Vibram Five Fingers

Have you heard of the barefoot running craze?  Did you know that the Stanford track team practices barefoot and only puts on their Nike shoes for competitions?  Barefoot running sounds hard on the feet… could it actually be good for your health and training?

When I heard that the book Born to Run was based on an ancient tribe in Mexico and their ultra-running culture, I was immediately turned off.  It just sounded a little too far-fetched for me.  But it was recommended by Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing and a voice I highly respect.  It took me a couple months to get into the book; Katie and her dad beat me to it.  They said it’s a must-read.  So read I did.  And it’s changed everything.

The idea of the book is this: our feet were made to run, and all of the “protection” of high-end running shoes inhibit their ability to get stronger.  Essentially the cushion prevents our feet from being stressed and this eventually weakens the feet, leading to injury.  In another post, I’ll do a book review of Born to Run.  Today, I’d like to tell you about my experience with barefoot running.

My running career consists of two half marathons and three full marathons.  I have an educational background in biomechanics and exercise physiology.  Born to Run drew on these collective experiences and knowledge and convinced me to at least try to train part-time barefoot running.

I bought my Vibram Five Fingers three weeks ago partially on a birthday gift from my brother-in-law, Peter.   It is very important to know that you don’t just jump into training barefoot.  So I’ve progressed from quarter-mile runs to about three miles yesterday.  This has taken place over the last three weeks.  Currently I’m on vacation in Sanibel Island, Florida and I just completed a 38-minute run in my Vibrams.

Many people ask, “How does it feel?”  Friends on Facebook are asking, “How do your ankles and calves respond?”  My answer aligns perfectly with one of my principles of training: progression is essential.

My feet hurt pretty bad after my first couple weeks of running in the Vibrams.  But I could literally feel my feet getting stronger.  I know the biomechanics of my feet and their high arches.  I know I’ve done a bunch of sprinting on the balls of my feet and barefoot running on grass and sand.  So I know the science says they’ll get stronger.  But as with any form of training, there’s a breakdown phase before there’s a strengthening phase.  I’m starting to get stronger.

In Summary:  Born to Run convinced me to explore the barefoot running method.  I bought Vibram Five-Fingers and have been progressively training longer distances in them.  I have a long way to go to change my running form.  But as an athlete and a trainer, I’ve dedicated my life to helping people understand health and fitness.  This is just one other component to training of which I’m seeking to become an expert.

Any questions?  Find me on Facebook or ask in the Comments section.  In my next post, I’ll talk about my first water-shed running moment – my first mile run in the Vibrams followed by four miles in my running shoes.

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The Science of Barefoot Running

In my previous post, I talked about my introduction to the barefoot running craze and the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.  Inevitably the first thing people say when they see my Vibram Five-Fingers is “how do they feel?”


They feel like gloves for your feet.  There’s compression and stretch to them, with a little bit of padding on the bottom.  They were originally designed for sailing and other water sports.  But then McDougall discovered the Tarahumara, a hidden tribe of ultra runners in Mexico, and a barefoot runner named Barefoot Ted.  The Tarahumara run without shoes; Barefoot Ted used the Vibrams as minimalist protection for his barefoot running style.  With the popularity of the book came the high demand for Vibram Five-Fingers.  Many companies now offer minimalist running shoes, but the Vibrams started it all.


Skeptics and even novice runners would say that the barefoot running would hurt your feet.  And they’re right – the initial pounding of barefoot running is certainly at best a discomfort, at worst painful.  But barefoot running is like any other form of training – progression is essential.


Why barefoot running?  (*Spoiler: I’m about to talk about significant details of the book Born to Run.  The book will still be worth a read, but I’m discussing some of the main points here.*)  So I say it again, why barefoot running?  Because your foot was made to handle much more stress than it currently gets.  And our running shoes are preventing our feet from getting stronger.


McDougall sets up the story using his running experience and then his research into the Tarahumara tribe.  These runners can run more miles than Americans would think possible, and here’s the catch: they do it with minimalist footwear, if any footwear at all.  Many, many miles… and no injuries!  So how do they do it?


Progression.  They do it because they’ve been doing it all their lives.  Their feet know no other form of training.  And they don’t get injured.  They don’t get injured because they have stronger feet than you and me.  And you say, “My feet feel plenty strong.  I’ve been doing full or half marathons for years.”

