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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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