Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dr. Mick Wilkinson Part IV: barefoot running clinic - it's all in the fall

In part I of this series with Dr. Mick Wilkinson on barefoot running, we looked at the biomechanics in barefoot running with Dr. Mick Wilkinson, barefoot running research and veteran barefoot walker/runner. In part II, we looked at the roll of the sole being bared in supporting barefoot economy. In part III, we looked at minimalist vs barefoot running, footwear in sport, and perhaps especially, considering the social aspects of transitioning to barefooting.
image from runningnut
Clinic Time. In this final instalment of barefoot running with Dr. Wilkinson,  we check out first a wee bit about Dr. Wilkinson's research and athletic background, and second consider technique tweaking for those who have given barefooting a go and want to tune up our  practice.  The article wraps up with some of my own reflections about why doing some even intermittent barefooting may have huge rewards from destressing to performance.

TO give folks a little more context about you, 
tell us a  bit about how you came to Northumbria:

Dr. Mick Wilkinson,
barefoot running veteran
I moved here (to Newcastle) from Hull University in 2005 having previously worked at York St John's College and at Staffordshire University - all in the sport science departments

When did you get your phd?

I completed my PhD in 2009 after 7 years of long part-time study. I graduated from Sheffield Hallam University. The PhD was in physiological testing and performance determinants in squash.

Did you always know you were going into academia and sports research?

I always had questions and was always interested in the whys and hows. I took to academia because I thought I could get answers to my questions. Studying sport made sense as I was always sporty and was really interested in understanding the limiting factors in my own performance and how I could overcome them. My interest in academia as a career came about while studying for my UG degree and was fuelled during my MSc.

Why are you passionate about running? What appeals to you?

It is simply the enjoyment of travelling under the power of my own engine, of being outdoors and of trying to master the first true human art - combining breath, mind and muscle into fluent self propulsion (Chris MacDougal's words from Born to Run, I wish I could have thought of it myself as it sums up running for me beautifully)

You said that squash you did in response to injuries around running. Why
squash? hitting something?

Squash was my actual competitive sport not running, I ran for fun and as training for squash. When I couldn't run, I could still play squash but I still always wanted to run as I enjoyed it so much. I haven't played competitive (or even non-competitive) squash now for nearly two years as it does take a heavy toll on my body. Now I mainly run and commute 140 miles a week on my bike to work. I seem to get so much more from running that I did from squash, its free and I can do it whenever I like for as long as I like without discomfort or injury, so why go back to squash?

Thank you. Now to the meet of today's final post: the barefoot running clinic. These questions followed after going for a first barefoot run and walk experience. Let me say that experience was really interesting in a number of ways:
  • first, running in vff's for 2 years is not much seeming prep for running barefoot
  • second it really is an intimate experience with the foot exploring surfaces that are varrying so quickly. Indeed my feet definitely at this stage feel more sensitive than my hands. Maybe my hands would feel that sensitive if i was walking on them. Anyway.
  • Running stride does change again - even less lean - to lessen impact on the feet.
  • it's nicer right now to run than to walk
  • my foot strike is less ball of foot dominant than in vff's
  • i did get what is the intimation of a blister in the middle top metatarsals (under  the second and third toe) and that's the only bit that's a little tender today.
  • I can see how paying attention to one's feet one could run forever because so tuned to foot placement - perhaps this will change.
But when i got home, i had some questions from Mick because i did not experience nirvana in bare feet. Pavement was surprisingly hot; grass surprisingly filled with pricklies (though cooler) and that fresh tar with big rather than small bits was no fun at all.

So my main question to Mick has been:

- how long does it take to adapt  to where road running does not cause a teeth gritting

Mick Replies:

4mm Too many between You and the Planet
So you have gone all the way, well done. Sounds like your first time was not the epiphany experience I enjoyed, but it has at least illustrated for you the enormous difference even 4 mm of rubber can make to your sense of contact with the ground and highlighted the reason why I hate to have anything between my sole and the surface I'm moving over.

Technique. It's about Technique.
Your first question is impossible for me to answer. I would imagine that improving your technique and just getting used to the additional feedback from your soles (which are probably hypersensitive from years of trying to feel the ground through the soles of your shoes!) is a very individual thing. I guess that the hypersensitivity will become normal sensitivity relatively quickly as the nervous system is incredibly plastic, this will improve the comfort of your ride automatically.

Finding the Natural Spring
My advice is to first learn how to find your natural spring.

Stand in easy balance (head balancing on the neck, torso balancing on the hips etc.) then free up your ankles and knees and let them bend (keeping the torso vertically balanced) until you feel your heels wanting to leave the ground. This will probably feel like an enormous amount of knee bend, but this is what will provide the cushioning.

When you have found your inner spring, simply practice lifting one foot a little underneath you but at the same time allowing the supporting ankle to release (let the ankle bend forward, or dosiflex, like falling forward, as per runner on right in image below -mc)

Alternate the lifting of the feet like this in place.

You should be aiming to do this without any upward movement of the torso or pushing downward with the feet. Doing it in front of a mirror initially provides good feedback.

Note the legs underneath , not in front of, the torso. Note also the ankle dorsiflexing
to allow the fall forward in the runner on the left
It is far less costly and more comfortable to simply lift the feet off the ground than to lift the torso off the ground by pushing down with the feet. I would suggest practising simply running in place until this is comfortable and it can be done without any downward pushing - here, a hard surface is a better one to practice on than a soft one.

Threat Reflex - dans le tete
Another contributing factor to discomfort is anticipatory tensing of the feet. There will almost certainly be a bit of fear about how the landing will feel and the usual response is to tense up to 'prepare' for it.

This is counterproductive as the feet and legs need to be free and loose to mould and respond to the ground. It is easier said than done to not tense up, but believe me that leaving the feet and legs alone is the biggest lesson you can learn - it is only then that the reflexes can operate without interference resulting in the gentle, light and comfortable ride that I experience.

Walking and Running and over striding
Re: walking vs running, yes, most people over stride when walking and land on the heel. It is often easier to shorten and quicken the stride to land on the mid foot when running.

You are basically learning to walk and run again but this time with benefit of a lot more information to help you. It will take time and patience. It is certainly not realistic to expect to be able to do what you have been doing in the VFFs any time soon.

One thing that surprised me, as i went for a walk barefoot with my tunes and some in-ear monitors is that i felt/heard my feet more than i anticipated - felt like i could hear my feet kinda clonking. Is that normal?

As for the pounding, you have to go up first to come down with a clunk so you must still be pushing down into the ground. I like to think of my feet and legs as passive. I simply have the intention to move forwards and I release my ankles to allow that to happen. It is simply a matter of allowing the legs to spring forward from behind  and for the foot to touch down underneath me in time to stop me falling on my face. 

Adaptation Time

heel vs toe
the thinner the sole goes
If I had to estimate a time frame for you to become comfortable running totally barefoot on rough stuff / pavements it would be months rather than weeks but if you approach this as an adventure and an experiment in learning how to move and with a sense of fun, the learning experience is a reward in itself. Going barefoot generally even when not running will also help and will accustom your feet to feeling and enjoying more and varied surfaces. You will never stop learning how to improve your technique, four years on and I'm still getting better and moving by learning to do less and less that is not necessary and which interferes with free and easy movement.