Here’s the difference between the ultra-marathon, injury-free tribe and the classic American runners:  footwear.  McDougall points out a very high percentage of serious runners get injured.  These injuries were essentially non-existent before the late 1970s.  This is when high-end running shoes began to flood the market, pioneered by Nike.  These running shoes had a significant amount of cushioning in the heel to protect runners from the violent heel strike that occurs with a classic American style of running.  In addition to a padded heel, the shoes began to also add significant support to the arch of the foot.  This is one of the most scientific findings of the research and the book.  By supporting the foot’s arch, running shoes are essentially weakening the arch and inhibiting it from doing its job.  The arch of your foot was designed to be a spring for the feet and legs and provide mechanical efficiency.  The enhanced arch support weakens this system and results in more injuries.

Barefoot running gets rid of the arch support, but it also gets rid of the heel support.  That’s why all my friends are asking me “how if feels”.  My friend Dan also asked how my calves and ankles responded because he knows that if I’m not running with a heel strike I’m running on the balls of my feet.  Think about the way you run – heel to toe.  The heel hits the ground and you roll towards your toes and push off.  Back to the heel strike.  Every time you stride, that heel is the first part of the foot to hit the ground.  Do you know how much force that is?

http://www.barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/5BarefootRunning&TrainingTips.html





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Vibram Five Fingers

Have you heard of the barefoot running craze?  Did you know that the Stanford track team practices barefoot and only puts on their Nike shoes for competitions?  Barefoot running sounds hard on the feet… could it actually be good for your health and training?

When I heard that the book Born to Run was based on an ancient tribe in Mexico and their ultra-running culture, I was immediately turned off.  It just sounded a little too far-fetched for me.  But it was recommended by Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing and a voice I highly respect.  It took me a couple months to get into the book; Katie and her dad beat me to it.  They said it’s a must-read.  So read I did.  And it’s changed everything.

The idea of the book is this: our feet were made to run, and all of the “protection” of high-end running shoes inhibit their ability to get stronger.  Essentially the cushion prevents our feet from being stressed and this eventually weakens the feet, leading to injury.  In another post, I’ll do a book review of Born to Run.  Today, I’d like to tell you about my experience with barefoot running.

My running career consists of two half marathons and three full marathons.  I have an educational background in biomechanics and exercise physiology.  Born to Run drew on these collective experiences and knowledge and convinced me to at least try to train part-time barefoot running.

I bought my Vibram Five Fingers three weeks ago partially on a birthday gift from my brother-in-law, Peter.   It is very important to know that you don’t just jump into training barefoot.  So I’ve progressed from quarter-mile runs to about three miles yesterday.  This has taken place over the last three weeks.  Currently I’m on vacation in Sanibel Island, Florida and I just completed a 38-minute run in my Vibrams.

Many people ask, “How does it feel?”  Friends on Facebook are asking, “How do your ankles and calves respond?”  My answer aligns perfectly with one of my principles of training: progression is essential.

My feet hurt pretty bad after my first couple weeks of running in the Vibrams.  But I could literally feel my feet getting stronger.  I know the biomechanics of my feet and their high arches.  I know I’ve done a bunch of sprinting on the balls of my feet and barefoot running on grass and sand.  So I know the science says they’ll get stronger.  But as with any form of training, there’s a breakdown phase before there’s a strengthening phase.  I’m starting to get stronger.

In Summary:  Born to Run convinced me to explore the barefoot running method.  I bought Vibram Five-Fingers and have been progressively training longer distances in them.  I have a long way to go to change my running form.  But as an athlete and a trainer, I’ve dedicated my life to helping people understand health and fitness.  This is just one other component to training of which I’m seeking to become an expert.

Any questions?  Find me on Facebook or ask in the Comments section.  In my next post, I’ll talk about my first water-shed running moment – my first mile run in the Vibrams followed by four miles in my running shoes.

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Family Camp 2010

For the second year in a row, Katie and I took the family to Fort Wilderness in Reinlander, WI for Family Camp.  This has turned into one of our favorite weeks of the year.  The Northwoods are so beautiful, but for us it has been about the community.

