Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Barefoot Running: The Movie Review

I had previously mentioned this movie here, so I was excited to get my hands on a copy to review. It is made by Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee of, and is a follow-up to their book called (surprise!) Barefoot Running (I also have a copy of that and am currently working my way through it--review coming soon).

This is a great movie to get if you are curious about barefoot running, currently run and want to improve, or know someone who could use a push in the right direction. Michael, the star of most of the movie, has put in the literal and figurative miles both running and teaching and obviously knows what he's talking about. His story of how he found barefoot running is truly remarkable, and manages to be both inspirational and horrific (and if you think he's making it up, just wait for the part where he shows you where his ACL used to be.  Oof.) Jessica brings a different, complementary perspective in her sections which gives the movie a nice variety and change of pace.

The movie is 76 minutes long and is split into 17 bite-size chapters:
1. Why Run Bare
2. Michael's Story
3. Anatomy of Running
4. Jessica's Story
5. Proper Running Form
6. Syncing with Nature
7. Warming Up
8. Proper Running Form
9. Benefits for Women
10. Form Drills
11. Nature Play
12. Balance Drills
13. Blindfolded
14. Building Pads
15. Recovery
16. Footwear
17. Happy Trails & Credits

The chapters are easy to digest and make it easy to find portions you want to review. They cover form, drills, warming-up, cross-training, footwear, and quite a bit on the play and spiritual/philosophical aspects of barefoot running. These last sections have irritated some of the reviewers here but I find them to be very valuable. Not only are they some of the most enjoyable parts of running barefoot (nothing will make you feel more like a kid or closer to nature than being barefoot in the woods), but the more in touch you are with your body, the more successful your transition will be and the less likely you will be to injure yourself. Far from being new age mumbo jumbo, exercises which teach you to listen to your body have the practical value of protecting you against the injuries that many people assume are inevitable.

The video is designed for beginners but those who have been barefoot running (or running shod, for that matter) for years will still find much that is new and helpful. The advice overall is very good, and ranges from the familiar (ChiRunning practitioners will recognize the section on pelvic tilt) to the new (rolling your foot on a tennis ball before running to warm up the muscles). There were a few parts that confused me, usually offhand comments or use of some of Michael's quirky terminology. For example, at one point he recommends running with "hand weights" (which would be a terrible idea) and it wasn't until a little bit later in the movie that he mentions that "hand weights" is his term for shoes that he has beginners carry with them (which is a great idea). On the whole, though, the instruction is clear and straightforward and free of misinformation.

I can't help but mention the fantastic cinematography. The production quality in general is very professional, way above what you might expect for a how-to video in a niche sport, and the locations (all in Maui, which is much more diverse than I realized) are gorgeous. In fact, in addition to making you want to kick off your shoes, this movie will also make you want to move to Hawaii. It's also surprisingly entertaining, not at all the bone-dry monotone that instructional movies tend to be. I have to give two quotes that I especially like: "If it's a fad, then it's the longest fad to ever be on the earth". "You'd never put on your shoes to steal a cookie." Love it.

In sum, it's a great movie--instructive, entertaining, and inspirational. I highly recommend it. You can get your copy on Amazon.

DVD provided by the authors.


Order my children's book about barefoot running: What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?

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