Ask an Expert: Barefoot Running

Is the barefoot running trend over–or are there real benefits to minimalist running? – Kevin

It’s been an interesting few decades in the running shoe industry. We started with a lower heel-to-toe drop (the difference between the height of the heel versus the toe in a shoe) in the 1970s where you could pretty much feel the ground as you ran over it. As time passed and running became more mainstream, running shoe drops grew beefier and beefier, adding more cushion with every stride. Remember the Nike Shox?  I do, they rivaled my high heels on a Saturday night!

When the best-selling book Born to Run was published, it changed the running shoe conversation by highlighting the benefits of running barefoot as well as running with less under foot. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it as it’s as entertaining as it is educational and definitely defines the biomechanics of running in a way that would make anyone want to shed their shoes and head out for a run.

The truth is, we are made to walk and run barefoot, and doing so provides proprioceptive benefits (muscle sense) with the land that we move across. A perfect example of this is when a young child learns to walk and stabilize. Many times they are barefoot and they can feel the ground they are trying to move across. When you add shoes to the mix, they almost have to relearn how to walk because it reduces the body’s connection to the ground and rather than their body stabilizing, the shoes do more of the work along the way.

(Authors note: The same is true for my dog Bear! When I put those cute little winter mittens on all four of his paws, it took him weeks to learn to walk normally in them because he couldn’t feel the ground underfoot.)

Does that mean we should all donate our running shoes and run barefoot? No.  It simply means, that if we wanted to invest the time to evolve back to living barefoot – we could. When I raced in Fiji, there was a native that helped us across a raging river and through a cut bamboo field. His feet looked liked shoes–large and wide–and moved without even as much as a scrape on his feet through the field.

My point: our feet are well protected and well supported–almost to a fault. The running shoe industry is righting itself now with a more balanced approach to shoes. They went from pushing shoes that looked like sandals to minimalist shoes that had a little extra protection to now, what I believe is a hybrid, between the beefier models and the minimalist (what Goldilocks would deem “just right”).

Although barefoot running was a craze, it led to a greater understanding of shoe technology and biomechanics. It is also fair to say that if the shoe works for you, don’t mess with it. I’ve heard from so many runners that went from running without issues to changing to barefoot or less shoe overnight to find Achilles and calf issues a month later.

It’s important to note that if you want to run in less shoe, you will need to allow time to adapt to running in less shoe and in some cases on a lower to the ground stride. When women wear high heels, all the muscles, tendons and joints have to adapt and shorten (tighten) to move safely. Over time, our body’s response is often tight, short calf muscles and Achilles. Like a higher drop running shoe, if you go from high to low to quickly, you’re putting 2-3 times your body weight with every stride putting the tight, short muscles under great pressure.

The key is to train your body just as you would for a marathon: a gradually progressive program that includes strengthening your feet, ankles and core, investing time simply wearing “less shoe” and including range of motion and flexibility exercises for your feet and ankles. Yoga is an effective way to do this because all of the exercises are done without shoes. If you’re like me, at first this led to cramping of the toes and feet, but over time, my feet adapted and allowed me to walk barefoot around the house without issue and eventually wear less shoe under foot.

The benefits of running in less shoe are a greater sense of the ground underfoot, better stabilization from within, improved balance and range of motion and form that encourages landing in the mid-foot, which can help reduce impact forces up the body as you land.

Finally, sometimes we can get so caught up in the details that we miss the truth. Many runners can make the transition safely to wearing a shoe that has less support and cushion and with a lower drop. But for many, it could mean the difference between running healthfully and not running at all due to pain.  It’s always best to be mindful of what works for you – and then go with it.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

Ask an Expert: Incorporating Exercise into a Busy Schedule

Q: I always seem to find an excuse not to exercise. What are some easy exercises I can do to incorporate fitness into my busy schedule? — Sherry

Great question – and one that almost everyone can relate to. The big thing to remember is that scrimping on time doesn’t mean sacrificing quality in your workouts. Research shows that 10 minutes of exercise is enough to improve strength, endurance and flexibility. You can even use these 10 minute sessions throughout your day to add up to a full 30 minutes or more! The key is to include exercises that address all three areas of fitness: cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. Here are a few suggestions:

  • It’s easy to squeeze in a little extra cardio using your home fitness equipment while watching television or waiting for the water to boil while you’re cooking dinner. If you find yourself having an extra few minutes to spare, include intervals after a 3-5 minute warm-up to really get your heart pumping.
  • Bodyweight exercises, such as squats and lunges for the lower body and push-ups, planks, and chair dips for the upper body will hit all of the major muscle groups and don’t require extra time to prepare your equipment.  You can work up to 20 reps of each and add additional circuits as time permits or set a stopwatch on your phone and complete as many reps as you can within 60-90 seconds (depending on your schedule), then move to the next exercise in a circuit style.
  • Yoga Sun Salutations are also a great way to finish or end your day and address all three components of fitness. You can add in a few postures targeting the hips, shoulders, and low back to help you sleep, or  balancing postures, such as tree pose and Dancer’s Pose to ground you and improve your concentration as you head  into your day.

