mobility

Why train barefoot?

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I’m a sucker for a sleek and minimal athletic shoe. After all, the footwear industry claims they’ll make you run faster, lift heavier and crush your next workout.

I choose mine purely based on lightness, comfort, and color (black, just like everything else I own).

My current pair got me stopped in the grocery store. ‘Excuse me, where’d you get your shoes?' (obviously Nike..) After asking if I liked them for my workouts, I felt the urge to expand on why I don’t train in them which led to a conversation around the concept of barefoot training in the middle of the milk aisle.

Have you seen those people in the gym working out without their shoes on and wondered why they would do something so unsanitary? There is a reason.

One of the first things I assess in people is how well their body moves, especially the ankles, feet, and toes and in turn, assess what response happens up the chain as they go through a movement pattern. If you were to poke your head into any one of my training sessions, every single client is doing some sort of work barefoot at some point during their session, if not the whole thing.

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WHY SHOULD YOU TRAIN BAREFOOT?

Your feet are the FOUNDATION for your entire body and are rich with 100,000 little nerve endings that are the very first sensory input to the brain for your movement which provides feedback on your alignment and body positioning. It is the one body part that connects you to the ground and transmits force and energy to the rest of the body…all. day. long. Yet, we rarely pay attention to them. We shove (and sometimes squish) them into shoes and go about our day. The majority of shoes eliminate the work that our feet are meant to do which encourages us to compensate in our movements leading to weakness in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments along with a decrease in mobility. You might be surprised at how little connection you might have!

How well do your feet move?

First, try this:

Sit down on a chair or the floor and hold your shin stable with both hands. With your shoes off, flex your foot as much as you can and take your ankle into the biggest, most controlled, slow clockwise circle you can and then reverse directions. Is it smooth? Are there jumpy or crunchy sections? Do the arches of your feet or toes feel like they want to cramp? Try your other foot, too.

Next, try this: Stand up tall with your socks off. While keeping the base of your big toes, base of your pinky toes and heels firmly planted into the ground like a tripod, can you:

  1. Press your outer four toes down and actively lift ONLY your big toe up as high as you can without the other toes following or rolling to the outside of your feet? Be honest.

  2. Press the big toes down and lift the outer toes up simultaneously without letting your big toe lift or letting your feet roll in?

  3. Lift all your toes up and tap and press ONLY the big toe down?

  4. Keep your big toes lifted and tap your outer 4 toes down?

  5. And can you lift all toes up, spread them wide and slowly piano your toes back down from pinky toe to big toe in a controlled manner?

So… do you have access to the intrinsic muscles of your feet? These muscles affect how the rest of the body moves. It’s all connected.

Start small.

Don’t just go get rid of your shoes and do all your activities barefoot. There IS a time and place for them and I recommend you start small. Gradually increase your intensity and duration of being barefoot. That may mean you start simply with spending more time barefoot around the house.

Depending on the amount of time you currently spend barefoot, your feet may be sore as you introduce this work and they start waking up. And depending on the mobility of the nearby joints (ie: ankles), you may need to wear shoes in certain loaded exercises while working on improving that particular joint mobility before attempting barefoot while load bearing.

Start with just the warm up or perhaps just a few of the exercises in your workout and gradually build from there.

Keep your shoes ON for high intensity work, running, jumping, etc, unless you’ve already built your way up to that.

And when you’re home, always go barefoot or wear socks, and avoid solid-soled slippers or shoes.

When you can begin to engage your feet actively with the floor, you’ll start to see a greater connection to the rest of the body, improved body mechanics and injury mitigation.

Note: training barefoot all the time is not for everyone. I encourage you to get familiar with the strength and mobility in your feet, ankles, and toes and go from there. Start slow and listen to your body. Begin with movements where both feet are planted and continuously monitor your form and alignment.

Let me know…

Have you tried training barefoot? What other adjustments have you made to your training to support your mobility and mind-body connection? Share your favorite tips in the comments below — others in the community might benefit from your training tips!

Come connect with me on Instagram @running_with_forks

Do you have any questions about barefoot training not answered in this post? Comment below or send me a note so I can continue to add information to answer your questions.

Travel Survival Guide

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Simple Strategies For Staying Active And Healthy On Vacation

Holidays and travel in general can be a challenging time to maintain consistency with your health and wellness. However, it can be easier than you think to maintain all the great progress you’ve been making at home with a few subtle shifts. So much of your success when getting thrown off your daily routine comes down to mindset, how you approach your travel, and having a plan. And you know I am ALL about balance. Use this guide to stay active and healthy over the holidays, on your next business trip, or your next vacation.


PLAN TO MOVE DAILY 

Move daily – but don’t stress about your normal routine. Just choose activities that require movement. Moving for shorter bouts more frequently is more important than getting in long workouts.

