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Dr. Emily Splichal Interview (video): Barefoot Running


Watch and learn about Barefoot Running and Barefoot Training from one of the industry's foremost experts, Dr. Emily Splichal.

Dr. Emily Splichal, Podiatrist and Human Movement Specialist, is the Founder of the Evidence Based Fitness Academy and Creator of the Barefoot Training Specialist®, Barefoot Rehab Specialist® and BARE® Workout Certifications for healh and wellness professionals. With over 12 years in the fitness industry, Dr. Splichal has dedicated her medical career towards studying postural alignment and human movement as it relates to foot function and barefoot training.

You can also listen to this episode on our iTunes padcast!

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Barefoot Running vs Barefoot Training

SHF: Sterling Health and Fitness

Dr. Emily: Dr. Emily


SHF: Hey folks, it’s Karl here at hunzahealthy.com. Thanks for joining tuning into another episode of “Ask the Expert.” In today’s video we’re going to clear up some myths and misconceptions about barefoot training and barefoot running. I can’t think of anybody more qualified to speak on this subject than my very special guest Dr. Emily Splichal. Dr. Splichal is a podiatrist and human movement specialist in the New York City area. And she’s the founder of the Evidence Based Fitness Academy, along with being the creator of the Barefoot Training Specialist, Barefoot Rehab Specialist, and  B.A.R.E. workout certifications for health and wellness professionals. With over thirteen years in the fitness industry, Dr. Splichal has dedicated her medical career towards studying postural alignment and human movement as it relates to foot function and barefoot training. Dr. Splichal thank you for being here.


Dr. Emily: Of course. It’s my pleasure.


SHF: It’s really-actually I’m with you in your office and you’re not with me in my office. But it’s good to be here with you. It’s a real honor to have you as a part of my program. And one of the things I’ve noticed in the environment I work in up at Syracuse University is the topic of barefoot training and barefoot running. And it seems to be- it’s being talked about more. More than it used to be. And I see more and more minimal shoes coming into the gym- not in great numbers but we are seeing that it’s increasing. Of course I know it’s not without some controversy. We’re going to talk and we’re going to discuss some of these issues about making that transition to barefoot. So I’d like to get right into some questions.


Dr. Emily: Sounds good!


SHF: Alright-so can you tell me, what is the difference between barefoot training and barefoot running?


Dr. Emily: So I think you’re right about the fact that this is a very controversial topic. There are a lot of misconceptions about it. I think the biggest misconception is where people put the word “barefoot.” They will consider minimal footwear to be “barefoot” and that’s not true. They’ll consider “minimal running” and minimal running strike pattern as barefoot, and again that’s not true. If you’re going to talk about true true barefoot running, that’s not specifying anything about your strike pattern, that just means you’re running without shoes. We can go into the different strike patterns and I know we are going to discuss that. And then the same thing with barefoot training, true true barefoot training and the benefits, then what I try to promote in my certifications is no shoes, no socks, your foot is completely bare and you’re tapping into the nervous system through the bottom of the foot. That’s what true barefoot training is. A lot of people kind of mix them around and really think that the minimal is barefoot and it’s not.


SHF: Right. I notice when I’m barefoot-and in fact on the way down here, I was thinking about the years I was involved in martial arts. We were always completely barefoot. I remember it was a completely different feeling when we were doing a single leg stance or squats, or any kind of movement activities. And that the foot works in a completely different way.


Dr. Emily: There’s a reason why martial arts are barefoot. Same thing with a lot of dance, gymnastics is always barefoot, there are certain arts or sports that are always barefoot and it’s really because you’re tapping into the nervous system from a deep, stability, reflex muscle activation pathway that just allows you to be more accurate in fine motor movements, as well as the way you react to the ground or to opponents, so like martial arts. It can also affect your stability and jumping and landing techniques. There’s a reason why we take off the shoes.


SHF: So is-you just answered this one here. Let’s move on here. Are there less injuries in barefoot running?


