Twelve Week Running Program For An Injury Free Barefoot/Minimalist Transition

Jan 15th, 2012

Comments: 15
Category: Barefoot Running

Twelve Week Running Program For An Injury Free Barefoot/Minimalist Transition

Last week I posted a six week program to help you slowly transition towards minimalist/barefoot walking and, ultimately, running. This weeks post is a 12 week program to slowly transition you into minimalist/barefoot running in a way that minimizes pain and injury, not just in the short term, but for the rest of your life.

If you are new to minimalist/barefoot walking or running or have not run in over six months, It is very important that, at minimum, you complete the six week walking program and follow the corrective exercises shown in the postural series herehere, and here, before you progress into the 12 week running program. It is extremely important to spend the extra time developing the postural musculature needed to run efficiently before you go for your first run. This is an important step that is missing in most running programs.

As I discussed in Free Your Feet:

“Your feet are the foundation to your posture.  A strong foot creates the base support structure for a strong healthy body. A weak foot creates an unstable foundation affecting the posture from head to toe. You cannot build a strong stable structure over an unstable foundation. It would be like attempting to build a house on top of sand. Sooner than later the entire structure will collapse. ”

A lifetime of wearing shoes has weakened your foundation. A weak foundation means you do not have the muscle strength or endurance to maintain proper form… You have kinks in your mechanics, or, with a different name: Gait Dysfunction. You cannot run your way to good form. What you practice is what you re-enforce. Running with gait dysfunction only strengthens gait dysfunction. It would be like you are running full speed with your head down… straight into a wall. I know this from personal experience.  I often see this with my clients. I have run head on into the wall many times. Each time, I wound up taking weeks or months off. Then I would do too much too fast and run right into the wall again. Does this cycle sound familiar to you? You will not quit this cycle until you start at the beginning by strengthening your postural foundation. To ignore this advice will ultimately lead you to pain and injury again and again.

A couple of great ways to work the kinks out of your gait is to hire a highly qualified and experienced fascial therapist and running coach. The guidance that follows in this article will help. But nothing beats hiring a professional. And yes you do need professional guidance to insure great form. Nature is a great coach, if you were fortunate enough to have nature’s guidance from your very first steps.

Unfortunately you more than likely have had shoes placed on your feet from the age of two, the very years you begin to stand upright and develop your arches. After decades of wearing shoes, you have developed dysfunctional gait patterns. At this point, nature, by itself, will not help you find your perfect gait. Hire a professional and save yourself the pain and injury over the long run. Look at it like an investment in yourself. What you spend now in preventative will save you a bundle in health care costs down the road.

Functional Movement
Your body is designed to move with a ridiculously large range of movement and at a variety of speeds. It is important to use every angle of motion at the varying speeds your body is capable of reaching on a regular basis as long as it is pain free.

Running is a linear movement – a straight line. In fact, running is very similar to another movement pattern that most of us do all day… sitting on our butt. Sitting is hip flexion (bending at the hips). Sitting for long hours causes the hip flexors (muscles attached to the upper leg bone, pelvis and lumbar spine) to shorten and tighten pulling on the lower back. This is a primary cause of low back pain. The act of running is repetitive hip flexion. If you run 5-6 days per week; sit for 8-10 hours a day; and you neglect all other angles of motion your body needs – YOU WILL run directly into pain and injury. I do not recommend running more than 2-3 days per week, even if you are training for endurance races. You can train for any distance of a race with 2-3 days per week of running, by incorporating adequate functional movement into your training. Something I tell many injured runners, “you will become a better runner by running less. Train smarter, not harder.

How to run

The goal of this program is to train you to run 30 minutes in a steady state, pain and injury free.

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 twelve 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. Before you begin this program, you should be able to at minimum, walk 30 minutes for six days out of seven either barefoot or minimalist with no pain during the week. Otherwise, I suggest you begin with the six week walking program before you progress into this running program.