Enjoy the ride

THANK YOU MICK for taking the time

But i Like my Shoes (that Pass the Twist Test)
Reflections on why to Barefoot

My hope is that, even if folks don't go the whole unshod way, for all running forever, you'll find in this series at least a few reasons to give going truly unshod:
checking out changes
  • in stride
  • in running economy
  • in force
  • in walking gait
  • in texture
  • in temperature
While going unshod certainly focuses the mind on lifting the knee and letting the ankle bend to get a more elliptical movement with the gait cycle (as Ken Bob describes it), one can practice this movement with minimal footwear - it's just easier without anything intervening between us and the earth.

And there's something else: feeling textures with our feet.

Exploring the carpeting and hallway surfaces at work unshod brings a certain kind of sensual pleasure that is unexpected. Walking around outside even for brief periods is certainly making me more of a pavement-type connoisseur. Temperature is also amazing, to feel what cool or heat is like - it sounds so obvious, but it's really quite remarkable to bring attention to what the feet are feeling, not just how they're moving.

My feet are definitely still in the hyper-sensitive space of being dialed up to pick up on sensations that have been otherwise muffled, but i'm still more curious to explore the world with what feels like a new sensation than to cover this up again.

It almost seems daring - like a mutant thing: i am now going to take my shoes off and expose my NAKED FEET to feed my brain with new and powerful information that will let me walk and run FOREVER. Ok, perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but really, the unshod foot is a whole sensorium that seems to give so much info back it's pretty surprising.

More De Stressing
I used to think kicking off my shoes meant swapping trad shoes for shoes that pass the twist test, and that getting more movement helps decrease stress because the body has a clearer sense of where it is in space, letting those joints and muscles move.

This is still True. BUT
my guess is that letting the foot feel the world beneath our feet, giving that glaborus epithelium the sensation, the touch, it craves, may also well chill the stress events. I'm extrapolating about this touch craving based on how crazy we can get in a sensory deprivation tank - that that's not how we're designed to be; we're designed, it seems, to be in contact with the world. And when we are, we have more ways of telling our beings that things are fine: we have way more options to respond more quickly effectively and efficiently.

Heh Mikey, he likes it.
So, again, even if barefooting for full on runs feels like one too many for you, here's to finding a few opportunities, with increasing regularity, to feel the outside world through your feet.

Please let me know what you discover - post a comment here.

 Thanks for reading,

And if you've enjoyed this series with Mick, i hope you will sponsor him on his barefoot Great North Run.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Mick Wilkinson Part III - the physical and social adaptations of barefoot running practice

In part one of our series with Dr. Mick Wilkinson on the joys and reasons of barefoot walking and running, we looked at the mechanics of going barefoot. In part two we looked at why exposing the sole is a good idea for performance economy. In part IV, we'll feature a barefoot adaptation technique clinic. In this the third part of our interview with Dr. Mick Wilkinson on the joys of barefooting, we consider
  • the differences of barefoot vs psuedo barefooting practices (ones that still use "minimalist" footwear) 
  • We talk a bit about footwear in sport, and also, finally and perhaps most importantly 
  • the social issues around moving towards barefoot practice. 
In part four, we'll have a wee clinic on barefoot walking and running to develop technique. Let's jump right in.

Ok, pose first. This type of running is often described as emulating barefoot running. Thoughts?
Someone running pose has a similar outward appearance to an experienced barefoot runner in terms of gait characteristics. What is different, at least from my perspective, is that pose is about 'DOING' something particular with your legs, specifically, actively pulling up the foot with the hamstrings and as the original book suggests preventing the heel from landing or at least controlling its descent.

I found great difficulty with this personally and many posts on the pose running web site cite similar problems and occasionally injuries from failed attempts to 'DO' it correctly.

As I have alluded to earlier, natural running is about NOT doing. It is about NOT interfering with the automatic reflexes of the muscle spindles in legs and feet and in fact all skeletal muscles. Allowing the stretch reflexes to operate in response to the sensation of barefoot contact results in a graceful, gentle and relatively effortless movement. Fighting or trying to 'make' movements / positions happen that will result on their own is what causes difficulties.

Humans have been running for two million years and were (some still are) very good at it. We have all been born with all the equipment we need to learn to run with ease and comfort, we don't need a book, method or any special shoes to teach us how or protect us, your own bare soles will teach you everything you need to know to run gently and easily. All you have to do is listen to them and let the movements that want to reflexively occur simply happen, just keep thinking of where you want to go - i.e. forwards and upwards - your reflexes will take care of the rest.

I have not run in VFF's but if I had, I would never have suffered the blisters that taught me to move forward without having to actively push off as they would have shielded me from this friction. I also note a number of similar post on Ken Bob Saxton's web site about top-of-the-foot pain in people trying to transition to barefoot running in VFF's. The symptoms described are usually characteristic of sesamoiditis, that is irritation of a group of small bones in the mid foot that usually results from chronic and excessive pressure on these small mobile bones.

[perhaps i'm fortunate, but in two plus years of running and walking in vff's, i've not had this issue -mc] 

As Ken Bob points out and a sports medicine expert in my own department confirms, driving the foot back and down into the ground with barely any cushioning is a sure way to irritate these bones and cause the problems described. If this action were performed barefoot, blisters would reveal the technique flaw long before inflammation reared its ugly head.

This is exactly what i experienced on my first run out: 
that's a big surprise that my form is plainly still not barefoot optimal.

As I have said earlier, the sensitivity of the sole is there for a reason, to block the sensations of direct contact is to lose out on information that helps you run gently. It is like trying to learn to sing while wearing ear plugs!

 - any other point you'd like to make about the value of running truly barefoot?

Apart from all the reasons I give above, it just feels absolutely great. To feel the ground, to move gently over it, the breeze cooling your feet, the sheer sense of freedom and of moving in a way that respects the way the body evolved and respects our evolutionary heritage as running animals.

o Sports and footwear
You're also an avid squash player - do you play squash barefoot?

No. When I run, I can do so in such a way as to minimise friction that would otherwise cause blisters and running is in one direction only - forward. Squash on the other hand is a multiple-sprint sport characterised by rapid and frequent changes of direction, often dictated by your opponent (especially if playing poorly!). Friction in this situation is high and cannot be avoided, playing squash barefoot would tear my feet to bits. Humans evolved to run distances not to play squash!

That said, I still place great value on being able to feel the floor so I can minimise impact and rates of loading not shield myself from the sensation of them by wearing cushioned shoes. Balance is also crucial and feedback from the foot and contact with floor is paramount. Ankle injuries are common in squash and I think this could be linked to wearing shoes that dampen feedback from the sole of the foot and of position sense in the ankle with cushioning and motion control.

I play in old style white canvas army plimsoles. They have very thin soles and no cushioning or support. That way I avoid blisters, but also get excellent feedback about impact that can help me move more gently and lightly on the court. I have practised on court barefoot, but that is when I am in control of where the ball goes or when I am simply practicing set and planned movement patterns.

As a sports person, what about sports and footwear more generally? Watching the French
Open and Wimbledon, for instance, seeing how taped up Nadal's foot was to
the point of being immobile, or looking at football players (and ankle
injuries) and more taping makes me wonder about sports that seem to assume
that feet/ankles are best immobilised, ostensibly for safety, if not
performance. Thoughts?