When I think back on our week at the Fort, I think of a giant family gathering.   How cheesy does that sound?  But here’s the deal: the camp is full of families with kids of all ages.  Each family is so unique and so friendly.  We have met the neatest people there.  The Fort has established a sense of community that makes me as a parent extremely comfortable having my son freely walk around and explore.  This was my biggest memory from 2010: Sorin was able to walk around the dining hall and the walking trails on his own for so much of the trip.  Don’t get me wrong, I kept a close eye on him.  But you can immediately feel the community love on these kids from the smiles, to the waves, to the gentle direction and watchful eye of a stranger who’s about to become a new friend.

I watched for one week while Sorin walked more than he’s ever walked in a week.   The camp is wide open and has trails that must be a path to adventure for a little kid.  Sorin had his first exposure to so many trees, the lake, trails, and even a playground.  I had him in our backpack for a couple trips and he loved the view from my back.  One of the warmest feeling I got was when so many of the men and women would look at him and call him by name.  To have other families embrace my child is very special.

My parenting years are only numbering two, but I feel it’s safe to say that this type of community is not common for today’s youth.  Sorin has an extended community of family and friends that make me excited to allow him to grow up as a Fort camper.

And Norah.  Well it was her first year and she was an angel.  Not really, but how do you follow up Sorin’s experience with an 8-week old baby?  Norah didn’t sleep so well so we had a long week in that regards.  To be fully honest, I slept pretty well – it was Katie that struggled.  All kidding aside, we did have a hard time with Norah.  We wouldn’t have it any other way, but two kids under two makes “vacation” not the most accurate description of the week. 

Still, Katie and I had some nice times together on walks to and from meals and a couple times at the beach.  Of course we also had the added benefit of both sets of grandparents at Family Camp with us.  They helped quite a bit which is so nice. 

Katie and Sorin and I were in a tent for the week at Family Camp #1 last year.  This year with a newborn we decided to get a cabin.  Boy was that a great idea!  We had a huge cabin all to ourselves without a worry of waking up any other campers when Norah started to cry.  One of my favorite memories was around 7pm each night.  I’d give Sorin a quick shower to clean off his suntan lotion and dirt.  We’d get our pajamas on and sit around on the mattress that Katie and I slept on which was place between two bunk beds.  Sorin’s pack-n-play was on the other side of a bunk and Norah slept on another bed or right next to Katie.  We had this whole cabin to ourselves to end our day as a family getting ready for bed.  It’s moments like this that make me excited to create and continue annual rituals like Family Camp.

If you have children from newborn through high school, I would highly recommend Fort Wilderness Family Camp.  You can ask question in the Comment section or email me.  Kids these days have a lot of video games, tv, cell phones, and the cement of the city.  Fort Wilderness allows me and my family to get out into God’s creation, see His beauty, and explore the great outdoors.

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A Common Thread of Competition

Last week our family was on vacation up in Reinlander, Wisconsin.  For the second year in a row we attended Family Camp #1 at Fort Wilderness.  I’ll be writing about that experience this weekend, but right now I want to talk about a recurring discussion I was having all week: training.

When training conversations came up, I could feel an interesting vibe and buzz.  Maybe it’s because I’m a fitness guy and that topic gets me jazzed.  But I think it’s more than that.  It wasn’t community because it was a bunch of conversations I had with individuals.  Still, being the common denominator in all of them I can’t help but recognize the theme. 

Here’s some of the stories I heard: one was doing her first marathon after just completing her first triathlon.  Another is doing her first marathon after realizing she signed up for the full instead of the half.  Another was asking me about doing her first 10K or even half marathon, but she’s chosen to run around her hometown lake – no small feat, it’s 17 miles!  One woman just got done with P90X and she and I were discussing the pros and cons of the training and what’s next for her. 

When the topic of training was brought up, I certainly perked up and took extra notice.  Maybe that was part of the reason I was feeling a vibe each time.  But even if that was the case, there’s no disputing our mutual excitement to talk about training.

If exercise and training evokes such positive conversations, why?  My guess is that each person feels a sense of empowerment and pride.  Their fitness is a challenge.  You don’t hear people talking about their trip to the gym and the great treadmill work they did or the additional set they got through on their bench press.  But training for a marathon?  Now there’s a lively discussion.

What about you?  Are you training for anything?  Katie and I are signed up for the Chicago half marathon in September.  I’ve got a bunch of friends doing other races and competitions this fall.  Would you be intrested in training for your first 5K?  10K?  Sprint triathon?

