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 I got a phone call from a friend last week asking me about minimalist running. This is what she said: 

“I want to run. I feel great when I run. But every time I try to start back up with running, after a few weeks, my calves are killing me. I take a break that ends up lasting a month or longer, then I try again with the same results. What am I doing wrong?”

I have this similar conversation every week. There are a ton of online programs designed to train you to run races, but very few that introduce you to the art of running pain free. Pain free is the key. It is at the beginning, while learning how to run properly, that you will develop great form which will prevent pain and injury down the road.

What I am presenting in this blog is the protocol that I recommend to my clients. It is what I followed myself.

First things first: transition out of your running shoes and either go barefoot (ideal) or purchase a comfortable pair of minimalist shoes. I’m not going to go into the details of why barefoot or minimalist is the ideal way to run in this article. If you want to learn about that, you can read about it here and here.

You have to learn to walk before you can learn to run.

In my life I have had my share of injury and pain.  A lot of it came from doing too much too soon.   I understood that running, or even walking, barefoot was completely different than how I had been training – and living – for years. So when I decided to transition to a barefoot/minimalist lifestyle, I knew I had to take it slow… very slow. I spent the first six weeks just learning how to walk. What I’m showing you below is the program I followed.

Learning to walk

When you walk, listen to your body.  When I re-taught myself to walk, I paid attention to how my body felt. Since my foot was in direct contact with the pavement, when I walked with a poor gait pattern, I felt it immediately at my foot. This allowed me to make immediate adjustments in my gait so that I walked without pain.Once you place a cushion beneath your foot, you are disconnected from this very important line of communication with your body.  It allows you to continue to walk with dysfunction instead of feeling pain immediately at your foot.  The pain allows you to make immediate adjustments. No immediate pain, no immediate adjustments.  Rather, you feel that pain weeks, months or even years later in your knee, hip, back, shoulder or neck.  By this point you are completely disconnected from the original source of the problem.  As you learn to walk again remember, every step is an opportunity to make immediate adjustments in your gait.  Your each and every step is a teacher.  Listen and learn. I followed each walking session by spending between 30-60 minutes performing self massage on the foam roller and stretching. If my body hurt the day after a walk, I would skip a day and spend extra time on the roller. Note: This program is a guideline to transition your body to barefoot or minimalist walking and running. For some people, depending on current conditioning level and injury history it may take longer than six weeks. Also, this program will not guarantee all of your current injuries will disappear, or you will never experience a walking or running injury in the future. The simple truth is that everyone experiences pain or injury at some point. The goal is to reduce the risk of a devastating injury, significantly reduce the frequency between pain and injury, and to speed up the recovery time during an injury so that you spend more time active instead of inactive.
How to Walk
Week 1
Day 1: Walk for five minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 2: Walk for five minutes. Followed by 30-60 minutes of Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 3: Walk for five minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 4: Walk for five minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 5: Walk for five minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 6: Walk for five minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 7: Rest

 

Week 2
Day 1: Walk for 10 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 2: Walk for 10 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 3: Walk for 10 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 4: Walk for 10 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 5: Walk for 10 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 6: Walk for 10 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 7: Rest

Week 3
Day 1: Walk for 15 minutes
Day 2: Walk for 15 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises
Day 3: Walk for 15 minutes
Day 4: Walk for 15 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises
Day 5: Walk for 15 minutes
Day 6: Walk for 15 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises
Day 7: Rest

Week 4
Day 1: Walk for 20 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 2: Walk for 20 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 3: Walk for 20 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 4: Walk for 20 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 5: Walk for 20 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 6: Walk for 20 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 7: Rest

Week 5
Day 1: Walk for 25 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 2: Walk for 25 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 3: Walk for 25 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 4: Walk for 25 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 5: Walk for 25 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 6: Walk for 25 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 7: Rest

Week 6
Day 1: Walk for 30 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 2: Walk for 30 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 3: Walk for 30 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 4: Walk for 30 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 5: Walk for 30 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 6: Walk for 30 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 7: Rest

At this point you might be thinking…. wait a minute, when do I get to start running?  Patience my friend, every journey begins with a single step and we’ve not reached running yet. The goal is injury prevention so you can run pain free for the rest of your life. If you’re like me, that means another 40-50 years of running. Keep it in perspective. What is a few months training your body to move more efficiently if it means you significantly reduce the amount of time you are lame with chronic pain and injuries for the rest of your life?

It takes eight weeks for your muscles to adapt to a new conditioning program. It takes years for your fascia to adapt. By incorporating self massage using a foam roller, deep tissue massage therapy, flexibility training, corrective exercises and functional movement into your training program, you can significantly speed up this process, while decreasing the amount of time dealing with chronic pain and injury.


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