You can probably guess what I'm going to say. It is widely held public perception (largely based on unsupported claims of shoe manufacturers) that our feet and bodies somehow need protecting from nasty impact forces that threaten to damage our joints and cause us discomfort.

The body and feet have evolved to allow free and easy locomotion across widely varying terrains and surfaces. We have an inbuilt, fully interactive cushioning system that processes information faster than any computer. It comprises reflex loops, incredibly sensitive sensors and muscle systems that respond virtually instantaneously to carry out our movement wishes with the minimum of effort and maximum comfort.

To immobilise, cushion, elevate and 'control' limits if not prevents these finally controlled protective and performance enhancing mechanisms from operating properly. In my view, little good can come from interfering with what evolution has provided. Natural selection is a powerful force and humans would not be here today if it were not for our ancestors (barefoot) running prowess - two million years of development can't be wrong.

o Barefooting in public:
On meeting you in your office hallway, you were unshod, but also had just
come in from a run. That said, if i understand aright, you also walk about
barefoot do you not? Did that start right with running barefoot, or at what

Once I began barefoot running and noticed aches and pains disappearing that returned when I wore shoes, I started going barefoot as often as possible.

Example of winter unshod runner. Looks happy?
I understand it snows in northumbria. What do you do for foot coverings in
the cold?

If I'm not running, I do wear shoes in the winter. Running barefoot doesn't make your feet tough, in fact, it is the sensitivity of them that allows you to run barefoot comfortably, my feet get cold like anyone else's.

When running in the winter, I still go barefoot but I have to limit the duration of my runs so that my feet don't get too cold. If they go numb, that is bad news as it is the feedback from them that helps me run gently without hurting myself. I find that if I wrap the rest of me up well, my feet will be good for about 20-30 mins even if it is a little bit frosty. I stick to the pavements in the winter though as wet grass and sand really sap the heat out of your feet.

I never run in the snow as I have no idea what is underneath it. There could be unknown sharp objects that could injure my feet that I could easily avoid if I could see them.

Have you had any health and safety issues raised about being in the
building unshod, whether for risk of accidents or "uncleanliness"??

Never at work no. I did get a comment from a security guard at a supermarket once about what dirt might be on the bottom of my feet,    "the same as would be on the bottom of my shoes" was my reply ..... he let me go ahead and shop. In another instance, I was refused access to a roller coaster ride at a theme park unless I put on the flip flops I had with me. The reason I was told was that should the ride break down, I would have to climb down a ladder to safety. I pointed out that surely I would be safer climbing down a ladder in my bare feet than in flip flops .... I didn't win that argument and took to the ride in my 'safer' flip flops!

Is there any kind of meeting or event to which you do *not* go unshod now?
Where the social occasion demands it, I put on shoes. For instance, I generally teach and spend most if not all of the day barefoot, but if I am required to meet an important person at work or parents or for weddings (for example) or other important social occasions or in eating establishments, I will put something on. This is more about making others feel comfortable than me feeling embarrassed though which is real shame.

What strategies have you used - and/or would recommend if other folks want
to explore full on barefooting perhaps especially in the work environment,
home and play?

Just go ahead and do it. Obviously within any restrictions placed on you by your job and home / play environment. Common sense has to apply, I wouldn't want anyone to get the sacked or put themselves at risk on my recommendation. If safety and acceptance aren't an issue, go for it, there are many benefits to be had and if anyone asks you can list them - you don't have to be a hippy - I don't have any hair!

o Barefoot and Familial Concerns for one's wellbeing
Ok, so i've come back from a barefoot run and a walk and my family has greated me with absolute horror that this time i've taken my fitness eccentricities one too far. The risk to one's well being is just one too many - the glass, the nails, the nasty things that hide in the grass. Have you encountered anything like this? 

About the fear thing, yes I have had that also.

My response is I promise that I will walk and run with my eyes open so if glass is there on the path before me, I will avoid it just as someone in shoes would do!

the unseen stuff is an interesting one. I believe that you will be better off barefoot than in a minimal shoe. As soon as you feel something on your bare sole, your foot will withdraw from it. Now imagine the same situation shod, you might put quite a lot of weight on the foot before the glass or other sharp object penetrates the shoe at which time you are bearing down on the object with some force and will likely cause a worse injury than would result from quick withdrawal from early and detailed sensory feedback.

Another useful fact about the sole of the foot is the skin is unique - called the glaborous epithelium. The arrangement of collagen fibres is such that pressure that might otherwise puncture the skin is dissipated in all directions offering a wonderfully resistant surface. You don't get calluses from barefooting either - I had callus before I stared, now it has all gone! The plantar surface is like well conditioned leather - soft yet very resilient.
the bottom and top of Mick's feet.
looking pretty unblistered, and no shards of glass
sticking through them
Excellent. Are there any resources you'd recommend for folks preparing to take the plunge?
Books you'd recommend - and a bit about what makes you recommend them?
Web resources? anything else?

Barefoot Running Step by Step: Barefoot Ken Bob, the Guru of Shoeless Running, Shares His Personal Technique for Running with More Speed, Less Impact, Fewer Injuries and More FunAnyone interested in barefoot running really must visit Read the material about how to run barefoot.

The author (Ken Bob Saxton) is as eloquent and informed a writer as I have come across on the topic and is a veteran of some 40 odd barefoot marathons (some back to back!), trail runs etc. For a non-scientist he really does have a very good grasp on the body, mechanics, physics, evolution and philosophy. The author has also recently published a book titled the complete book of barefoot running though I have not obtained a copy yet. Chris MacDougal's book Born to Run is also a very entertaining read. Whilst not generally about barefoot running, there is a lot in there to get you thinking about the need (or not) for shoes and how our approach to running as a pastime and activity has been distorted over time.

Thank you so much Mick, for the great detailed replies on these points. 

Part IV of my discussion with Mick will be a bit more about Mick and his research, as well as a wee clinic in addressing the starting errors of "running" barefoot follows.

Remember, if you're enjoyng this series, please consider sponsoring Mick on his Great North (barefoot) Run.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mick Wilkinson Part II: The Sensitive Sole of Barefoot Running

For Dr. Mick Wilkinson, barefoot running has got to have sole. Exposed soles. In part I of this interview with Dr. Wilkinson, we looked at the rationale for going truly barefoot from a largely musculo-tendon and propriocpetive perspective. In part III, we look at minimalist vs barefoot running, and related social constraints, and in part IV, we'll do a wee clinic on technique and adaptation.

Now, in part II, we're gonna focus a bit more on some other mechnoreceptive action and skin types.
In other words, barefooting is really great to let a foot be a foot in terms of getting joints to move that are designed to move, and muscles to work that may otherwise get no work in a shoe, since that's a really good idea to give the brain a better idea of where we are in space.

But more than just moving joints cuz their designed to move is to consider the surface of the foot, and what it's designed to do, and how that actually also needs to inform movement - and how movement is changed because of this feedback.
So we pick up again with Dr. Wilkinson

o Gotta Have Sole
My fave stat about our feet is that 24 percent of the body's joints are in our feet - that's a whole lot of proprioception going on.

But you brought up this other incredible observation i've simply never heard before that's right there in front of us in the brain's representation of the body in the cortex: that the feet are HUGE like the hands and lips. And your observation is that this is mapping the sensitivity - the nerual activity - in the skin of the foot.

