Swimrun and the Barefoot Transition

Apr 25, 2017

ÖTILLÖ Sprint Hvar 2017 (Photo: Jakob Edholm)
Jakob Edholm
By Anne Harrison
ÖTILLÖ and Vivobarefoot have joined forces to build the best shoe for swimrun and our swimrun lifestyles. We’re not suggesting that everyone should race in Vivobarefoot shoes, but the concept of building a healthy foot can’t be overlooked. To achieve this, you need to work on it every day, which is why we have a lifestyle shoe at the centre of our co-branded footwear.

At ÖTILLÖ, we know that we can’t conquer nature but we can try to become part of it. Then, and only then, can we be successful as swimrunners. To become accustomed, we need to feel, smell and taste the nature that surrounds us and for this reason we believe in having a shoe that not only protects our sensitive feet, but one that’s also thin enough so we can feel the ground we move on.

Vivobarefoot / ÖTILLÖ

Form follows function

Healthy feet are the foundation of good movement. The good news is that over the last two million years, evolution has already done the complicated bit, coming up with some pretty good kit for standing, walking and running: our feet.

Yet years of wearing non-foot-shaped shoes – padded, supported and narrow footwear – has made our feet unnaturally shoe shaped. Encouragingly, if you allow them to do their natural thing, feet can quickly adapt back to their foot form, and become stronger than ever.

For natural running, check out Wild Human running:

Shoes off, Get walking

Whatever your movement gig – from dancing to running to skiing – having strong healthy feet can only be in your best interest.

Start wearing barefoot shoes daily and your feet will start to change from shoe shaped to foot shaped, and the hundreds of intrinsic muscles in your feet – specifically 33 joints, more than 100 ligaments, and 26 bones, which is a quarter of all the bones in your body – will dramatically strengthen.

Try adding some Toe-Ga exercises to the everyday mix, while you’re in the shower, in the pool, watching The Walking Dead or brushing your teeth. Your big toes will start to straighten and the more you use them – they’re designed to be your body’s pivot and anchor – the healthier your movement will be.

A squat a day

Natural movement is about more than just your feet, it involves your entire body. It’s essential to have flexible ankles and hips, so being able to do a deep squat is fundamental to natural movement.

Even if you’ve forgotten how, with some simple exercises you can quickly regain this vital movement range.
The deep squat is one of the most instinctive positions for humans to adopt, but years of sitting in chairs have impacted this innate ability in many of us. Spend less time in chairs and more time sitting on the floor, kneeling on one knee, on both knees, in a squat (try and do 10 minutes at a time).

Squat like a human

Feet flat on the ground, rooting the big toe to the floor, bend your knees while keeping the weight of your body forward. Practice every day and, if you need help, use support with a table or chair to help you get down there. Raise your heels slightly; standing on a broom handle can make the move easier. Try eating a meal with your friends and family at a low table with the help of a poof or a cushion.

Born to run?

In a nutshell, modern footwear and sitting in chairs have taken their toll and it’s going to take some time (and squats!) to get your feet and body back in shape for running.

Once you’ve got completely used to standing and walking barefoot and your body feels ready for the next step, kick things off with a very slow run in barefoot shoes. It’s healthier to run at a very gentle pace for a longer time than to attempt shorter faster runs. The rules of common sense apply. Get advice on technique from a certified coach, who will train your feet gradually, at a pace that feels right for you.

Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue # 2 (Apr/May 2017)

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International partners
  • Vivo Barefoot
  • ARK Swimrun
  • Mr Green