Things to focus on
  • No Pain! If it hurts… Stop what you are doing. The goal is pain free movement. Get on the foam roller and try to work it out. Take a day or two off from the activity that is causing pain. If it continues to persist, schedule a session with me. If you don’t live in the Austin area, find a highly qualified therapeutic professional with experience treating pain and injury.
  • Spend 10-15 minutes of self massage using a foam roller prior to workout.
  • A quiet foot fall. Your foot should touch the ground like a feather. No slapping.
  • Your forefoot or mid foot should strike the ground first, heel comes down after that. Do make sure your heel touches the ground. Otherwise, your calves will get very angry at you.
  • Quick cadence. Use a metronome to keep 180 steps per minute no matter how fast or slow you run.
  • Short stride with your feet landing directly beneath your hips, not in front of your body. This is true no matter what speed (slow jog, quick paced run or sprint).
  • Comfortable arm swing with shoulders relaxed downward. Don’t hold your arms rigid. Your right arm should move in tandem with your left leg and vice versa.
  • Your running gait stays the same no matter what your speed.  Jogging and sprinting should look virtually identical to each other. Avoid stretching your legs out in front of your body when you try to run faster. Watch video of Usain Bolt above. Note that at full speed his foot fall is directly beneath his hips, not in out in front of his body. And he is freakin’ bookin’ it.
  • Spend 30 minutes of self massage using a foam roller after your workout.

Week 1
Day 1: Walk 5 minutes: Run 1 minute: repeat 5 times: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 2: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 3: Walk 5 minutes: Run 1 minute: repeat 6 times
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk 5 minutes: Run 1 minute: repeat 7 times.
Day 6: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 7: Rest

Week 2
Day 1: Walk 5 minutes: Run 2 minutes: Repeat 3 times: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 2: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 3: Walk 5 minutes: Run 2 minutes: Repeat 4 times
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk 5 minutes: Run 2 minutes: Repeat 5 times.
Day 6: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 7: Rest

Week 3
Day 1: Walk 5 minutes: Run 3 minutes: Repeat 4 times: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 2: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 3: Walk 5 minutes: Run 3 minutes: Repeat 4-5 times
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk 5 minutes: Run 3 minutes: Repeat 4-5 times.
Day 6: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 7: Rest

Week 4
Day 1: Walk 5 minutes: Run 4 minutes: Repeat 3 times: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 2: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 3: Walk 5 minutes: Run 4 minutes: Repeat 4 times
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk 5 minutes: Run 4 minutes: Repeat 5 times.
Day 6: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 7: Rest

Week 5
Day 1: Walk 5 minutes: Run 5 minutes: Repeat 3 times: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 2: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 3: Walk 5 minutes: Run 5 minutes: Repeat 3-4 times
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk 5 minutes: Run 5 minutes: Repeat 4-5 times.
Day 6: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 7: Rest

Week 6
Day 1: Walk 4 minutes: Run 5 minutes: Repeat 3 times: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 2: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 3: Walk 4 minutes: Run 5 minutes: Repeat 4 times
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk 4 minutes: Run 5 minutes: Repeat 5 times.
Day 6: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 7: Rest

Week 7
Day 1: Walk 3 minutes: Run 5 minutes:  Repeat 3-4 times: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 2: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 3: Walk 3 minutes: Run 5 minutes: Repeat 4 times
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk 3 minutes: Run 5 minutes: Repeat 5-6 times.
Day 6: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 7: Rest

Week 8
Day 1: Walk 2 minutes: Run 5 minutes:  Repeat 4-5 times: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 2: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 3: Walk 2 minutes: Run 5 minutes: Repeat 5-6 times
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk 2 minutes: Run 5 minutes: Repeat 6-7 times.
Day 6: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 7: Rest

Week 9
Day 1: Walk 2 minutes: Run 6 minutes: Repeat 4 times: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 2: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 3: Walk 2 minutes: Run 6 minutes: Repeat 5 times
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk 2 minutes: Run 6 minutes: Repeat 6-7 times.
Day 6: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 7: Rest

Week 10
Day 1: Walk 2 minutes: Run 7 minutes: Repeat 3 times: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 2: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 3: Walk 2 minutes: Run 7 minutes: Repeat 4 times
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk 2 minutes: Run 7 minutes: Repeat 5-6 times.
Day 6: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 7: Rest