Yes indeed. The density of nerve endings in the sole of the foot - called the plantar surface - is analogous to that of the lips, finger tips and genitals, all renowned for their sensitivity.

Mapping of homunculus to sensory/motor cortex;
foot and toes take up 10% of the total sensory cortex;
in the motor cortex get this: the foot is 8%
and the ANKLE is 17% (lips are 14%). These
stats suggest those little clay models with small
feet are off in terms of representation. These Illustrations
seem to be more accurate.

Moreover, the type of nerves supplying these areas are known as type IV afferents - the fastest conducting nerves fibres in the body. Your feet are incredibly sensitive and they are so for very good reason.

I so did not know that about nerve types in the foot.
You have some really cool ideas about this sensitivity's development that
shoes obviously compromise, running from evolutionary survival mechanism to
running economy. Please, share:

I'll try to do this by combining what findings of studies have shown with what anthropologists tell us about human evolution. Hopefully that way, you can see how I have arrived at my hypothesis on the matter.

Gait Alternations with Bare Feet.
We know that gait is altered when barefoot, reduced rates of loading and in some studies reduced impact forces are associated with these gait alterations, economy is also improved (i.e. energy cost to run at a given speed is reduced) and could be linked to the altered gait pattern as well as simply removing the mass of the shoe.

Previous studies have shown a relationship between plantar sensation, impact avoidance behaviour and impact force in contrived, static activities (Robbins 89).

There is anthropological and fossil evidence that endurance running was a key survival-related behaviour for humans and that the this behaviour shaped the anatomy and biology of homo sapiens (LIEBENBERG 08). Early humans would have and indeed many existing clusters of humans still do run barefoot. Incidence of lower limb injury is lower in these barefoot populations (Carrier 84, Leibermen 10)).

hypothesis: The nerve supply is very dense in the plantar surface of the foot and those nerves are type IV afferents, very fast conducting nerves that provide great sensitivity of feedback.

Sensitive Soles
ya heel strike only once
in bare soles.
that's all it takes to
suggest a different approach
My hypothesis is that we have highly sensitive feet because the feedback received from them when walking and running barefoot results in continuous regulation and alteration of gait to minimise perceived plantar discomfort. This moderation of perceived plantar discomfort comes about by adopting a gait pattern that minimises rates of loading and peak force. It just so happens that the gait patterns that do this also seem to make better use of elastic structures in the legs and feet and also result in more economical locomotion.

Rate of loading and peak force are two known causative factors in injury, and economy is a known determinant of endurance-running performance. It would make good sense from an evolutionary perspective that highly sensitive feet, by virtue of the injury reducing and economy enhancing benefits, would be a trait that conferred a survival advantage in humans for who running was a key survival behaviour, and would thus be perpetuated by evolution through natural selection, hence we still have them. If sensitive feet were a limitation to early human runners, they would not have survived to pass on this trait.

So there you have it, we have sensitive feet so that we moderate every moment of every step to make it comfortable and we make it comfortable by altering loading rate, friction  and peak force - the bonus is that these attempts to make landing comfortable also might cause reduced energy cost of movement and be related to injury prevention.

How can a running shoe top that? Two million years of evolution cannot be surpassed by an inch or two of cushioning foam rubber that in fact interfere with natural locomotion.  

Awesomely sensible. You're looking at researching this sensitivity effect right now. Can you
tell us a little bit about how you're going about doing that and what the
hypothesis around running economy is?

Yes. Some fairly dated but excellent studies by Steve Robbins and co-workers in the mid-to-late eighties got there before me and really were ahead of their time. They proposed a plantar sensory feedback loop in which increased plantar sensation (imposed by pressing the barefoot down from above on to a force plate topped by surfaces of varying roughness) resulted in automatic impact avoidance reflexes the same as the withdrawal reflex when you touch something sharp or hot and a resulting lower plantar force.

bad bad bad sensation blockers
They also published some results collected from people dropping down onto a force plate from an elevated box. They covered the force plate in varying thicknesses of cushioning material used in the manufacture of running shoes or nothing at all. Impact force and subjective rating of discomfort were recorded. The findings showed that the thicker the cushioning the more comfortable the landing was perceived but the higher the actual impact force was!

So, shoes block the sensation of impact NOT the impact
which is actually worse than when barefoot. Robbins and colleagues [in the late 80s] actually warned against the deceptive advertising of running shoes saying that you buy them believing they would protect you when in fact the opposite is the case. Many more studies from this group reinforced these findings.

Revisiting Robbins on Barefoot Force/Sensitivity Adaptation
The limitation of the these excellent studies was actually also one of their strengths - they were very tightly controlled in a laboratory setting with contrived loading patterns. All I am working on at the moment is an extension of this early work in actual running.

I also want to quantify the link between plantar sensation and impact avoidance as it manifests itself in whole-body gait alteration. Briefly, I plan to have willing volunteers run at a self-selected speed both shod and barefoot over surfaces of varying roughness outdoors.Leg-muscle activation (via EMG), gait (via motion analysis), impact force (estimated from a mathematical model) and subjectively rated plantar sensation will be recorded.

I hypothesise that as plantar discomfort increases, the difference in gait characteristics and impact between the shod and barefoot run will also increase (i.e. the moderation of gait will become more extreme as the plantar discomfort increases). Though this design cannot show causality, it might provide some evidence for the link between plantar-sensory input and gait moderation that could open the door to other studies. 

Running economy and Barefoot Running.
Current literature (and my own work that is currently under review) is fairly consistent in that barefoot running is less costly in energy terms, but also suggests that the advantage is most likely explained by simple removal of the extra mass of the shoe (Divert 08). There is, however, a strong theoretical basis to suggest that the gait patterns characteristic of  experienced barefoot runners could also be related to energy saving. Specifically, the greater knee, hip and ankle angles could all place greater stretch on elastic elements in the legs and feet improving energy storage and the shorter ground-contact times mean that more of the energy is returned (the longer you stay in contact with the ground the more energy is lost as heat).

An interesting finding from our own lab that could also relate to energy saving is that the horizontal distance between point of initial ground contact and the body's centre of mass is much less in barefoot than shod running.

In other words, the foot land more underneath you than in front of you. This is important as the further you land out in front (shod), the bigger the braking impulse and the more you slow down with each foot strike. That speed loss has to be actively overcome to maintain a constant speed. In contrast, the reduced braking impulse of the barefoot strike means less energy to maintain speed - corresponding to my personal experience of effortlessly falling forward over the foot underneath me.

The work needed here is with experienced barefoot runners as the current literature all uses runners for who barefooting is novel. It is entirely plausible that a skilled barefoot runner will have economy advantages over shod runners that exceed that explained by the mass of the shoe - if you know any experienced barefoot runners who would be interested in this study, let me know as I haven't found many (actually any) up here!

The call goes out, and thank you for the references to related work.

And with these insights into the effect that and exposed plantar surface of the foot has on gait, we close today's post, with this request: if you try exploring barefooting this week, please come back and post - let me know how it goes. Especially if you try mulitple surfaces to notice the effect each may have on gait.

