Meet Paul Mumford, Personal Trainer and creator of The Accumulator workout. Sundried find out what gets Paul motivated and what it takes to have a successful career in fitness.
Have you always been so dedicated to exercising and eating right?
Not at all. At school I was the fat kid who hated anything that brought me out in even the mildest of sweats. I’d take great pride in creating a myriad of excuses as to why I couldn’t do cross country on any given week and always got picked last for any team. As a young adult I drank, smoked and ate pretty much what I liked while working crazy hours as a DJ. My light bulb moment came in the shape of a big back injury sustained while working in a small plane (don’t ask). I wound up in hospital on all manner of drugs followed by months of physio. I guess you could say that I got a big kick up the backside and that, coupled with an inspirational Canadian Physio made me realise that I wasn’t all that indestructible after all.
What persuaded you to pursue a career in fitness?
I guess it was that whole back injury thing that did it. Primarily my physio taught me how to use my core to protect my permanently fragile lumbar spine. At the time, my surgeon telling me I’d never run again was not a big problem but as I got more fascinated by the control I had over my own body I decided to prove him wrong. Sixteen years later and I’m a barefoot running coach. I proved him wrong big time.
Now though I totally get it. I understand that we have amazing bodies that can do amazing things given the right input.
What made you decide to start The Accumulator workouts?
It really happened by accident. I wanted to motivate myself one Sunday morning while out running. I had an idea to run a total of 50k over one month and tweet a photo every time I added to my goal. #50kinmay caught the attention of hundreds of people and by the end of the month I had been tweeted many photos of total strangers running in some pretty amazing places. By the end of that year I had dreamt up several similar challenges and more and more people came along for the ride. Finally I wanted to see how far I could take it and filmed 30 videos, one for each day with a new exercise added each day. The Accumulator was born and here we are nearly 3 years later.
With hindsight I can see that The Accumulator is incredibly clever (I can say that right)? It’s a perfect tool to motivate the unfit to change their ways because it’s gradual rather than many programmes of its kind that put people off by expecting you to ‘go hard or go home’. At the same time it challenges the people who already love exercise (many of my original members are still doing it). Also by taking out the need for equipment, much space or much time it ticks many other boxes and deals with many of the excuses people use to get out of exercising in the first place.
What is the best advice you could give to someone starting out?
Ooh, let’s go with two things, real simple.
- Your perfect body will not arrive tomorrow. If you haven’t looked after yourself for years it will take time to feel different and look different. However each day is one day closer to where you want to be and one day further away from where you are. That was a bit deep wasn’t it?
- Any temporary change will only give you temporary results. I love this quote (don’t know who said it). I could expand but there would really be no point. Quick diets and six week plans don’t work. You need to do this stuff forever.
If you could do any workout and every condition was perfect (weather, kit, space) what would you be doing and what is your favourite bit of fitness kit, how long have you had it and why?
OK let’s answer both at once here. Favourite bit of kit? My body. I’ve had it for 47 years, it was given to me for free and it gets better the more I use it. Oh and I can take it everywhere with me so I can exercise whenever I fancy.
So logically my favourite workout uses my body and nothing else. The variety of exercises I can do are virtually limitless and there is always a new way to challenge myself so it never gets boring. Also I never split my body up when I exercise. My body is one muscle hanging in 640 different places and not 640 individual muscles.
How do you balance being a writer, PT, parent, training and a social life as well as making guest appearances on TV and radio?
Well firstly my family and the ones I love are my priority. They are always first. As far as everything else is concerned, I truly believe that by doing what I love it will never feel like work and never be stressful. So if I don’t want to do something I won’t do it. I’ve had to learn this though, once upon a time I said yes to everyone and everything. That was stressful. I guess learning to say no once in awhile can be a good thing. Plus I think I am more valuable to someone if I’m enjoying myself.
What made you decide to work with Sundried?
I love helping people, that’s why I do what I do. Nothing gives me a buzz more. In business I always try to champion companies and brands I believe in. I’m proud to walk into a gym and stand in front of a camera wearing Sundried clothing because I believe in the brand. I have been nothing but impressed by the quality of the product and the people who deliver it.