Dr. Emily: That’s another controversy. And before I answer that, I will make the stance that I take a very unbiased approach and I think that that’s something to understand that when you’re reading certain articles – everybody has their opinion and everybody answers things from a very biased approach. So if you read certain articles and that person is die hard barefoot, barefoot runner and they think that everybody was born to be barefoot runners, foot strikers, etcetera is going to have an underlying bias to it. Same thing with someone who hasn’t really studied or understood barefoot running or a mid foot strike pattern, they’re going to take a very hard, biased approached against it. And the same thing with the research-the research can be a little skewed. I’ve done research and you want your results and so you’re kind of like “well maybe…”-but you can’t skew research. Your interpretation of the results is biased; it’s human nature to be biased. What I try to do is take a very unbiased approach for all of my patients. So for some people, barefoot running or mid foot strike pattern has less injuries. For others, they have more injuries because it has to do with foot type, it has to do with your recovery, the way that you progress it, your background-like your baseline endurance and physical condition- so there’s a lot of variables. For the most part, barefoot running and mid foot strike has less injuries because you shift the way the body responds to impact. In someone who has a very flat foot or a history-I call them spiral injuries- which you have to take my workshop to know what that means. But spiral related injuries would be shin-splints, Achilles tendinitis, post tendinitis, runners’ knee, patellar-femoral pain syndrome-all of these are like spiral injuries. When you shift to a mid foot strike, the demands on your deceleration are less. So that’s where you could say there’s less injuries in a mid foot strike pattern or barefoot running technique. Because you shift the demand of deceleration. But if someone can’t decelerate off the bat, well they might get injured in a mid food strike pattern. There’s different injuries for different reasons.


SHF: Ok excellent. So for those who are interested in transitioning, what would be the secret to not getting injured while making this transition to barefoot running?


Dr. Emily: So the most important, or one of the most important points is one: you have to maintain foot mobility. So anytime you’re introducing a new movement or stress to the body, you have to recover. Recovery would be stretching, myofascial release, standing on the golf balls that I propone a lot, some sort of recovery element-that has to be matched with your foot strength. So this is all kind of focused from the ground up. So your foot strength: so that means that as you’re transitioning you have to build baseline foot strength. If you’re going from a traditional shoe where there’s a lot of cushion, to a minimal shoe where it’s minimal cushion, or to completely barefoot, your foot is not used to taking in all of that impact which means you have to teach it how to bring in all the impact. And we have 18 muscles in the bottom of the foot- they play a very important role in how your body loads. Traditional shoes, with all the cushion, block those small muscles which means they’re like on vacation-they’re not doing anything. So you transition to a minimal shoe and they’re not used to taking in this impact. I advise that runners do barefoot work, barefoot balance exercise, learn how to do short foot, walk barefoot. Do different barefoot movement before you run barefoot. So you have to build that baseline. Then as you actually are transitioning to that mid foot strike, you need to slowly increase your mileage-obviously, that’s probably the most common sense one. But at the same time, you have to match that recovery, foot strength, and increasing the mileage. It has to be a little dance that you’re doing; a little balance. Most people don’t think about the recovery, definitely don’t think about the foot strength, and they just think that “if I gradually increase the mileage, I’m fine.” And then that’s not true.


SHF: Right. And then you see them as a patient when they come in with an injury.


Dr. Emily: Yes! And then mid foot strike or barefoot running gets a bad name.


SHF: Yeah, true true. There is a lot of controversy about it. But I also know people who’ve been doing either barefoot- and I know more people who use minimal shoes. And those who have had good experiences, I mean they know it’s great-they talk about the benefits. My son being one of them. He’s been using minimal shoes for years. He wouldn’t even think of doing it without them or with a conventional shoe.


Dr. Emily: Most people when they switch, they’re good but you have to realize that, specific to running, 70-80% of runners get injured. I don’t care if you are a heel strike or a midfoot strike or barefoot or in traditional shoes, you will get injured just because: yes, we’re designed to run but not to the distances that we do. You’re defying physics and eventually your body will break. And that’s why so many injuries. And it’s not the shoes-all the research shows it’s not the shoes. It’s teaching the body, your technology, which is your nervous system, how to react to the ground.


SHF: Well it seems like we’ve-as you said cushioning blocks a lot of stuff. So we’ve become accustomed to blocking all of that out. And as a trainer, I’m learning a lot here about- in fact I was standing on golf balls the past few days-and I’m feeling a lot of different things. I realize that I have some underactive and overactive issues going on that I would say may be causing some, well upward of there some issues. Probably nothing major but I don’t know. But I like the idea of even the corrective techniques you can use for the bottom of the foot.


Dr. Emily: Oh yeah. That standing on the golf balls-I could totally go on a tangent. But the golf balls are a release technique. So for those who maybe know Anatomy Trains and all the fascial lines, most of them cross the bottom of the foot.


SHF: Similar to a myofascial release that we would use in a corrective situation, right?


Dr. Emily: Right. So the bottom of the foot-you’re releasing all of those fascial lines. Second one that people don’t really realize with the golf balls is if you stimulate-like foot reflexology/trigger points, you actually stimulate the nervous system and the client or yourself has better balance. So if you’re thinking like seniors, fall reduction, baby boomers, that whole…if you do the golf ball release, it releases the fascial tissue but you’re also stimulating how they balance, their mechanical receptors is what you’re stimulating.


SHF: That’s huge. Stability is a huge issue for a lot of people, especially as they get older. You see all these injuries. I also noticed that when I’m barefoot barefoot, it seems that I notice every single movement. You know if I’m walking, it’s like micro movements which are really interesting.  