In Part III we look at other forms of running (like pose), the role of shoes in sports, being barefoot in public, a bit more about Dr. Wilkinson

In Part IV we have a wee clinic on barefoot running technique - best heard after giving barefoot running on mixed surfaces a go, when there will be more motivation than ever to hear these Sage Words. We'll also look a little bit at Making It Safe for Loved Ones to Accept your Peculiar Desire to Run Barefoot.

And for ref, this all started with Part I: the mechanical advantage of barefoot running. 

Also, again, if you're finding this series interesting, please do consider sponsoring Mick on his
  Great North Run in his bare feet at:

See you in Part III. Remember, please do let me know about your initial bare soled experience.

Carrier, D. (1984). The Energetic Paradox of Human Running and Hominid Evolution Current Anthropology, 25 (4) DOI: 10.1086/203165
Divert, C., Mornieux, G., Freychat, P., Baly, L., Mayer, F., & Belli, A. (2008). Barefoot-Shod Running Differences: Shoe or Mass Effect? International Journal of Sports Medicine, 29 (6), 512-518 DOI: 10.1055/s-2007-989233
LIEBENBERG, L. (2008). The relevance of persistence hunting to human evolution Journal of Human Evolution, 55 (6), 1156-1159 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2008.07.004
Lieberman, D., Venkadesan, M., Werbel, W., Daoud, A., D’Andrea, S., Davis, I., Mang’Eni, R., & Pitsiladis, Y. (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners Nature, 463 (7280), 531-535 DOI: 10.1038/nature08723

Robbins SE, Gouw GJ, & Hanna AM (1989). Running-related injury prevention through innate impact-moderating behavior. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 21 (2), 130-9 PMID: 2709977

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Mick Wilkinson Part I: Why Barefoot Running (in shoes) Is not barefoot running

 There's a young term in the market: barefoot running. The irony of this term, of course, is that it's used to sell shoes. Kind of an oxymoron there. But for many of us who have grokked the value of getting out of squishy or stiff shoes that don't pass a twist test, fewer of us have actually done the full monty, ditched the shoes and hit the streets unshod.

Dr. Mick Wilkinson,
in from a run, and being
stopped from getting to the
showers by yers truly
The same reasons that people have said they fear running in this soles - glass, harshness of surface and which those of us who run slightly shod have learned to smile understandingly about and say "no biggie for me" - are the same reasons most of us fear running without anything between us and the pavement.

But researcher Dr. Mick Wilkinson of the  Northumbria University has a similarly compassionate smile for the fears of the slightly shod, and many more reasons to show that even those 4mm between us and the planet can really screw up our stride. For him, a truly barefoot runner for over 4 years, barefoot means barefoot, and the distinction is pretty critical.

Mick is readily identified by his colleagues with the epitaph "you can't miss him; he's always barefoot" Wilkinson is an avid runner, competitive squash plater and senior lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at Northumbria in Newcastle, UK. And yup, when i literally ran into Mick at Northumbria, he was indeed truly barefoot. I must admit it's the first time i felt overdressed in VFF Bikila's

What follows is a four part discussion of several rationales for barefoot running - one of the most compelling of which is just how the surface of our foot is wired. And once you've heard this, you may be hard pressed not to want to get your shoes off your feet as fast as you can.

Part I of the b2d interview with Soleful covers Mick Wilkinson on his journey to barefootness and the mechanics of the foot in running. In part II we'll look more at the role of the sole, in part III some comparisons with other running approaches, and part IV a wee clinic on tuning up the adaptation of running truly unshod.

If you enjoy this series, please consider sponsoring Mick on his barefoot Great North Run.

Mick, if i recall right, you said you started exploring barefooting about 4
years ago now? That's pretty ahead of the barefoot running curve.

Yes, it was before it all hit the headlines and became a bit of a movement, particularly in the states. I'm not sure it even has become a movement here in the UK. That said, I quickly and easily found Ken Bob Saxton's web site which has been going since 1997 and still is a fantastic resource for those interested in barefooting.

You were telling me that what lead you to barefooting was a suggestion by
your alexander movement coach to check out running in bare feet as a way to
interrogate your own movement since you were having recurrent injuries?
Maybe you'd tell us a bit about your running history, how you connected
with your coach, and your process of dipping a toe into barefooting.

That is correct. I have always run, mainly just for fitness but when I was a undergraduate student at university I also did a few cross country and road races though I was never a serious competitive runner.

I mostly used running as a stress release, particularly during exam periods where I ran everyday twice a day. I also took up squash while studying and used running as a form of training for squash (before I knew better about specificity of training!!). I began to suffer from calf /  soleus / Achilles problems that recurred with monotonously regularity despite trying physiotherapy, recommended stretches, shoe inserts, different shoes, acupuncture and chiropractic. I largely gave up on running and continued with squash which didn't seem to cause me as many problems.

Some ten years later when work and family commitments made it difficult to play squash, I started to try running again but the old issues returned so I again gave up. In 2007 my father in law wanted to race in the Great North Run half marathon and asked me to join him. I started trying to train again but after only four weeks my Achilles and calves gave out again. At this point I began to think that maybe it was the way I was running that was causing the issues and explored Pose running and Chi running without much success.

I then happened on a book called Master the Art of Running by Malcolm Balk - a teacher of the Alexander Technique.

I had never heard of the AT until then, but it made much sense to me that misuse Master the Art of Running: Raising Your Performance with the Alexander Techniquei.e. bad movement habits / unnecessary tension leads to illness and injury over time as the body is not being used as it has evolved to be used. I sought out a local AT teacher and booked a lesson.

AT teachers don't address symptoms of misuse directly but rather seek to improve overall use and coordination by helping student first become aware of harmful habits of movement, then learn to inhibit them and replace them with better patterns that result in free and easy movement.

It is essentially about NOT DOING, about stripping movements down to the bare necessary essentials and above all, not interfering with natural forces and the abundant stretch-shortening cycle postural reflexes that evolved to make movement free and easy - watch young children to see movement without interference with natural postural reflexes. Awareness of how you move while you move is key to the AT and my teacher suggested I try to get a little more in touch with how I moved when I ran by taking off my shoes and getting more information from my bare feet about how I was landing, balancing, pushing off when running.

Very cool. What was it like going from that first time shod to barefoot for a run? You
did this on a beach?

I was bit nervous first time out but, without exaggeration, there was an instant change to my running style. After a couple of painful strides where I landed on my heels, something I had not known I did until then, my stride automatically shortened and quickened so I landed instead more on the whole sole with perhaps the mid foot touching down fractionally first. I was still a bit tense but as I carried on, I used some of my AT training to release some of that unnecessary tension. As I released into it, my poise altered and I ran much more upright with (without sounding obvious) my head balancing on top of my neck, my torso balancing on my hips and freer hip, knee and ankles.

The change in balance made it far easier to land with my feet beneath me, hence landing more on the mid foot and considerably eased tension in my back that, I realised had been because I had been leaning forward which in turn had encouraged the heel strike as the foot was planted out in front of me to prevent me from falling flat on my face.

It all made sense and after only about half a mile felt very comfortable. I was careful to build up time and distance very gradually. I waited for the old problems to resurface, but they never did. Over time I moved onto grass, increased my distances and after about a year I decided to venture onto the pavement - something I wished I had done much earlier.

You were saying that someone in this space suggested start rather with the
rougher type surfaces and you agreed. Who was that and why?