One of the biggest challenges to any exercise program is fitting it in, so include reminders in your schedule or set an alarm on your phone or computer as you make these fitness breaks a part of your routine. Before long, you’ll be seeing big fitness gains from your “no time” workouts.

Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.

Ask an Expert: When Should I Strength Train?

Horizon Fitness Indoor CycleI know I should incorporate more strength training into my exercise routine.  Is it better to do it before or after my cardio activity? -Stacey

You’re right, it is important to include strength training into your regular exercise routine.  It will aid in balancing the strength and mobility in your muscles and joints, improve metabolism by increasing active lean muscle tissue and even help improve your cardiovascular performance.  That being said, here are three answers to your question.

When you perform strength exercises, the goal is to break down the muscle tissue by repeating the exercise until you’ve reached momentary muscular failure.  That sounds scary, but all it really means is that your muscles get activated and then fatigued by the repetitive resistance of the exercise.  That breaking down of the muscles is what encourages growth and development through rest.

Performing the strength exercises before the cardio activity will allow you to perform the strengthening exercises on fresh muscles as you won’t be tired from the cardio activity.  This is especially important if you’re new to strength training and learning how to perform each exercise.  However, it’s important to make sure your muscles are warmed up ahead of time, so you could include a short 5 minute cardio warm up, then strength train and follow with the rest of your cardio routine.

On the other hand, if your cardio is primary – say, if you’re training for a triathlon or running event and you need to get in a solid workout – then getting in the cardio workout first and then following up with the strength training will be a better option.

Finally, to toss in another option, you can weave it into your cardio and create what I call a “circus workout” – where you warm up on cardio, then hit a strength exercise or two, then 5 minute of cardio, then strength again, followed by cardio.  You’ll feel the excitement of being in the circus with all the movement! Plus, it’s fun and before you know it, you’ll be cooling down thinking… when can I do this again?

There are benefits to weaving in strength training into your cardio routine, the key is to try each of these to see what works best for you.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

Treating Exercise-Related Hypoglycemia

Did you know, according to diabetes experts, muscles are responsible for about 90 percent of the body’s use of glucose as fuel? Exercise also affects various hormones which have a direct impact on blood sugar levels. It’s not surprising then, that non-diabetic hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar) is common in frequent exercisers and athletes.

If you’ve ever worked out on an empty stomach, you’ve probably experienced the dizziness, muscle weakness and exhaustion of a blood-sugar crash. Understanding how your blood-sugar levels are controlled, and what you can do to prevent these crashes, can help you avoid these symptoms.

Understand how blood sugar works. The sugar called glucose, which is stored in the muscles and liver, is the primary fuel your muscles use during strenuous activities. As part of a careful balancing act, two hormones are released to try to maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood, where it can be used readily.

Insulin is released into the blood by the pancreas when blood sugar levels are too high, where it bonds with specialized receptors on the cells. Insulin stimulates the cells at these receptors and tells them to absorb glucose. Once these cells respond to insulin, blood sugar levels drop. When blood sugar is too low, however, the pancreas releases glucagon instead. This hormone tells the liver to releases some of its stored glucose into the blood so that can be used as fuel.

Exercise puts much higher demands on your muscles, forcing them to utilize more fuel – in much the same way as making your car go faster, or pull a heavy load, will increase how much gas it burns. Overtraining can even cause a permanent shift in this balance by increasing insulin sensitivity, which will make it much more difficult for you to maintain a healthy blood sugar balance.

Keeping Balance. Research suggests that endurance training, as opposed to strength training, can be beneficial in preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia. While strength training uses carbohydrates like glucose for fuel, endurance training uses fat as the primary source of energy. This will prevent blood sugar levels from getting too low.

The most effective method for preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia though is by adjusting the timing and composition of your meals. Focus on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes, which will give you several types of sugar and dissolve more slowly in your system. Try to have a large, carbohydrate-heavy meal at least three hours before your workout so that you have plenty of stored glucose when you start your exercise.

Throughout the day, eat six small meals and snacks rather than the traditional three large daily meals. These meals and snacks should also be made mostly of complex carbohydrates and proteins. Avoid simple sugars like sodas and baked goods, since these will cause a spike in insulin — a response to the quick release of sugar — which will, in turn, cause your blood sugar to crash.

Drinks like coffee that contain large amounts of caffeine can also cause a crash when the stimulant effects of the drink wear off. The symptoms of this “caffeine crash” can be very similar to hypoglycemia.

Most importantly, consult your doctor. Hypoglycemia can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as diabetes, and it’s always a good idea to check-in before altering or starting any new diet or exercise program.

 

Sources
http://diabetes.about.com/od/whatisdiabetes/a/How-Insulin-Works-In-The-Body.htm
http://www.alfediam.org/media/pdf/RevueBrunD&M2-2001.pdf
http://www.drugs.com/cg/non-diabetic-hypoglycemia.html
http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hypoglycemia-low-blood.html

Elliptical vs Treadmill


Walk into almost any gym or specialty fitness retailer and you will be confronted with row after row of treadmills and ellipticals. Although these machines are both classified as “cardiovascular equipment,” both have individual qualities that will suit some exercisers better than others.

