Q & A with: Sean Haber @seanf4l_strength_conditioning
G’day Sean, and thank you for being on board!
Hey! Thanks so much for having me aboard (pun intended, writing this from the plane)
My name is Sean Haber, I currently reside in Israel with my wife Sara, our pup Charlie, and our rabbit Trevor. I own and run an athletic performance facility and am a certified personal trainer as well as strength and conditioning coach, Olympic weightlifting coach, and a nutrition and lifestyle coach.
How’ve things been, and whats a normal day like for you?
Honestly, things have been a bit off schedule now. Our country has been going on and off lockdowns every few weeks or so, opening and closing business here on a whim, but thankfully things are still going ok. I spend most of my time running my strength and conditioning facility and training people. I primarily work with athletes and people with athletic based goals. When I have spare time, I am usually spending some time barefoot with our adorable boarder collie pup, Charlie, reading a good new movement book or fantasy novel, or spending some quality time with my spouse. In addition to my daily workouts in the gym, I also spend a lot of time slack lining/frisbeeing/volley balling and hiking. Fun fact I own about 15 pairs of barefoot shoes.
How did you get into being a performance coach?
At the age of 15 I got into exercise. I stepped foot into a commercial gym and looked around. I realized that if 90% of the people there are not performing well, are not very strong, and don’t look so great, then they must be doing something wrong. I left the gym and began reading instead. I read how to exercise properly, how to train, and how to eat to maximize performance. I also led a free workout class where anyone who wanted to would join and workout with me. This made me realize I had the natural ability to coach people and help them become better. At the age of 18 I drafted to the military (it is the drafting age here). During my service I got injured and joined the combat fitness instructor core of my unit which is essentially where my career was launched. With my passion born, I knew exactly what my career would consist of; helping people get stronger, faster, leaner and remain injury free. When I finished my service, I opened a small facility and began training people. Thirsty for knowledge, I took every course available and read every book that I could get my hands on. As my knowledge and clientele grew so did my reputation. I was contacted by numerous sports teams and pre military programs to help coach and train them. I initiated working with sports team by playing for a local tackle football team and getting involved with the coaching staff. The next year I started working with the local soccer team and soccer academy as well. I kept on branching out until I was offered to start working with the national flag football team of Israel.
What makes your approach different from other S & C coaches? I like to think my approach is very open minded. I find that a lot of coaches focus very much on what their athletes do in the gym and neglect the hours outside the gym or off the field. If my athlete is sitting down all day, wearing tight stiff shoes, and bent over a computer or a tv it can wreak all sorts of havoc on the body regardless of the time spent training. I like to focus on an open-minded approach where we incorporate building healthier habits, daily mobility routines, barefoot awareness, along with a regimented strength and conditioning routine and nutrition plan.
How did you get into barefoot footwear?
Aha! The question I’ve been waiting for! I owned a pair of VFF (Vibram’s five fingers) for around 5+ years and wore them casually when I wanted to run around on grass and not worry about cutting my feet. But my journey really began when during the second season of playing tackle football I began getting severely injured at practices and at games. During one season I managed to tear my left LCL, tear my right quad, sprain both ankles and break a rib. I was shocked and broken physically and mentally. I had spent more time training to prevent injury than everyone else, so why was I getting so injured? The previous season which I did not prepare as well for went way better. Where did I go wrong?!
I began examining other aspects of my routine, whether it was nutrition, exercise regimen, or my total exercise volume. And I found the culprit. I had gotten a new pair of cleats (which are already extremely narrow/tight/stiff shoes) a size too small. Since I really liked the cleats, I chose to play and practice in them despite everything. While I consistently felt pain in my toes and calves, I ignored it and kept playing. Luckily, I was spending most of my non field time in a cheap rip off brand of barefoot shoes to at least give my feet and toes some breathing space, otherwise who knows what worse injuries would have happened. I used to wear weightlifting shoes for Olympic Weightlifting as well, which are very rigid, have a narrow stiff toe box, and elevated heel. I started experiencing terrible calf pain and painfully swollen and discolored toes. Doctors couldn’t figure out what the issue was until one day I realized it was from my lifting shoes. I immediately stopped wearing them and my toes went back to normal over the next few weeks.
During the first lockdown period (March 2020), I had plenty of time to research and read more. I began re-examining everything I thought I knew about the foot and footwear and how it affects athletic performance. I came across the Foot Collective Seminars and everything suddenly clicked and resonated with me. It all made sense. Years of calf pain and swollen toes? Unexplainable injuries? Of course, shove your beautiful foot into an extra rigid, extra tight shoe and expect it to function properly?! I began to do more and more research on my own and realized something. There is not enough awareness of appropriate footwear in the athletic world and most certainly not in the everyday world. Most of the barefoot studies I found were usually focused on runners or endurance athletes and not anaerobic based athletes.