Ken Bob Saxton suggested that you learn far more quickly about how to stand, walk and run lightly and comfortably when you get more feedback from rougher surfaces. That mirrored my first experience on the pavement. Until then I had thought I was running quite lightly. I was wrong! But, as with my first barefoot run on the beach, my technique altered quickly in response to the discomfort I felt through my bare soles and soon I was landing more lightly and gently and correspondingly more comfortably.

That first pavement run also taught me something else. I had a blister between the ball of my foot and big toe. I consulted Ken Bob's pages where he has excellent and very detailed instructions on technique from his years of experience. The cause of my blister it seemed was pushing backwards with my foot to drive me forward, the resulting friction leading to the blister. I quickly learned to simply lift my feet up after contact with the ground, to not actively push off, but instead to move forward by releasing my ankles and allowing my vertical torso to fall forward over my supporting foot.

The parallels with AT were always apparent to me: the less I actively did and the more I simply allowed the muscles in my legs and feet to respond to the lengthening / stretching forces imposed by gravity, and to recoil automatically with their stretch reflexes and in built elasticity, the better, more lightly and gently I ran.

Don't get me wrong, I am still learning and still finding tension to let go of and parts of my movement that I interfere with, but the more feedback I can get through my soles from rougher surfaces, the easier it is to make refinements that result in lighter and more gentle contact with the ground. I ran poorly for decades in shoes but have managed to undo lots of those bad habits in just a two or three years - all of which have been injury free.

o Science/Mechanics
So since we're now talking position,
Just to review, before talking about the foot's unmediated contact with the ground, let's review a few of the important reasons biomechanically around going barefoot: the action of the arch and the work of the achilles tendon.

The feet and legs are full of elastic tendons and connective tissues. The foot has many articulating joints and an intricate network of muscles, ligaments and tendons whose purpose is to provide an intrinsic support and cushioning system that responds instantly to variations in balance, pressure and comfort / discomfort with each and every part of every step. The mid foot has a thick pad of fat that also aids in cushioning, the heel does not and its purpose is simply to aid balance in standing and improve the lever characteristics around the ankle.

The sole of the foot also has a higher density of muscle spindles than anywhere else in the body
tendons of the lower leg that operate the foot:
like the flexors that attach on the shin:
lot of muscle spindle
and fine tuned movement
with the exception of muscles in the back of the neck. These are the organs that sense change and rate of change in muscle length and through the stretch-shortening reflex, ensure that muscle resist stretch with only exactly the right amount of force to counteract it. This reflex also results in storage of stretch energy in tendons and other connective tissues that can be returned thus reducing the energy cost of a given movement. Mechanical studies of the foot have also shown that as much as 17% of the energy a foot strike can be stored and returned by the longitudinal arch of the bare foot (Ker et al., 1987).

In order to store energy, the arch is deformed by a rolling action of the foot that begins on with ground contact at the outside mid foot and progress across the middle of the foot. This pronation is entirely natural and flatten the arch which subsequently springs back assisting in propulsive forces to move the body forward.

From this view, it seems ridiculous to think that an arch needs a 'support' as seems to be the thinking of manufacturers of modern elevated heel cushioned running shoes. Gallilieo himself marvelled at the arch as a structure and saw its benefits as a supporting structure that is now common place in engineering (bridges etc.) an arched bridge for example actually becomes
and another layer of muscles
directly within the foot,
and more fine tuning of movement
stronger under pressure as its parts mesh more closely together. The sure-fire way to weaken an arch and destroy an arch bridge is to apply pressure from underneath!

The elastic properties of the arch are also found in the Achilles tendon which is really just a large elastic band.

The purpose of the Achilles tendon is also to store and return energy only in running. It is remarkable that species that do not run or are very poor runners (non cursors), an Achilles tendon is absent.

Obviously, an elastic structure is only useful when it is stretched. An elevated-heel shoe shortens the Achilles tendon reducing any stretch placed on it during the running cycle. Comparisons of barefoot to shod running have shown greater peak ankle dorsi-flexion angle (that would stretch the Achilles further) in barefoot running.

running in heels?
killing the job of the
achiles tendon
This is, in my opinion, another example of shoe designers not having an understanding of or respect for the structures and functioning of the human leg and foot that evolved over 2 million years to make homo sapiens the unsurpassed distance running mammal on the planet.

That's it for this part on why getting squishy souls out of the way may be a good idea - and why if we stopped here we may think vff's do the trick. But that bit about blisters is important, too. 

In Part II of this series with Mick, we'll look at the Sensitive Sole of barefoot running, and why that plantar surface - and getting it into direct contact with the ground is a Big Deal.

Before then, want to give some real ground a try? Believe me, it will put the above and the rest of this series in a whole new context...

Till next time,

And oh yes, if you're finding this series interesting, please do consider sponsoring Mick on his
  Great North Run in his bare feet at:

Related b2d posts

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ken Froese: Triple Double Beast Press Practice with a little z-health, some return of the kettlebell and Spite

At a recent RKC II kettlebell certification course, Ken Froese did something it doesn't seem like any other RKC of any level has done: he cleaned then pressed two 48kg kettlebells (one in each hand) for a double. Shown below a few weeks before, he does a triple. Guess he was taking it easy at the RKC.

Just to be clear, 48kg is 106 pounds. It's known as "the Beast" in the RKC. That's a big ball o' iron gripped and pulling against the wrist.  That's more than half a lot of guys' body weight. Pressing ONE beast once is one third of what's known as the Beast Challenge. So in this context, even a single double beast press is what may reasonably be construed as a Big Deal.

Ken and i first got chatting about two years ago on the RKC instructors forum and met in person at a z-health cert. Having now had the pleasure to be on a year long course with Ken and hear him talk about his plans to do this double press of a beast for a single for this RKC II recert, it seemed a cool thing now to be able to ask him to reflect on the process of how he got from there to here.

By way of context, Ken Froese of  Kettlebell Evolution (his shop) is a quiet guy. The quiet big guy type that looks like he could crush a beer can just kinda by looking at it sideways. If he saw Chuck Norris he'd be all polite and nice and everything, maybe check his sphenoid to help him with that big side kick, all the while you kinda know he could probably crush old chuck like a bug. In the nicest possible way.  If you've heard of the story of Milo - the guy who got stronger and bigger every day by lifting a bull from its first day as a calf to its full grown-ness, that's how i kinda think of Ken.

Ken's also a Z-Health master trainer, an RKC II kettlebell instructor, previously set up his own shop in NY doing tree cutting (the type of cutting where one has to shinny up big trees and chain saw them down in pieces), is an ice and rock climber, independent business owner, home builder, knowledge seeker, and surprisingly witty guy. Why surprising? It's that quiet thing. Imagine the smart shy kid at the back of the class that every once in awhile speaks, and when he does, it's hilarious. Until recently, Ken was also known by his long locks (think owen wilson), but has moved to another Look stage (think ben stiller). So you have the picture: medium tall guy, lots of muscle mass, business like, quiet, witty.

Oh ya, and ken was also part of the team coaching Fabricio Werdum in kb's prior to his upset win over Fedor Emelianenko this past year. 