This movement can be a family activity like a hike, or taking advantage of walking and exploring a city.

If you know you won’t be that active on certain days, plan to get up an extra 20 minutes earlier and get a quick full body workout in before you start the day.

(DOWNLOAD THESE BODYWEIGHT WORKOUTS)

Build time into your travel schedule – and let whoever you are traveling with know ahead of time so the expectations are set in advance.

Don’t forget to PACK YOUR WORKOUT CLOTHES.


SET YOUR NUTRITIONAL MINDSET

Think ahead and make a few simple preparations to set your nutritional mindset for your trip.

Think of what to “ADD” to your meals rather than what to eliminate. Make sure to incorporate greens and protein at every single meal and fill in the rest as desired. Eating foods with little nutritional value, meals lacking balance, or too little water can throw your body completely out of whack, causing bloating, constipation, and digestive issues.

Base your approach to food on respect for your body and how food makes you feel. Vegetables, high-quality protein, and fiber-rich whole grains fuel your body and give you sustaining energy that leaves you feeling good.

Yes, there are definitely foods that are just simply delicious and pleasurable — and you are on vacation and life is meant to be celebrated. Duh. No one wants to be told not to eat pasta in Italy or that slice of pumpkin pie for breakfast. Live your life, fuel your body well, and remove the guilt from your thought process. It’s ok to indulge, it all comes down to finding balance in the day to day.


HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE

Drink plenty of water, especially mid-flight or staying at a high-altitude destination where air is dry and dehydration can cause jet lag and altitude-related illnesses.

Bring a water bottle with you to the airport and fill it up after you get through security and before boarding your flight. Drink the entire thing. Yes, I want you to get up and use the restroom. You can use that time to stretch your legs. And if you can, try to avoid alcohol mid-flight as well as those salty snacks.

And drink before meals and snacks to help prevent over-consuming.


IN-FLIGHT TIPS

Be prepared and pack your own snacks that fall in line with your current eating since healthy options may not always be available. Pack along nuts, fresh fruit, Rx protein bars, nut butter packets, collagen protein packets, greens powder packets, oatmeal cups, etc.

RELAX — Take a few minutes to do deep belly breaths in your seat to calm the nervous system and bring about relaxation. Bring one hand onto your belly and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in and expand your belly into your hand, feeling your ribs expand and your low back press toward the seat. Pause when you are full. Slowly exhale the breath out until you are empty, drawing the navel in and up and pause. Repeat for 2 minutes.

STRETCH — Being stuck on a plane or in a car for an extended period of time can leave muscles feeling tight and achy. Book an aisle seat so you can get up frequently and do these stretches or do them right in your seat. Make it a goal to get up once an hour to do a full body stretch and be the person in the back of the plane stretching their legs, back and shoulders. Your body will thank you — everyone else will be envious.

 

Seated Figure 4 — Cross right ankle over left knee and sit up tall to lift chest while tilting your tailbone back behind you to anteriorly tilt the pelvis and enhance the stretch. Hold for 30-60 seconds and switch sides.

Eagle Arms Shoulder and Upper Back Stretch — Sit up tall in your seat and hook right elbow underneath left elbow and cross forearms to clasp hands. Squeeze forearms together as you draw shoulders down away from ears and lift fingertips up towards ceiling while dropping chin down. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.

Seated Trunk Rotations — Sit up tall in the middle of your seat and turn your torso to the right to place both hands on the armrest, keeping hips forward. Hold spinal twist for a few deep breaths and repeat on the other side. 

Ankle Circles — Lift right foot off the floor slightly and keeping leg still, draw the largest clockwise circle that you can with your toes and repeat 5 rotations before switching to counterclockwise and then switch ankles.

Neck Circles — Engage your core and sit up tall. Keeping your torso and shoulders still, draw your chin down towards your chest, turn/rotate your chin towards your right shoulder, draw right ear towards right shoulder, extend neck back and around until left shoulder moves towards left ear, drop chin down towards shoulder and rotate back to neutral and reverse direction. Repeat twice in each direction.

Forward Fold — hinge at your hips and fold forward, hanging and holding opposite elbows. Relax shoulders, neck, and low back and take a few deep breaths.

Hip Flexor Stretch — Stand with left foot forward and right foot back about 2 feet apart with toes pointing forward. Tuck pelvis under into a posterior tilt, engage abdominals and gently shift hips forward slightly as you reach up through the right arm as high as you can. Repeat movement for 5-10 repetitions and switch sides.