Should we go bare or do we need something there?
If you haven’t heard of Vibram, or even Vivobarefoot, you’ll know the shoes I’m referring to when I say the ones with toes, or the ones that are completely flat. I’m sure you’ve given someone a second look when they’ve been in a pair before, I know I have. Why? They look weird, they’re different and they’re a new trend, but is there method in the madness?
Both these brands have been developed in the age of the barefoot movement. It seems we’re trying to take almost every aspect of our lifestyle back in time, from Paleo diets to Animal flow workouts and now barefoot running.
What is barefoot running?
Barefoot running is what it says on the tin, running without shoes, or barefoot ‘style’ running which is where the trainers have been designed to mimic running without shoes, but still offer protection from dirt and sharp objects that may pierce the feet.
Throughout history running has been performed barefoot, historians believe the runners in Ancient Greece ran barefoot and legend has it that Pheidippides, the first marathoner, ran from Athens to Sparta in less than 36 hours. After the Battle of Marathon, it is said he ran straight from the battlefield to Athens to inform the Athenians of the Greek victory over Persia. All barefoot.
In 1960, Abebe Bikila ran the marathon barefoot as the Olympic shoe supplier had run out of shoes in his size and won.
Shivnath Singh was one of India’s greatest distance runners and would only ever run barefoot with tape on his feet.
Zola Budd was famed in the 80’s for her barefoot racing and she won the 1985 and 1986 World Cross Country Championships.
Today barefoot running is gaining more and more momentum. Organisers of the 2010 New York City Marathon saw an increase in the number of barefoot runners participating in the event.
But why the increase in barefoot running, surely the reason we ran barefoot throughout history was that we didn't have the technology we’ve discovered now so why the growing popularity?
Why run barefoot?
It promotes more natural movement
Wearing shoes prevents your body from getting natural feedback from the ground. As you feel the ground you learn to walk lighter and strike with the balls rather than heels of your feet, which can drastically decrease the impact on your muscles and joints. Impact in a running shoe is the equivalent of 12 times your bodyweight with every step.
It helps to heal previous injuries
A lot of people don’t run due to prior injuries. Bad knees, shin splints or even weaker ankles can be relieved through barefoot running. By running with a forefront strike, the Achilles is strengthened and stretched along with the calf muscle which may reduce injuries, such as calf strains or Achilles tendinitis.
Running barefoot uses less energy
Running barefoot or in minimal footwear (usually lighter than traditional running shoes) means that there is less mass to accelerate at the end of the runner's leg with each stride. Running barefoot has been shown to use about 5% less energy than shod running (Divert et al., 2005; Squadrone and Gallozzi, 2009).
Increased muscle tone
Running without the support of a cushioned trainer sole forces you to engage more of you leg muscles, particularly the calves. But it doesn’t just increase muscle development in your legs, running barefoot increases the level of effort you supply throughout the kinetic chain, so you’ll end up leaner in other places too.
Running with a barefoot style. At some point in your life, I’m sure you’ve fallen over. At some point on a run, I’m sure you’ve thought “where did that rock come from?” moments after you’ve tripped. Barefoot running allows you to feel the ground better, improving your proprioception and making you more aware of your environment.
Running barefoot forces you to switch on previously disengaged muscles, and reverses you back to how you would walk and move as a child. By gradually reverting back into barefoot running or walking you strengthen every muscle in your feet and lower legs.
Reconnect with the earth
Some people believe that by running barefoot they become more “at one” with nature.
Downsides to running barefoot
Slow adaptation phase
Many people try a barefoot run, ache after and decide never to run in the minimalist shoes again. But why? Aches are an inevitable part of any new footwear, remember how you wear your new heels in, practice walking in them? It’s only the same as with any new pair of trainers, or any new training regime. Initially when starting a new barefoot running regime you should start with short distances and gradually build up a tolerance. Embrace the aches and know that it’s improving your technique in the long run.