Week 11
Day 1: Walk 2 minutes: Run 8 minutes: Repeat 3 times: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 2: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 3: Walk 2 minutes: Run 8 minutes: Repeat 4 times
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk 2 minutes: Run 8 minutes: Repeat 5-6 times.
Day 6: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 7: Rest

Week 12
Day 1: Walk 1 minutes: Run 8 minutes: Repeat 3-4 times: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 2: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 3: Walk 1 minutes: Run 8 minutes: Repeat 4-5 times
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk 1 minutes: Run 8 minutes: Repeat 5-6 times.
Day 6: 30-60 minute functional exercise
Day 7: Rest

Week 13
Take the walking out. You are now ready to run at least 30 minutes non-stop without pain.

Every journey begins with a single step. The goal of this program 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 3-4 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 over 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 rollerdeep tissue massage therapy, flexibility training, corrective exercises andfunctional 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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DISCUSSION 15 Comments

  1. trissa January 16, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Well done as usual! Looking at Usain’s running, how much of that is how his pelvis “sits” in his body? And his stride coming FROM that? In other words, how much of his speed is directly correlated to how his body is “put together” irrespective of his great barefoot technique, and if it ISN’T related, then how can I LEARN IT!! :)

    • jjreth January 16, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      Hi Trissa,

      Thank you again. I think you are asking about his pelvic stabilization? A stable pelvis allows the legs to derive full power without energy leakage through the rest of the body. An unstable pelvis loses efficiency through excess mobility i.e. energy leak, gait inefficiency, poor technique. It is the way his pelvis sits that allows him to have such great technique. Does that answer your question?

      Jesse James Retherford
      http://www.tao-fit.com

  2. JosephTree January 22, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Hi JJ,

    I followed your link from Active.com and think you wrote a fine program here. I don’t doubt that many folks will find it of great use in ramping up to BF style running in a safe and confident manner. Good for you!

    My only criticism is probably linked to your professional relationship to the info more than to the info itself. I don’t think I’m alone among the BF running community in finding myself somewhat put off by just about anybody who professes to know so much better than anyone else what works for everyone. Maybe it’s an occupational hazzard resulting from seeing so many folks who’ve done such boneheaded things to their bodies.

    • jjreth January 23, 2012 at 10:13 am

      Hi JosephTree,

      Thank you for your comments. I apologize if my tone came across as condescending or talking down. That was not my intention. I try to speak from a place of knowing, not knowing more than. Is there anything in particular that you felt “put off” to?

      Jesse James Retherford
      http://www.tao-fit.com

      • JosephTree January 23, 2012 at 5:25 pm

        Nah…I’m just a cranky individualist sort of runner. A BFR Unitarian is a tough audience at the best of times.

  3. Johnny February 12, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Hi. Thanks.
    What is this ” functional exercise ” mentioned in your program?

    • jjreth February 12, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      Hi Johnny,

      Thanks for the great question. To answer I will refer to an article I wrote a couple months ago on it.

      Not Just Any Movement, You Need Functional Movement

      What is Functional Movement?

      My definition is simple. You have a body for a reason. Functional movement is what happens when you use your body to meet all of its designed purposes: flexing, extending, pulling, pushing, rotating, changing directions, running, walking, jumping, sprinting and climbing. If you are designed to do it, then use your body to do it. If you don’t, you will eventually lose your ability to do it, which will lead to a higher risk of chronic pain and injury in your life.

      I recommend hiring a highly qualified and experienced personal trainer for guidance. Here is a guide for finding the right professional for you.

      Five Steps to Choosing a Massage Professional

      Jesse James Retherford
      http://www.tao-fit.com

  4. The Art of Patience: Preventing Barefoot Transition Injuries | The Art of Fitness - Austin Deep Tissue Massage Therapy February 27, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    [...] Once you are capable of walking 30 minutes a day, six days out of seven, with no pain or soreness, you are ready to slowly add in running. Here is a twelve week running program to help you have a pain and injury free transition. [...]