Or maybe you’re just working out to get in shape.  That’s cool, and great work! 

Feel free to comment below if you’d like to join our community of athletes?

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Race Week: Just Observing

I am so excited for Race Week.  This Sunday is Madison Marathon and I’m excited for different reasons.  As Katie and I grow our family, we’re in a season where I need to take some time off from training and competing.  For months I’ve gotten myself excited for this weekend because so many friends and family are running this year’s Madison Marathon.

My sister is running her first half.  My father-in-law is completing his second, but first without injury.  My soon-to-be sister-in-law and her dad are each doing the full.  Cousins Matt and Amanda are doing their first half together.  Our friends Kate and Laura are running the half; Laura did a full in Chicago last year.  My cousin Kelly is running after doing Chicago last fall with Laura.  I’m probably missing someone.  Sorry.

Well when I think of race week I think of realized preparation.  You’ve logged the miles, you’ve trained your body, and hopefully you’ve envisioned race day.  There’s so many details that go into training for a full or half marathon.  I’m just so excited for all these friends and family to be able to compete with themselves on Sunday.

All that is left is a short run, two days of rest, and some nutritional prep.  I’ve always been a good eater.  Using food as fuel is very important.  I’m a firm believer in carb-loading.  When your body needs energy (and Sunday your body will NEED energy) it is going to the carbohydrates first.  So load up on pasta and bread on Saturday night.  Don’t get sick, but eat a little more than usual.

On race day, I like to eat the following:

  • banana
  • bagel with peanut butter
  • one of Katie’s homemade muffins
  • coffee (yes, one cup)
  • and probably another one of those muffins

This may be too much for you, but as I said – I like my fuel.  Don’t change your routine too much, but don’t run on an empty stomach.  You’ll need nutrition on race day.

To all my friends and family, I’m honored to be watching you in all your glory on Sunday.  You’ve worked hard and are going to accomplish a big feat.

Enjoy the run.

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EIM – Exercise is Medicine

When I decided to pursue my certification as a personal trainer, I knew wanted the best.  And the gold standard in exercise and fitness is the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).  They are the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world:

ACSM’s Mission Statement reflects this goal: The American College of Sports Medicine promotes and integrates scientific research, education, and practical applications of sports medicine and exercise science to maintain and enhance physical performance, fitness, health, and quality of life.

With some experience in the industry, I have grown to love the work of ACSM.  Their newest initiative is called Exercise Is Medicine.  The idea is to get physicians to consult with each of their patients about the importance of exercise at each visit. 

It’s a very ambitious initiative but it’s already caught my attention.  Doesn’t it make sense?  Think about it: exercise IS medicine.  Anyone who has exercise has felt the immediate benefits.  And anyone who has worked out for an extended period of time knows the long-term benefits and improved quality of life.

I share this with you in an effort to motivate you to make a change this month.  Sure, today is Frog Jumping Day, this week is Salvation Army Week, and pretty soon it will be Go Skateboarding Day (which actually sounds kind of cool).  But May is also now Exercise is Medicine Month. 

Let’s make this simple:  Join the comments section below and tell me what kind of exercise you’re getting that isn’t normally part of your routine.

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Weight Loss: A Simple Equation

http://www.thatsfit.ca/2010/05/14/calories-in-vs-calories-out-the-physics-of-weight-loss-and-die/

The Federal Trade Commission proved this point in 2007 with their report Consumer Fraud in the United States (PDF) which determined that “More consumers were victims of fraudulent weight-loss products than of any of the other specific frauds covered by the survey.”

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The New Recovery Drink: Chocolate Milk

(This post doesn’t necessarily belong in the current series on Exercise Programming, but it’s posted as a supplement.  Enjoy!)

At this point I hope that everyone has begun to incorporate some of this material into their exercise program.  My goal is for this website to be a resource for you, a place where you can get all your exercise information and motivation.  Need more?  Find me on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

If you’ve started to ramp up your exercise program, your body is working hard and needs to learn how to recover.  Our last post talked about the importance of stretching to facilitate muscle recovery.  One of the biggest omissions from an exercise routine is the area of nutrition.  Today I’m giving you permission to enjoy one of our favorite kids’ drinks: chocolate milk.