POST-FLIGHT TIPS

Getting in a short and easy full body workout when you arrive at your destination has been proven to reduce fatigue and jet lag. A post-flight workout that falls within 24 hours of flying should be on the mellow side and purely just to bring movement and energy into the body. Think gentle mobility movements to warm up, 4-5 easy bodyweight exercises and a few stretches and belly breathing to cool down.


HEALTHY TRAVEL RECAP:

  1. Move daily

  2. Eat protein and greens at every meal

  3. Hydrate

  4. Pack healthy snacks

  5. Drop the guilt and enjoy yourself

  6. Stretch on the plane

  7. Try these workouts 



From Dysfunctional to Functional Breathing

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Master this breathing technique to unlock your body and enhance your overall well-being.

We all breathe. But the problem is, most of us do not breathe properly. And few people understand the impact improper breathing has on mobility, strength, and power. Correcting and realigning with the proper breathing biomechanics that we were designed for can improve not only our workouts, but our overall wellness and daily life. (Big statement, I know, but it’s absolutely true.) 

Are you a chest breather or belly breather? 

Self Check — observe right now, in this very moment, whether your chest is lifting or if your belly is expanding as you inhale. Don’t try to change your breathe, just observe it’s natural state. How long did you inhale and exhale for and were the durations of each comparable?

CHEST BREATHER: If you noticed you’re breathing primarily into your chest with a relatively large inhales and a shorter exhales, you are a shallow chest breather, along with 90% of the population. You’re not alone. But we need to change that.

 

BIOMECHANICS:

Shallow breathing dysfunctionally recruits accessory muscles such as your chest (pectorals), neck (scalenes and sternocleidomastoid), and upper trap musculature to inflate the chest and hold your ribcage in place, which takes your scapulae (shoulder blades) with it. Your body then uses the recoil of these muscles along with a dropping of the shoulders to perform the work of the diaphragm (dispelling air from your lungs).

This, unfortunately, can cause chronic tension, limitations in neck, shoulder and back, and poor posture…all making you more susceptible to injury.

 

NERVOUS SYSTEM RESPONSE:

Chest breathing has a purpose. It’s intended for our stressed states (like running from a bear!) as it stimulates the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS - aka, our fight or flight response). But when we chest breathe in what is supposed to be our relaxed state, we in turn trigger that same stress response.

If you’re someone who spends excess time living in a sympathetic state (anxiety, high stress, lack of sleep, overtraining), you are adding unnecessary stress to your body which ultimately, is shaving years off your life.

BELLY BREATHER: This is how we are meant to breathe. Yay, you. But so often we get pulled out of this pattern from either the stress mentioned above, postural changes from poor lifestyle habits, previous injuries, or trying to hold our bellies in all day long.

 

BIOMECHANICS AND NERVOUS SYSTEM RESPONSE:

Belly breathing relies on your diaphragm, intercostal muscles, internal obliques, and transversus abdominis (TVA), activating our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) and shifts us into a relaxed state which optimizes our body for rest, recovery, and digestion. 

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT:

Our ability to fully expand and contract the belly on our inhales and exhales increases lung capacity, improves sleep, digestion, and overall health and wellness, ensures a healthy relationship with the pelvic floor, deep core musculature, and diaphragm. (Postpartum ladies, get on this one), and gets our bodies moving properly. Contrary to what many people believe, core strength isn’t just about holding in our core and keeping our abs tight. The diaphragm is the king of the core.

From Dysfunctional Chest Breather to Functional Belly Breather:

The best place to start if you’re new to re-learning or re-wiring this breathing pattern is in a prone position (on your belly). Once you’ve mastered breathing in all four directions on your belly (belly into the floor, ribs laterally out to the sides, low back to the ceiling), you can practice supine/on your back, seated, standing and while walking.

Prone Belly Breathing:

  1. Lay on your belly and make a pillow with your hands to rest your forehead. Focus on deeply inhaling and exhaling through your nose (you can exhale through your mouth but consistently breathe in through the nose) with a 4-5 count inhale, a 4-5 count exhale, and a 4-5 count hold when empty. 

  2. As you Inhale, actively try to expand your abdomen and breathe your belly into the floor as well as breathe laterally into your side waist, as if your waist is an accordion.

  3. As you exhale, slowly let all the breath out with control and feel empty at the bottom of your breath, gently engaging the deep core musculature and holding for 4-5 counts to allow the diaphragm to functionally engage and initiate a proper inhale.

  4. Set a timer for 2 minutes (don’t poke your head up until the timer goes off).

Practice anywhere and practice often.

Working on breathing mechanics for just two minutes a day can significantly restore mobility and hardwire your body to begin naturally breathing in this way.

And if you’re a mouth breather… breathing through your mouth most often means you’re a shallow chest breather. I like to say that breathing through your mouth is sort of like trying to eat through your nose. (Not really, but, you get the point).