And so we begin:

Ken, a year ago you'd had a plan to press double beasts at the RKC II recert. Just for context, a beast is an rkc nickname for the 48kg kettlebell. Pressing ONE beast is a third of the "beast challenge" - pressing, pulling up and pistoling a beast.
The RKC II recert just happened, and you doubled the beast press: cleaned, and followed with two good presses. We have video of you not much previously getting in a triple.

So this seems a nice feat of strength.
Why was getting in a planned single rep of a double beast press so important?
We all use different strategies to motivate ourselves to accomplish goals in our life.  Often the best way to motivate someone is to tell them they can't do something.  For me it was Spite. Have you ever seen the Seinfeld where Jerry tried to return a jacket and when the sales girl asked why, his reply was for spite (youtube clip).

In May of 2010 I began the Z-Health master trainer program. Around the same time there was some blog posts and conversations on different forums where people were saying that "Z-health makes you weak."

I could never understand how a system that is all about assess and re-asssess could be making someone weak. What were they missing?

So I took it on as my own personal challenge to strict military press Double beasts. So whenever I hear people say Z makes you weak, I can say Really?? 
I hope folks look at that clip of seinfeld and spite. Very witty, sir. You have done many of us a service. Cuz now we just say "really?" with a picture of you attached to it. I can see the t-shirt now: black shirt, outline of you with the beasts in lockout, quote at the top "zhealth makes you weak" and the big Really underneath. Nicely done. Mind you, i kinda think that rumour's run it's course, eh? We've all grown and learned and re-bonded and no longer say such unfounded things, right?

And now the technical aspects of the approach to the T, as it were. You did one clean and then the two presses: why the clean just at the start rather than before each press?
Re-cleaning the bells before a press is a great teaching tool to set up for a press.  If the clean is bad, they will never make the press.

Even this past weekend at the RKC2 I was surprised to see a lot of what I would call relaxed cleans on those that failed their 1/2 BW press.  When The weights get heavy, I can usually tell if the press will be made just by watching the clean.

Or they would start to yield under the weight letting form break down instead of missing with integrity or as Pavel calls missing like a profesional. 
Here's Master RKC Mark Reifkind making this point with you (when you had hair, and were weaker, so Sampson model plainly doesn't apply. Myth busted...):

This weekend Mark Toomey spoke about approaching the bells. Do you always set up the same way, do you always know where you feet are? Are you mentally prepared for the lift?

Pavel has spoken about a powerlifter that had a different grunt for each of his three power lifts to help him mentally prepare.

Back to the clean question.........
I first started lifting bells in early 07 and when pressing heavy I always re-cleaned the bells between reps to set up my pressing.

When I started to follow RTK (Return of the Kettlebell, overview here) I began learning to press without the re-clean, as the bells are Dbl snatched over head and the presses are begun from the top position.  But my pressing strength grew beyond what I could safely double snatch.
In  Z-Health we talk about the mark of a true professional is the ability to go from relaxed to tight in a split second. This weekend at the RKC 2 Pavel told a little story: if you took a picture at 10 frames a second of a fight throwing a punch. The beginner would be tight in the first frame. The intermadiate guy would be tight by frame 5 and the professional would be tight at the very end of the 10th frame.

So about 6 months ago it kind of dawned on me that learning to press from the rack without re-cleaning would help me learn the skill of going from relaxed to tight at a split second, instead of wasting energy holding tension for a longer period of time. Besides, recleaning a pair of 48s is a lot of work :)
What's very cool is that you started practicing for this at least a year in advance. What made you think about this as something you'd want the year to do? Where were you at in your pressing when you came up with this goal?
When I picked pressing dbl beasts I wanted to pick a goal that not a lot of people in the RKC community can do or have done. If you go through videos on youtube there is a few videos of people pressing pressing dbl beasts, but they are mostly push presses. Nothing I would really call a strict press. I apoligise in advance if there are videos out there that I have missed.  The only person that I had heard of doing the Dbl Beast press was Shaun Cairns.

Back in 09 I had wanted to train for the beast challenge. I was struggling with the press, i could not get past the 44kg and my pullups were stalled with body weight + 90lbs. As I would try and drop weight  to help my pull-up my pressing strength would go down.
So I got frustrated and started with Pavel's RTK program. I enjoyed the program and liked working with doubles. My body just felt better working with double bells over a single bell.

Eventually I tweaked the program a little so on my heavy day I was recleaning the bells instead of dbl snatching them. I worked up to 5 ladders of 4 with dbl 40s.  Then on a medium day i decided to press the 48 and see what kind of carry over all the dbl kb work had. I cleaned the 48 pressed it, hmmmm that was easy, recleaned it pressed it again, hmmm, recleaned it pressed it again.

That was the first time I tried pressing the 48 in almost a year and it went up for a triple, so double work had great carry over for me.
This was also around the time that the "Z makes you weak" rumours started floating around. So the goal of a dbl beast press was formed.

I then figured what better place to do it than at the RKC2 in MSP. So as soon as the RKC2 for 2011 was announced  I signed up to re-cert as an RKC2.

A lot of friends were asking why I was re taking the course instead of trying to assist and my typical response was , "For Spite"
Anything other than Spite?
I also really enjoy Pavel's coaching as he has an incredible eye for detail.  The rest of the seniors and master rkcs who were leading the teams also bring a lot of coaching experience to the table.
Totally agreed. Why i did RKC II, really
As in any quality system things are always changing / evolving for the better. Pavel added some different progressions for pullups and hanging leg raises that I never saw  before. Dave Whitley gave a great progression for the bent press. Dan John gave some great tips for coaching Jerks.

I also always have a good time and a lot of laughs hanging around like minded people.

I also think Z-Health and RKC principles work very well together. Sometimes we just need to tweak things a little for the individual. That is where a coach with a good eye is important.  When we get married to our ideas and say there is only one way to do anything, then we get ourselves and or our clients into trouble.
THere was a break point in your practice with this lift - what happened, and how did you recover?
In Dec of 2010 I was pushing hard hoping to get the dbl 48s for Festivus party held at a friend's gym, Dogtown Crossfit, where all the members perform a feat of strength that they have been working on.

Around  the biginning of Dec I was up to about 10 singles with dbl 44s.  I attempted pressing dbl 48s, but as soon as I cleaned them I knew I did not have a chance.
Then I ended up getting the flu and It was crunch time for the Z health MT cert. I had to prepare 2 45 min presentations as well as study for 6 days of live training at the Z health head quarters in PHX AZ, so my training got put on the back burner.

Once I started to ramp up again I began trying to get comfortable cleaning double 48s. The hardest part for me was cleaning them off the floor. Once they were in the rack I was able to clean them for reps, so I just practiced cleaning them for singles and dumping them onto the floor and jumping out of the way. More like an Olympic lifter dumps the bar from over head to avoid the eccentric, so he can get more training in.
Has your weight changed much between when you first got this idea to press big and now?
Do we really need to ask that question? Remember that time I asked [question deleted...], and that look you gave me :). Lets just say I ate my way through the sticking points.