Before purchasing a piece of equipment this fundamental to a balanced exercise program, it’s important to consider which would be best for your fitness level, workout style and budget.

Elliptical Machine Benefits

The elliptical features two pedals that move in a smooth, uninterrupted circular motion that allows for an impact-free workout. This can be invaluable for individuals with injuries or weaknesses in their knees, ankles, hips and lower back.

Additionally, two long handles extend upward from the base of the machine and place resistance on your upper body. This full-body workout means that you have the potential to burn significantly more calories per hour with an elliptical than if you were to use a treadmill or exercise bike.

There are some potential drawbacks to ellipticals. Because the structure of the elliptical machine controls and limits your range of motion, the movement may take some getting used to. The stride length is also built into the machine, although some allow for slight adjustments, and exercisers with shorter strides may find themselves hyper-extending their knees, which can be problematic over time.

Another factor to consider is that you set the pace on an elliptical (unlike a treadmill, which provides a motorized speed). This can sometimes make it challenging to maintain a constant speed, and if you aren’t highly self-motivated, it can be tempting to go easy.

Selecting an Elliptical

As with any piece of exercise equipment, it’s important to compare elliptical machines until you find one that perfectly fits your needs. Look for a durable machine that will be able to fully support the weight of all its users and has a heavy enough flywheel to offer a smooth, quiet workout. Quality ellipticals are designed to mimic your natural body posture and movement.

Benefits of Treadmills

Apart from the benefits associated with all forms of cardiovascular exercise, the key benefit of treadmills is accessibility. The running or walking motion required to use a treadmill is natural, comfortable and familiar.

Many home treadmills also fold up for easy storage. While running outside can be made difficult by terrain or weather, treadmills offer an even surface and the climate control of your home or gym.

Another advantage is that treadmills can have a built-in motivation factor. The belt speed and the incline will adjust automatically when you follow a program, reducing any tendencies to relax during a workout. Although you can stop or slow the machine at any time, the automated pace prevents you from easing up unintentionally.

The treadmill running surface is cushioned to reduce the stress on your joints from repeated impact, but this is still a concern for exercisers with a history of joint problems. Also, some people find treadmills repetitive, making them less likely to exercise as often as they should.

Finding the Perfect Treadmill

When shopping for a treadmill, look for a machine with a solid frame and a wide running belt. These features will allow you to use the machine comfortably without modifying your natural stride. The highest rated treadmills have larger motors that allow the belt to rotate smoothly and quietly.

Integrated support for media players is an additional feature that may help to alleviate some of the boredom experienced when running indoors. Features that allow you to track your progress through multiple workouts will also make your routine more enjoyable.

Which is Best for You?

If you already enjoy running outdoors but find that your cardio routine suffers because of the weather, a treadmill might be your best choice. People who suffer from joint pain, however, would likely benefit from using an elliptical. Also, if you have difficulty incorporating an upper body workout into your schedule, you may find that the elliptical helps you save time by including these muscles in your cardio.

Regardless of which machine you chose, you’ll want to select a quality model that will last you a long time and help you reach your fitness goals.

Ask an Expert: How often should I replace my running shoes?

SI’m a relatively new runner (I only run about 10 miles per week). How often should I be changing out my running shoes? -Jared

Welcome to the wonderful world of running! Ten miles per week is a great running regimen and at that rate, the average running shoe will last about 40-50 weeks or close to a year. The general rule of thumb is to replace your running shoes every 350-500 miles but that can vary based on the following variables:

  • Style. Lighter weight shoes can break down more quickly.
  • Weight. A lighter runner may get more miles out of the shoes than a heavier runner.
  • Form. Someone who runs with a heavy foot strike will wear through shoes more readily than someone who lands lightly.
  • Variety. If you wear the shoes for other activities like kicking around, other sports, walking and site seeing, this will add on to the mileage.

The good news is you can develop a relationship with your shoes and along the way learn what works for you and your shoes. Here’s how:

  • Mark the date you purchased the shoes on the side of the shoe sole with a permanent marker to remind you of birth date and replacement date. You can also include this information if you use a paper or online log and keep track of the mileage on the shoes. There’s even an app called the Running Shoe Tracker – Shoedometer that tracks the mileage of your shoes.
  • Save your shoes for runs only and they’ll last longer.
  • Check the sides of the soles for wrinkling as this is often a sign that the shoes are breaking down.
  • Wash your shoes by removing the insole, wash with a mild soap (dishwashing detergent) and sponge or brush, stuff with newspaper or paper towel to dry.  Avoid putting your shoes in a washing machine or dryer as it will destroy the shoe’s materials.
  • If your shoes get wet on the run, simply stuff them with newspaper or paper towel to dry.
  • Avoid leaving your shoes in extreme elements like a car in the middle of summer or the dead of winter. Shoes can melt and freeze and it will break them down or even melt!

Overall, if your mileage starts adding up, you can purchase a second pair and alternate them run by run. You’ll get more time out of each pair and it will extend the overall running time.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.