellent detail on the biomechanics of a very controversial exercise - and how we can make it safer and more effective. Wiggling Their Toes at the Show Giants - This is a piece in the NY Times that is actually surprisingly good.  It goes hand-in-hand with my recommendation of Born to Run from a few weeks ago.  Definitely check both the article and the book out. Super Bowl Super Shakes - Dr. John Berardi just published this collection of shake recipes this week.  It's definitely worth checking out if you're looking for some new ideas to add variety to your diet.
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Stuff You Should Read: 3/11/09

Here is this week's list of recommended reading: The Mainstream Media Lag - Here's an old blog post with an enduring theme. An EricCressey.com Exclusive Interview with Dr. Jason Hodges - This interview includes a lot of really interesting thoughts from an openminded and forward-thinking radiologist.  I guarantee you'll learn something new - whether it's about shoulders, knees, or just being an informed consumer. Go Barefoot, Get Stronger - This article included a lot of quotes and perspectives from Martin Rooney, who is one of the initial "pioneers" of barefoot training.  We do a lot of barefoot work, and it's absolutely fantastic.
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Barefoot Weight Training Guidelines

Q: I know that you're a bid advocate of including barefoot weight training in your strength and conditioning programs.  What in general is your "shoeless" policy with your athletes, if any? A: Yes, we use a lot of barefoot weight training around Cressey Performance in our strength training programs.  In addition to strengthening the smaller muscles of the feet, barefoot training "accidentally" improves ankle mobility in athletes who have been stuck in restrictive shoes their entire lives. Here are the exercises we're open to doing barefoot: All deadlift variations (rack pulls and DB variations included), box squats (hip dominant), and all any body weight mobility drills.

We don't go barefoot for any loaded single-leg movements (aside from 1-leg RDLs and 1-leg squats/pistols) or more quad-dominant squatting variations. All that said, we are careful about integrating barefoot drills in very overweight or very weak clients.  These individuals do not go barefoot for any of our dynamic flexibility warm-ups aside from in-place ankle mobilizations, as lunging variations can be a bit too much stress on them at first. We do, however, encourage clients (in most cases) to go with a good minimalist shoe. My personal favorite is the New Balance Minimus. Sign-up today for our FREE newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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