  5. Marie March 19, 2012 at 9:41 am

    Question: If transitioning from traditional running shoes to Barefoot running following this program, should I step down from my old Asics Nimbus Gels to a middle of the road such as Brooks Pureflow or NB Minimus 10 which are approx 5mm heel/toe drop, or should I go to a 0 drop like Merrell glove, etc.
    If you recommend stepping down to the mid range, then do you repeat this process to transition to 0 drop in 6 months or a year?
    I’ve been dealing w/ plantar fasciitus for a few weeks and have been doing your suggested protocol. Surprizingly my heel feels better when walking barefoot than with low heeled trainers or sandals. So perhaps a pr of 5 fingers or Merrell Gloves would be an option for everyday wear if not for running. For what its worth, my arches are very high and I’m a 60 year old female of normal weight. I’ve been running for 3 yrs and have had a stress fracture in my rt hip and retrocalcaneal bursitis in my left heel…same foot as now the plantar fascitius. I love running and want to be able to run until they put me in the grave. So…..whatever it takes, I’ll do!
    Tks for a wonderfully informative website. Sure wish I was close to you. Any suggestions for someone in Knoxville, Tn area?

    • jjreth March 21, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      Hi Marie,

      Thank you for the great question. As will most great questions, there is no simple answer.

      The first think to focus on is to fully heal the plantar fasciitis. Here are a couple of articles that will help.

      Self Treatment for Plantar Fasciitis

      10 Steps To Recovering From Your Running Injury

      Since you are currently dealing with PF, I would suggest taking a few weeks off of running. During this time try walking around barefoot or in minimalist -zero drop, minimal cushion- shoes. As well as following the exercises in the above article daily. This will give your body some time to heal and adapt. If you have any pain or discomfort during this period, it may suggest a very slow transition.

      Once you have no pain associated with PF, then you can begin your walking and running transition. Considering you currently have a running injury, I suggest you begin with the six week walking program. If you have any pain or discomfort associated with doing this walking program go ahead and contact me directly. Once you get through the six week program with no pain, you are ready to begin the 12 week running program. Again, take it slow and pay attention to your body.

      I believe it is possible for you to make the transition fully at one time as long as you take it super slow and pay attention to your body. I highly recommend you find a great fascial therapist to get some regular body work through out this process; a personal trainer who is experienced with functional training and injury rehab; and a running coach to work on your form. I don’t know anyone in Knoxville, but here is some guidance on choosing some good help.

      Five Steps To Choosing A Massage Professional

      Again, if you have any issues along the way, feel free to contact me. It may be helpful to have a phone consult at some point to make sure you are on the best path.

      Good luck and keep me informed.
      Jesse James Retherford
      http://www.tao-fit.com

  6. Joe Vissichelli April 17, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    “The primary reason that Jamaicans are the best sprinters and Africans are the best distance runners in the world is that most of them grow up without shoes. During the prime years of their body’s development, they are running barefoot everywhere and they have the beautiful gaits to prove it. They naturally have great gait mechanics.”

    Actually, their cultures both hold their particular running specialties in unusually high regard. In Jamaica, it’s not uncommon for tens of thousands to attend a high school track meet. In Kenya, tribal pride plays a large role. And note that each country does not have anyone of note in the opposite types of races. Do strong feet discriminate among events?

    Before the recent Jamaican surge, the US had a long streak of superb and dominant sprinting by people who grew up in shoes. There are other places where people don’t wear shoes but don’t excel because they’re too poor and/or the merits and encouragements are not in place in their region.

    Strong feet and smooth gaits are great, but cultural and economic factors are every bit as important when talking about athletic trends.

  7. Jesse James Retherford Interview- Barefoot Running | Barefoot Running Reviews April 25, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    [...] Twelve Week Running Program For An Injury Free Barefoot/Minimalist Transition [...]

  8. A Little Guidance on My Routine | The Art of Fitness - Austin Deep Tissue Massage Therapy April 29, 2012 at 7:42 am

    [...] is when I ran into your blog and your 12 weeks to running program. I intend on starting the program next week during my non-weight lifting days. I do have several [...]

  9. The Vibrams Lawsuit Settlement | Tao Fit May 12, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    [...] If you are interested in transitioning into a barefoot/minimalist lifestyle, here are a couple of articles I wrote that may help with your transition here, and here. [...]

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