When I started on this goal I was close to  250lbs, When I weighed in at the RKC2 I was 271. (I still made the pull-up throat to bar with a 16kg bell on my foot and performed a pistol at that weight). I only started training pull ups 2 months before the level 2 and pistols 3 weeks out.
Do you think you needed to put on the weight to get the press?
Thats tough to say...... For myself it is so much easier to get stronger when I put weight on.  If I did not have a goal date in mind then maybe I could have watched my weight a better, but to be honest, I was not that concerned. I picked a goal and I made it happen.
So simple. So elegant. Picked a goal and made it happen. One of the things that's stood out for me is that you picked this goal like a YEAR in advance, stuck with it for a YEAR and delivered. Not a particularly short term plan. And it seems like you hit it about three weeks to the day. And were able to keep it up - so not even just a PR on the day. That is very very sweet to see. You had gas in the tank.

Ok, now that's done and dusted; you've recerted and all. 

What are you going to do now in terms of training and your weight/leanness approach? Are you going to attempt to maintain this press while you lean out? - Not that you have to or need to lean out; just that i remember you talking about wanting to do this.
I want to start dropping the weight. A few months back my daughter and I were camping at joshua tree and we had a great time scrambling / climbing over rocks for a few days. But i remember saying to myself, this would be so much more fun if I was 50 lbs lighter.

I moved out to Santa Monica 2 1/2 years ago and I would like to start surfing. I also used to do some ice climbing when I lived on the east coast and have done some mountaineering trips to Equador, peru and alaska. I still want to climb Denali with a group of Z trainers.

I'm still undecided if I want to maintain the press or not.  Because of the sheer size of KBs above 48kg I feel you may as well go to a barbell to train heavier. I am seriously considering chasing some numbers in long  cycle as that is a lift I really enjoy.

If I don't have fun and enjoy my training then what is the point?

I also may start training Krav Maga, as I train out of a gym run by John Whitman who is a 4th degree black belt.  So it would be silly of me to not take advantage of his skills.

Beside my wife is upset that I no longer fit into the John Varvatos jackets she bought me. :)
what's on your plate for where you want to focus your practice now, then?
I want to work on dropping the weight and spend time working on the nuances of S-Phase  and learn good sprinting technique.  I just want to pursue some more athletic avenues that doing all of my training standing in one spot.  I guess as I'm getting older, I question the point of training if I do not do anything with it.
Years ago…… People trained to get better at their sport, now exercise has become its own sport.
AH yes, we hear that one in z-health a lot: training as its own sport. Indeed. Just to go back a wee bit how did you feel? I seem to recall you talking about being a bit achey early on with putting on the weight? How did you address that?
Back to the weight huh? [deleted question ...]
Heh dude, you started with the descriptions at one of the courses about feeling the pain here related to putting on the pounds, and i was asking you then about what kind of choices are you making to hit a specific time goal and how to deal with that trade off. So ya, we're coming back
Yeah I definitely am not moving as well carrying all this extra weight. But I still get out and skateboard with my daughter and practice my Z health.

While we were working on Jerks at the RKC2 someone commented on how good my shoulder and thoracic mobility was. I spend a lot of time practicing it.
Ok, cool. So, one of the things you told me when we discussed the first time you repp' ed with the beasts is that movement drills were really important - how so and which ones?
I'll try and make a video of a few of my pet drills.
One can get away with a lot  of compensations when pressing a single bell. But in a double press they all kind of show them selves.

If you can not comfortably stand with 2 bells locked out over head and feel like that is a rest position, then you should not be doing Dbl KB work.

I did most of my shoulder mobility work with bands.

Ken does terminal flicks for shoulder ROM
approach promoted by legend Bob Gajda in Total Body Training
(i personally did  a lot of this kind of work to rehab my shoulder this year -mc)

People often think of Z as a mobility system , but I only practiced  long (long being 30-45Min)  Mobility sessions about 3x a week. I just constantly practice small drills though out the day. Z is a performance system.

At the RKC2 There was a girl that was having an issue hitting her pull - up, she was close but needed a few more inches. I began by trying mobility drills, but it was not helping. Finally what did it was a neuro-mechanic drill [also taught at z, in particular in the T-phase course] at a sight of a previous injury.  One of the tag lines we use when teaching Z is "You do not have to be right [the first time], you just have to be persistent."  If that did not work there was still a lot of different avenues to look at.
Is there anything you'd do differently if you were starting this process from scratch again? and if so, why those things?
Not really as what I did worked. I picked a goal and worked towards it.  Performing it at a lighter BW would be more impressive but that was never my main concern.
Other folks are surely going to be inspired by this performance: what are three key things you think would be important for them to consider in pursuing a similar goal?
Make sure you have the required mobility to press Dbl bells
Listen to your body: I used the light med heavy approach training 3 days a week. But on the days I felt good [I did more] and on some days I did less.  Everything happens in waves. There was times I went to the gym and the presses felt heavy so i just did a bunch of band work and went home or to In and Out burger.

Keep healthly, If you have aches and pains, Fix them, do not push through them or you will just wind up loosing training time.------
Super duper Ken.
And lest anyone think that triple or double was a one off? how bout a bunch in the same period:

So, now let's do a little Ken Back Story for context to this goal.

You've been doing kbs for about four years. What kind of training did you do if any before that? What I'm trying to get at is what kind of experience has gone into you feeling comfy to tune a program and go by seeming feel to guide your double press work.

The Young Ken. I first started training in the 8th grade as I wanted to play high school football. My freshman year I weighed 150lbs, my senior year I was 250.  There is no such thing as a Hard gainer, just under eaters.

Basement Gyms. The first "gym" I ever trained in was a basement. You paid 20.00 a month to train there. I remember taking public transportation from Staten Island NY up to the Bronx to purchase weights and carrying them back.  It was different then…… I never knew there was such a thing as "personal trainers", people just lifted and the older guys helped the younger guys out and it was all cool.

I guess that is why I love training out of Crossfit gyms. The bare bones feel reminds me of Basement gyms.

Getting into KBs Eventually I got into KBs  And I trained out of my house in upstate ny.  I joined a local gym, where the owner just gave you a key to let yourself in.  I kept my KBs there and trained a mix of KBs and barbell work….. Eventually I moved into Manhattan and imagine my surprise when I set foot into my first Globo gym and saw all the machines, swiss balls and bosu work. I thought I stepped into another dimension.

Z-Health and the RKC. I guess that is why I embrace the RKC and Z health, it helped me make sense of it. Some months back I was in NY and went by a gym I used to work at to train.  As I looked around it was the same clients with the same trainers lifting the same weights.  I remember shaking my head. If you are not making progress, what are you doing? This is strength training after all isn't it?

Pavel's programs  give a pretty clear cut progression and Z-Health gave me a lens , principles and tools to evaluate my training. If something is not working fix it.
Loaded Mobility. A lot of people have seen the the R-Phase manual and DVD, [but] in the strength and suppleness course we go into loaded mobility where to use use bands to load all of the exercises as some mechnorecetors only fire under certain speeds and certain loads.

The UnStretch. I am also not a big fan  of passive stretching  ( wow I said that in a Politicly correct manner).  Most people use bands to pull themselves in ROM they are trying to find. I use very light bands in the opposite manner, and pull into the ROM i'm trying to find, so it becomes more of an achieve exercise. [video]

The UnWarmUp. I also do not warm up much when I train……… at the RKC2 I did a neural warm up before I left the hotel. When it came time to test the press, I did 5 reps each arm with a 12 KG   I did a few nerve glides and pressed a pair of 36s for 3-4 reps then set up a pair of 48s and hit a dbl.
There ya have it. And so just to wrap this up, we close with The Joy of Press:

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