Whats your favourite shoe?
Hmm, that is a tough one... My collection grew from that pair of VFF, to around 15 pairs. I tend to hang out barefoot most of the day, but if I am wearing something it’s probably my good old elemental earth runners, my second best would be the vivo barefoot stealth 3.
How do you feel barefoot shoes impacts your performance?
I think the bigger problem is not so much how barefoot affects your performance, but rather how stiff shoes are affecting your performance. I am more concerned about what regular squishy sneakers are doing to our athletes in their day to day routine and what damage their stiff tight cleats are causing to their feet on the field. If stiff tight cleats are a must, then the rest of the time should be spent barefoot and/or restoring proper foot function. I would like to assume that an athlete who takes care of his feet and strengthens them should not be getting common injuries like ankle sprains or knee ligament tears.
The main benefits of performing with barefoot shoes or barefoot is the stability and drive it provides. With proper toe splay and strength especially with the large toe, and ability to drive your feet into the ground in order to stabilize and create force, you will be performing so much better. For example, if you lack a good arch you can ‘create’ one by pressing your big toe firmly into the ground when squatting, especially with weight. Doing so is difficult and less successful with a regular shoe due to lack of room in the toe box and the squishiness of the sole, while doing it barefoot or with barefoot shoes is effective.
In addition, if you were to watch a runner or sprinter in slow motion you would see how the misalignment of their toes negatively affect their gait. In the long run it will cause compromise to their knee and hip alignment and result in injury. Completely unrelated, but I have noticed 2 types of people who own barefoot shoes. There’s the casual wearer, who probably owns a pair or 2 and wears it sometimes. And then there is the obsessed bare footer with too many barefoot shoes to count (not referring to Wendy of course ) The reason why I feel people can be obsessed with barefoot shoes, for the good or for the bad, is what I call “healthy syndrome”. People are usually willing to pay quite a lot of money for something that will keep them healthy. Our body responds nicely to buying new things, and if it happens to be barefoot shoes that are beneficial to our health, then the more the merrier!
What are some tips for transitioning into barefoot footwear?
Slow and steady wins the race. I look at it like this, if you just spent 10-20+ years in regular shoes you cannot undo the damage in a month, nor can your body get used to a transition so quickly without causing injury. Gradually spend time at home barefoot and slowly adapt to barefoot shoes. If you want a nice transition shoe, I recommend the Lem’s primal 2 and eventually either take the insole out or switch to a more minimalistic shoe. I made a comprehensive info-graph for transitioning which I will include here. Fun fact, you’ll probably always see a few people wearing barefoot shoes in Israel every time you go out.
Have you suffered from any injuries, do you have any advice?
I mentioned my injuries in the previous questions, but when it comes to recovery remember not to get stuck in the “rehab stage”. I see way too many people do their stretches and band exercises for a few weeks only and then wonder why they didn’t fully recover. Remember, the goal of rehab is to go back to full performance. The goal should be going back to full capacity, so after you rehab your issue, it’s critical to strengthen the area further and prevent the injury from happening again.
What are your thoughts on social media?
I never liked social media, but I realize the potential it has for knowledge, sharing, advertisement, networking and community. I primarily use my social media for my business, especially since it essentially replaces the old methods of advertising, i.e. flyers. In order to avoid getting distracted, I specifically only follow people on Instagram who I feel can add value to my life. Another thing I don’t like about social media in particular is its ability to feed us information they want us to see regardless if we want to see it.
Do you have any mentors?
I have had several people whom I turn to over the years when it comes to different areas. When it comes to overcoming obstacles in life - I have a mentor who’s from Florida. When it comes to Strength and Health knowledge – Michael Matthews. When it comes to Sports performance - I learned a lot of what I know from a local strength and conditioning facility called Apex Sport Performance. The 2 brothers who run it are both Americans living in Israel and have so much knowledge to share. I am now beginning a mentorship with Clayton Weakly from “Clayton Moves” as well.
What are your plans in the future?
I am working on several projects now but each one at their own time....
I am in the works of publishing a book
Looking to expand and grow my facility
Starting a weekly podcast where I interview people while they are in an ice bath
I am working with the National flag football team of Israel to take them to the 2022 world games.
Finally, I am looking into starting alternative footwear options for athletes, i.e. barefoot cleats/barefoot lifting shoes/barefoot biking shoes etc.
It's been a pleasure having you, any last words before we let you go?
Read more, you will learn a lot! By doing so you enter the mind of a person who has done it already and wants to help you! And get a dog. Even though it can be a lot of responsibility it can motivate you to move more every day!
Its been a pleasure writing this and sharing my story. Looking forward to the future of the worldwide barefoot community. What you are doing is a beautiful thing, and I wish there were more barefoot awareness in the athletic and mainstream world.