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Getting started with barefoot running can be intimidating. After decades of living with cushy soles, custom orthotics, and maligned posture, I transitioned into barefoot movement and exercise and had fascinating results.
Here are some simple & advanced barefoot running exercises to develop the musculature and habits that’ll help you learn barefoot movement quicker!
This incorporates techniques used for professional athletes which I’ve been using for a decade now and can help take you to the next level.
Table of Contents
No shoes, stand on one foot. Fix your eyes on one spot. Raise your hand slightly higher than your head and swivel to touch your opposite toe (left hand to right foot).
Repeat 20 times each foot, 4 sets!
To increase difficult try moving your eyes from spot to spot or increasing the speed of which you touch and come back up.
Never let your knees move past your toes and use your hips as the hinge point.
This exercise is amazing for developing strong stabilizers and balance – this is the building block of barefoot movement.
With any amount of weight or with bodyweight, simply raise up onto your toes and back down. Simple as that. 50 repetitions and 4 sets.
This will develop those oh so neglected calf muscles, improve and reinforce the ability of triple extension (ankle, knee, hip) explosion, and improve technique in the long run.
This will set the foundation for walking, running, moving, sprinting, jumping, etc. Your feet muscles will get stronger quickly and it’s just an excellent and simple exercise. Even after a decade I just do bodyweight for this.
Hops, skips, & jumps
Lets get those biomechanics tuned.
Short hops over obstacles like hurdles, cones, branches, or chairs is a good way to get those barefoot movements familiarized.
Skipping with a rope is also an excellent way to develop those stabilizers and neglected muscle groups quickly.
This will get that triple extension (ankles, knees, hips) worked on and solidified. Use your arms to help propel you and make it one fluid movement.
This will help build all relative muscles in the feet, calves, quads, glutes, torso, etc and prepare them for what’s to come.
Marching & high knees
Technique, technique, technique!
Before you learn to run you must learn how to walk – or march. This will ensure your arm/shoulder movement synchronizes with your lower body and trains your body for proper triple extension. Practice marching (and high subsequently high knees) for 10 minutes each time –
Every single session with my trainer would involve marching and technique overview – you’d be surprised at how bad even professional athletes are at simple biomechanics.
Arm and torso movement/stability is huge when it comes to running, jogging – anything. Don’t neglect the importance of technique and the way that marching can improve it.
Great total leg strengthening and will use big muscles and stabilizers. Perfect blend of balance & strength training.
Ideally a 90°bend at the knee, though it’s okay if it comes forward a bit – as long is it doesn’t go past the toe (too much load on knees).
I like to pair lunges with squats as that’s a perfect recipe to exhaust the big muscles and develop those stabilizers in conjunction with the quads and glutes.
The most incorrectly done exercise in existence, the squat is crucial and can easily make or break you (literally).
Knees never past the toes, keep the pelvis rotated inwards, and keep a flat back. Weight on the heels, bum down the the floor like a slav squat. Feet askew to load the legs better and prevent knees extending forwards.
Practice the squat with body weight at first and get that form down perfect. I see 90% of people doing squats with a curved back, pelvis externally rotated, weight on the toes, and toes too far forwards – practically begging for issues.
If you’re already strong then you can add a barbell or add a hop/jump at the end of the movement. I like to do high jumps as it’s a great explosive movement to develop high power with.
Obviously the best way to learn how to run is by doing it. Go for a light jog. When I started with barefoot running I restricted my amount to just 100 meters!! You don’t need to do much – slowly condition your body and biomechanics to this new method.
After so long, your body has been used to moving with ‘regular’ shoes. Take it easy and go up slowly from there.
Okay now onto some more complex movements and ideas which will need a ladder or cones (or other spacer item).
Forward > In > Out – Forward > In > Out. Better explained through video and image, the Ickey shuffle is huge for developing coordination and agility. I’ve trained it for a decade and its benefit is clear.
Go slow at first, walk it even. Make it look like a dance or tango. Increase speed each session and someday you can try it backwards.
Stay on your toes, synchronize your arm movements, and make it fluid. When it comes to trail running and making micro-adjustments while you run, this agility training is huge for barefoot running technique.
Another one to add to the agility side of barefoot movement training.
Like the Ickey shuffle, the crossover is best used with cones or a ladder.
Left over right into center > right foot outside > left foot beside right > repeat inverse. The pictures and videos are the best way to describe.
Again, go slow, walk it, dance/samba/tango through it. Synchronize arm movements and eventually piece it together into a fine movement. Backwards for experts.
This combined with Ickey shuffle is terrific for that agility, stability, and functional movement. Barefoot running with technical terrain is even better when you’re a fine-tuned machine.
Running on sand
No better way to exhaust your body than by running on sand. Exponentially harder than running on solid ground, running on sand is amazing for barefoot running as it works those stabilizers and tiny muscles incredibly well.
Too, it’s very comfortable and has a lot of give. Do not at all do what this runner is doing – running with shoes on the sand and heel striking!
Of course, if you don’t have sand around in the form of a beach or Olympic sand pit then this is hard to do, hence why it’s at the bottom of the list. It’s top in efficacy though!
Barefoot running exercise routine
Here’s a simplified routine which should take ~30 minutes to complete:
- Simple warmup – 10 minutes – bike, dynamic stretching, running, or whatever you like
- Balance – 20 reps, 4 sets per foot – Touch opposite toe with hand above head. Swivel @ hips, lock eyes on one spot to help balance.
- Calf raises – 20 reps, 4 sets. From flat foot to balance on 5 toes.
- Skipping/jumping – 20 seconds, 4 sets. Get your technique nailed before going for speed. If you can hit 80 in 20 seconds then you’re pro level!
- Marching/high knees – 6 sets, 20 meters. FOCUS on synchronized technique. When the movement is first nature, then go into high knees.
- Light jog – Start with 100 meters or less! Add 50m or whatever each training session
- Ickey & crossover shuffle – 4 runs through ladders/cones each time.
- Lunges & squats – 4 sets, 20 repetitions each exercise.
- Cooldown – you’re done!
Refer to the barefoot running technique training video for proper form/posture for all these movement and exercises.
Barefoot movement tips
Here are some quick pointers and tips to help familiarize yourself with barefoot exercises and the likes:
- Start slow! Even as a trained athlete, I started running only 100m at a time!
- In pain? Not just sore, but have real pains? Give it a rest and try again later!
- Rewiring biomechanics? Do it in the morning or later evening for best brain learning!
- No shoes no problem! However, good Vivobarefoot shoes got me really into things.
- Videotape yourself or watch in a mirror to self-correct technique.
It may take a few months until your transformation is complete. It wasn’t until 9 months where I noticed my shin splints (MTSS) of 5 years went away from barefoot running and exercising. It’s a slow process – physical changes don’t come overnight! It’s oh so worth it though.
Barefoot exercises summarized
There you have it – a collection of simple (and some difficult) barefoot running exercises to help get you started in this world of movement. With all these incorporated into your weekly exercise program, you can expect to see phenomenal results by the time the next season turns around.
Try to do the entire routine once or even twice a week. Take it easy though – if you feel like injury or extreme soreness is present, postpone it to the next day because the body needs to get re-adjusted to a whole new biomechanical perspective.
Want to improve neuroplasticity and learning? Combine training with CBD (or regular cannabis) for improved neurological learning and function – this can help expedite your training process and develop new biomechanics quicker.
Of course you can do any of these trainings with barefoot shoes or completely barefoot, up to you!
Anyways, hope you liked my barefoot exercises and routine thing – questions or comments drop them down below or via social media – I’m glad to help!
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