The Born2Run brand presents itself as more than just another minimalist shoe. In addition to the footwear, there're also strength training packages, run training plans, and nutritional supplementation. I've talked to the coach, reviewed the shoes, and now it's time to tackle the strength training package. The good folks at B2R were kind enough to give us a Level 1 kit for testing and review purposes.
I must confess that I had my doubts. The set consisted of two relatively thin balance poles, a slant board that looks like a ramp for use with a toy motorcycle, an instructional DVD, and a drawstring bag to hold it all. For the price, the pitch seemed a little weak. Especially as a fairly active athlete, I thought: "What could this possibly have to offer me?"
I've still got some small reservations after a few weeks of following the exercises, but I've also had most of my doubts eased. Read on for the long and the short of it.
What you get
Two adjustable support poles for balance, a very sturdy wooden “slant board,” a drawstring bag, and an instructional DVD.
The instruction is more involved than, say, Richard Simmons or other such videos where the other participants are just mimicking whatever the instructor is doing. Coach Eric Orton is very personable and plays the role of a true coach with the two participants. He chats with them, gives them tips on form, makes corrections, etc. It definitely helps make this more of a true coaching video as opposed to a distant/detached aerobics-like video.
The video has an introduction, followed by Orton demonstrating good running technique barefooted on a track, and then there are several exercises broken down into individual modules that you can watch one at a time or as a series. Lastly, there’s a quick version of the series for the more impatient types.
Despite the minimal equipment, I've got to admit that the exercises are seriously challenging. I've tried exercise videos in the past that left me wanting for something with a little more "oomph." The B2R drills are challenging enough that the Ironman athlete who participates in several of the demonstration exercises comments on the difficulty, and rightly so. I'm nowhere near Ironman shape myself, and on those first few days of trying the exercises I was pretty sore and grouchy afterwards. This despite the fact that I've been working on my running form for over a year and am long past the introductory sore-calves stage of minimalist running.
The equipment is better quality than I would've guessed even on first handling. The simplicity in particular makes it accessible and unassuming, which definitely can help draw in people who are intimidated by more intense home training videos/programs -- while at the same time being challenging enough to create very real results.
I was doing many of the exercises regularly leading up to my second half marathon, and the results -- particularly in the area of stability -- were incredible. One of my consistent fears while running forefoot nowadays is the return of the dreaded "top of foot" pain that can come from landing too far forward or simply by trying to transition too quickly. The more I followed the strength training exercises, the weaker that fear became. I never would've guessed that such simple materials could make for such a great workout that showed results as quickly as it did.
The program and its materials really are quite solid and I definitely concede that my early doubts were unfounded when it comes to quality and results.
The music in the video doesn't work for me. Sorry, I know that's not really all that relevant, but... eck. I alternately felt like I was switching between being in a spa or watching an inspirational speech on youtube. Also the volume seems to vary at times -- sometimes getting loud enough to make it difficult to hear Orton's instructions. (Minor detail, not unlike the complaints I had about the split-toe socks that come with the shoes.)
After you watch the video a few times, you won't use it too much. The exercises work well in a series and you'll get familiar with them pretty quickly. I think this is why I generally prefer books when it comes to learning home exercises, with perhaps an occasional supplementation of youtube demonstration videos.
The video also utilizes an exercise ball quite often, which of course isn't included in the package. Had to go get myself one of those just to try several of the exercises. While not an enormous extra cost (and indeed, while it's still a great piece of equipment to have in itself), some users may feel a little slighted by paying the cost they did only to have to go out and pay more.
From a marketing perspective, this package doesn't feel like something that connects directly with the B2R brand as a whole. It could just as easily accompany training in toe shoes, huaraches, any other minimalist shoe, or not specific to any shoe company at all. I debated whether to put this into the "What Works" category, because it's actually quite admirable that they made this program in a way that's not strictly a pitch for the shoes. At the same time, it doesn't show what makes the cumulative brand important. If I were a marketing exec I would probably push for more cross-branding. But as a consumer, I love that it’s a standalone program that isn't overbranded.
As a runner who has gone ever more minimalist in the past two years, paying about the same cost for less shoe but getting continually better results, I should know by now that more is not always better. And yet still I came into this strength training program with that same old mindset of wanting more "stuff" for the money. And once again I’m humbled by how well something so simple works so well.
I’ve only tried the Strength Training Level 1 set, so I can’t speak to the effectiveness of Levels 2 and 3. Level 1 was quite enjoyable and challenging with excellent results, though. So I will say that if they’re appropriate escalations (as one can only assume they are) that continue to build on what was learned at the same pace, they’re worth it.
Again, I’m sure that some might balk at the cost, but I would sincerely encourage you to give it a try if you’re serious about improving your technique as a runner. It’s no P90x in terms of in-your-face intensity, but that isn't the point. Simplicity doesn’t mean it’s not challenging. You’re going to see great results if you’re serious about it. It's a great supplementary program that I'll be using for a long time.