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Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Yoga for Barefoot Runners
I might be kind of an anomaly in the barefoot running world when I say this sort of stuff. And maybe some of you might think less of me for saying it. I...MGBG...am a stretcher. I stretch. And I think there are benefits to stretching.
Stretching gets a bad rap sometimes in the fitness community. "Experts" saw a couple of bad studies come out showing that stretching doesn't improve running performance or prevent injuries, and everyone throws it out of their repertoire like the town leper. This isn't an article about the pros and cons of stretching. I really don't get the debate. Then again, I come from the strength training community where stretching isn't really a controversial topic. It's recognized form of performance enhancement and body maintenance if done correctly (here's a good article on the topic without all the talking head hype). It's hard to find a serious weightlifter who doesn't stretch at least a little bit.
I know a lot of you barefooters and minimalists out there have taken up the anti-stretching mantra, because I see a lot of you breakdancing on some kind of foam tube after a run. At the same time, I've also seen many of you try to do a full squat. And I can tell you..."try" is the operative word. A good majority of you are a bunch of inflexible bastards. Seriously, how do some of you even get out of bed in the morning?
That being said, I don't believe much in just haphazardly throwing your leg up on a table a few times and bending over after a run. No amount of simple toe touching is going to increase your mobility. I think every runner needs to make as big of a commitment to their mobility as they do to their training. You need to get a mobility program buddy.
My favorite way to stay mobile is with yoga (here's an article I wrote a while ago on the topic). It's a simple and effective way to stretch and strengthen your body properly without creating muscle imbalances. It's relaxing. And all the girls wear tight pants.
I don't know what a Wonderbra is exactly, but I think I get the idea.
Anyway, I think adding yoga at least once a week to your running plan is a great way to rejuvenate your body and improve mobility. But at the same time, I think that barefoot and minimal runners have some specific mobility needs that they should spend some extra time on. So here are some poses that will help out your unique needs.
Prayer Squat Pose
Move your hands! Hehe...kidding. Or am I?
A lot of fitness gurus use the seated toe-touch as an assessment of mobility. When I coach people, I opt for some form of squat. In particular, the prayer squat is probably one of the best ways to assess lower-body mobility issues in existence. Usually where it feels stiff is where you have issues you need to work out. And if you can't even get into this position, well...you're an inflexible bastard and you need to work on increasing mobility. The squat is a basic human movement people! I do this pose daily to loosen up.
A couple things to pay extra attention to as a barefoot or minimal runner. We generally need to be more concerned about calf and ankle mobility than other runners, since we tend to use them more. Specifically, we need to have sufficient heel cord length so that we don't get nasty stuff like Achilles tendinitis. I say a barefoot or minimalist runner should be able to easily put your ankle in flexion beyond 90 degrees. An easy way to test that: if you can't put your feet on the ground, or dang close to it in this pose, your calves are too tight. Time to work on mobility. And if this pose hurts your ankles, feet, or toes...guess what else you need to work on?!
I recognize her from somewhere. Am I already reusing pictures from old posts? Maybe because it's surprisingly hard to find a hot girl hinging at the waist on the Internet. At least with clothes on. I know right? Who would have thought!
Anyway, this one is a classic resting pose that you'll usually come back to several times during a yoga routine. Barefoot runners should use that time to focus on some of the things that this pose does well. For one, it's a great for your calf muscles. Straightening your legs and hinging at the hips will give your hamstrings and calves both a nice stretch. While you're doing that, you are also putting weight on your feet and strengthening your arches.
Hey...not all the pictures can be women. I have a female audience too. Although it's hard to find a picture of a dude doing yoga.
I think it goes without saying that all yoga should be done barefoot. Anything more will seriously mess with your balance. And you'll be the weird person with shoes on. Being barefoot during yoga will also do the most to strengthen your ankles and feet. Every barefooter could use some of that.
Pretty much any standing pose will work your balance and thus your foot and ankle strength. But one-legged poses work that strength the best. This is a pose you can do almost right off the bat without falling on your ass. Try it without raising your arms first until you can maintain your positioning. It's called the "tree", not the "hopping idiot" or the "wet noodle".
And if you can find an Asian wall scroll, stand by it when you do this pose. It makes you look badass.
This pose is my favorite to sooth and stretch my ankles and quads after standing poses. It's one of the classic seated poses. And again, it does a bit of arch strengthening to boot. Work towards being able to put your foot into complete plantar flexion (i.e. pointed toe...I could have just said that, but I just wanted to drop a fitness knowledge bomb on you).
Hand-cupping and fake meditation is not required (as seen above). I do this one while watching football.
We used to call this the "crowd pleaser" in youth soccer. In retrospect, I'm not sure why we thought the crowd wanted to see a bunch of 14-year old boy crotch. In fact, I'm not sure if this pose will ever earn that title.
Anyway, I include this one for folks who find standing poses a little too challenging. In addition to working your hip adductors, you can also strengthen your feet by pressing them together. Not a hard press mind you. You're not Xenia Onotop here (James Bond...kills people with her thighs and feet...come on folks, it's a classic). Gently.
Feet-Under Child's Pose
He's either posing or worshiping the waves. Either way, it's the only picture I could find, so deal.
Even those who are dedicated to mobility often forget about their feet. Your digits need love too. Especially if you are a barefoot or minimalist runner. You are putting your toes into dorsaflexion (i.e. extension...I just wanted to drop another bomb) way more than the average runner. And as I learned from Dr. Mark Cucuzella during the NYC Barefoot Run, poor toe mobility can affect your gait and cause running form issues.
According to Dr. Mark, you should be able to get approximately 30 degrees of extension in your big toe. If not, it's time to start stretching those toes. Child's pose is great for doing after you are done with your yoga routine. It's usually done with pointed toes. Flip them under for an awesome foot stretch.
Here's to stretching out and feeling good! Cheers citizens!