Sure, you should drink the chocolate milk because you just had a great workout and “you deserve it.”  But that’s not why I’m telling you to drink it.  Current research has found that chocolate milk has the perfect balance of carbohydrates to protein to facilitate muscle recovery.  (You can read an interesting article with more details at CBS.com here.)

I can already hear the experience athletes: “Hans, the last think I’d want to drink after a long run or bike ride is chocolate milk.”  I can hear you because that’s what I was thinking until I tried it.  It’s way better than you’d think.  After I finished the Madison Marathon last year, they had small cartons of chocolate milk available for all the runners and it was the best drink I had all day.

If nothing else, go run for 30-40 minutes and cap it off with a glass of chocolate milk.  And if you’re wondering which kind to buy, it doesn’t matter.  I mix Hershey’s syrup with 1% milk.  Bottoms up!

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Strength Training (Exercise Program 3)



Strength training is an important component to an exercise program.  It also seems to be the most confusing part of the program for new exercisers.  There are many different variables in a lifting program: days, sets, reps, weight, rest.  But don’t worry – I’ll explain the essentials here and have you feeling stronger within two weeks, guaranteed.

Why strength training?  The easy answer that fits every individual is that strength training makes life easier.  That’s right, when you are stronger you are able to do the ADLs (activities of daily living) much easier.  You can take those two flights of stairs because your legs don’t get tired that easily.  You can bring in 4 bags of groceries instead of two.  You can pick up that box for storage, climb the step ladder and heave it over your head without fear of falling.  You name it, it will be easier after just two weeks of strength training.

The other reason I like to focus on is increased confidence.  When you’ve spent time “pushing weights around” and adding some strength to your frame, your frame and your confidence display your hard work.  You walk a little more upright.  You move around better.  You feel more confident in your body – both men and women.

As I noted earlier, strength training is probably the most confusing part of the exercise program.  This post will make you familiar with the essentials so you can start lifting this week.  Remember – think of this training in terms of progression.  Strength training provides the greatest feedback in terms of accomplishing a goal and moving forward.

First, some definitions:

  • repetitions (reps): number of times a weight is lifted, ranging from 8-15
  • sets: number of times a group of reps are completed, ranging from 2-4
  • weight: come on, you know what weight is

Some debate exists on how often strength training needs to occur (per week) for benefits to be seen.  At minimum you need to lift two days per week.  This is mostly for maintenance, but it’s a good place to start.  Ideally I have my clients lifting three to four days per week.

Without me being able to demonstrate the proper technique of these lifts, I’m giving you homework.  If you are unsure of how these lifts should be done you should search YouTube for proper technique.  As always, I’m available for individual consultation in the comments section or on Facebook (Facebook.com/hans.schiefelbein).

So how do you put together a strength training program?  Let’s start with two days per week and six lifts.  (Remember, you have to look these up for proper technique)

  • Bench Press
  • Bent-over Row
  • Bicep Curl
  • Tricep Extension
  • Military Press
  • Squat

There are a couple reasons for me including these lifts but all I want you to walk away with is the understanding that these are the building blocks for a complete strength training program.

How much to lift?  That’s up to you, and it will require some trial and error.  Your goal is to lift each weight 8 times (reps) and do this for three sets.  You should lift in the order listed, and you can do two exercises at a time, alternating.  So it would happen like this:

  1. bench #1 followed by row #1 (which would be first set)
  2. do this for a total of three sets
  3. move to curl #1 followed by extension #1 (which would be the first set)
  4. do this for a total of three sets
  5. finish with military press #1 followed by squats #1 (which would be  - you guessed it – the first set)
  6. do this for a total of three sets
Have I mentioned I’m available in the Comments Section?  You can also email me at Hans416 [at] gmail dot com.   (Sorry, I’m a little paranoid about spammers.)
Two weeks.  
That’s all you’ll need to grow out of the first set of weights you started at.  You’ll see increases within two weeks if you lift 2-3 days per week.  All the gains won’t happen that fast or that often, so enjoy it while it’s there.
Strength training is important for so many aspects of your health, both mental and physical.  I’ll write about that more in later posts.  Have you experienced any benefits of strength training?  Share your experience with me and this community (you’re not the only reader, mom) in the Comments Section.

Do you know someone who would enjoy this post?  Please consider sharing the link via email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Happy Training!!
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