Lack of protection
Trainers are now designed with technical features to protect your foot from injury, as well as keep your feet dry, maintain their temperature and make sure nothing sharp such as rocks, stones or debris has access to your foot.
It is inevitable that almost everyone who switches to barefoot or a minimal shoe will find themselves dealing with blisters for the first few weeks until calluses are formed. Whilst this can be frustrating, investing in the correct socks and some gel blister plasters can make all the difference.
Barefoot creates extra pressure
Running shoes also partially absorb the extra pressures created by foot misalignment (for example, highly arched feet). Without the absorption, higher pressure can be a direct cause of pain, which can cause a protective adjustment in technique that in turn could lead to injury.
You can only run in good conditions (which in the UK, are few and far between)
The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine warns against barefoot running in all but ideal conditions, saying that on soft or slippery surfaces, shoes are required for traction, otherwise you are prone to Achilles or plantar fascia problems (ligament inflammation along the base of the foot).
Tips for going barefoot
1) Running barefoot can make your calves tight and tire your feet to start with, since you're firing up muscles you’ve barely used since childhood. Foam roll your calves to help increases recovery.
2) Start trying to walk without shoes or in barefoot shoes more. Try at least 30 minutes of barefoot walking a day to allow the muscles and ligaments to adapt before you start venturing on a run.
3) Spend some time walking on the balls of your feet (tip toes) to strengthen the foot and ankle.
4) Progress to jogging, then gradually increase time and intensity.
5) Stick to smooth ground when you first start running and steer clear of trail runs until you have built up a little more resistance.
If you have found this post in the chances are you have already started your homework into running barefoot style or changing to a neutral or forefoot running style. The reason I started looking into barefoot running was the reason that most of us do, and that's injury prevention. Historically I have tried running. I've tried training for the London marathon. I've tried running 10k. The result was always the same. Bad knees, tight ITB bands. In the end I just gave up. That was until I read about barefoot running.
My session with Vivo Barefoot was a half day running on the treadmill being filmed in bare feet. We were explained the benefits, all the standard information that you probably have already read about. e.g. more natural, we are designed to run like that, cushioned trainers are the evil devil when it comes to running, your body is designed to run and we are actually quite good at it (chasing down deer and other mammals). Basically until the invention of cushioned shoes we all used to be amazing runners and then ‘jogging’ was invented. Also the inventions of modern footwear stops our feet growing correctly and resembling a sort of hand / foot hybrid like they should do. I am not saying all that is true and many people think the opposite but I found it pretty convincing.
So it is the fault of my trainers that has stopped me being able to run a marathon and also prevented me being a professional athlete. There was me thinking it was my lack of fitness and general lack of training. At least I can blame it on the evil corporations and cheap shoes my parents forced me into.
At the time everything makes sense. And it still seems to make sense. While we were at Vivo headquarters we stood on a device that measured our feet and areas of impact and force .. No we are not flat footed. In their eyes it is all about adjusting your training to become the next Mo Farah. Training in their eyes includes squats, skipping and of course running. So after my training I'm thinking that’s it. Sign up to a marathon. Get out there and run. I'm good to go.
So I went out and bought myself some Vivo shoes shoes. The professional version (apparently). With a cadence meter plugged into in my shoes I knew I was running at the recommended 180 steps per minute. It was great. Running injury free, 2 km no problems, 3 km no problems…. Arrr, Calf muscles. Switching to a forefoot will load your calf muscles like never before. And they will burn. Don’t run too far in the direction away from home, because you may just find yourself limping back. Very slowly.
Like anything, you want to build up slowly. I did build up my training and I got faster and a much stronger runner. But it was time to welcome a new running injury, shin splints. You can read more about that on this blog post.
So after building up working through the issues has been changed in worth it? Completely.I run with no music, with a decent cadence and listen to my feet hitting the floor. Trying to make the steps as silent as possible. Maybe I need a bell when approaching pedestrians from behind. But remember, changing running style will not happen overnight. This is a long, slow process.