Dr. Emily: Absolutely.


SHF: So, for those who are considering the change - And let’s say they maybe want to go minimal shoe route, how do they find the best minimal shoe? How do you go about searching and fitting yourself for those?


Dr. Emily: So minimal shoes, by design, are minimal, which means there’s not a lot of technology in them. So I guide that runners, patients, whomever go for the fit and the forefoot. So it’s the forefoot. And to also understand that minimal shoes-there’s two types. There’s those that are designed for running - so, true minimal running shoes - and then minimal cross training like cross conditioning type shoes. So those that are running, you’ll have like the "Nike Free" line, the Vibram Five Fingers that everybody probably knows about, New Balance Minimus, Huarache Sandal-so there’s a lot of different variety in them. For some, the drop to like total zero drop so flat, it's too much. For anyone that has a history of like Achilles tendonitis, you do not want to go that far down. You do not want to be a true zero drop. You want to gradually decrease it or maybe just hold yourself at a little bit of a heel-toe drop. Like a minimal heel-toe drop. What’s considered minimal-just so you know-a true minimal traditional shoe, you know between the heel and the toe-the slope- is fourteen millimeters. So it’s like half an inch. For it to be considered “zero” drop, the highest of it would be eight millimeters. So you’re kind of going half of what a traditional is. That’s considered zero drop but it’s not zero millimeters between heel and toe. Some people can’t tolerate that and if people start getting Achilles tendonitis and things like that, then that means they have to go up more towards that eight millimeter.


SHF: So it’s just too drastic for them.


Dr. Emily: Right. That’s why I like the "Nike Free" line because it goes 5.0, 4.0-like that reason-you don’t have to drop down and buy five pairs of shoes but you can drop down gradually. As far as the forefoot fit, you want it to be wide, because our foot splays every time you strike the ground; you want those digits to splay in the forefoot. That’s an important part of how you absorb shock. And then all of them have a little bit different shape to the shoe. Some people might like the pockets. I’m personally not a fan of having a toe in each of the-in a pocket like that.


SHF: So do they make them without the toes? Without the toe pockets?


Dr. Emily:  Well I mean it would just be like the whole foot is in one. Yeah so like Nike Freeze.


SHF: I might like that.


Dr. Emily: Yeah I’m not a big fan of that. If someone has a longer second toe, it might not fit into the pockets. If you have hammer toes, rotations, bunions, all of that, they’re not going to fit into the pockets. And then really it’s comfort. So, you know, going out and trying them. You really-you know if a person traditionally likes Nike, they might not really like the "Nike Free" line. And that’s fine. Go check out the New Balance Minimus, go check out Skora, you know some of the other ones.


SHF: So I’ve got one last question. Can people with flat feet run barefoot?


Dr. Emily: Absolutely.


SHF: I’m glad to hear that because I have some clients who are going to be very happy to hear this.


Dr. Emily: Oh yeah. And I know I’ve heard other podiatrist professionals just say “flat feet no.” And why they can: one, why I would guide them to barefoot running or a midfoot strike, is remember what I said that we decelerate through spiral? A flat foot or a lot of flat feet are already in this spiral which means deceleration is working against them. So if you shift them to a running technique that has- that requires less deceleration, which would be a midfoot strike or barefoot running- they can do better. You actually decrease their risk of Runner’s Knee, Patellar-Femoral pain, shin splints if you take a flat foot and you switch them. So very very important. Foot strength is kind of working against them. So doing the barefoot training to build up to start barefoot running is very important. And then glute strength is huge. Because the glutes kind of have a delay-sometimes. So understanding that foot type but understanding the demands of a mid foot strike and that it actually favors the flatfoot.

SHF: Ok great. Well I have some people that are going to be happy to hear that news. Well I know I’ve learned a lot here in the past few minutes. This has been fantastic. Can you tell the viewers the websites they should go to?  I’ll have it scrolling across the screen but what are the two websites you mentioned?


Dr. Emily: Sure! So you can go to my company website which is www.ebfafitness.com. Or evidencebasedfitnessacademy.com. Also- barefootstrong.com.  Barefootstrongblog.com. And then, in 2015, I’m throwing the first ever Barefoot Training Summit. So I’m very excited for that. So that’s barefoottrainingsummit.com.


SHF: Where’s that going to be?


Dr. Emily: India, USA and Spain.


SHF: Awesome. I’ll have to look into that. Good. Alright so this has been great. Thank you again. Dr. Emily Splichal. And thank you very much for tuning in again, folks.  Hunzahealthy.com is the place to go to find all these interviews. And again, visit her websites and learn more about barefoot training, barefoot running. Thanks for tuning in. Have a great day.

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