How to Start Barefoot Running >> Barefoot Shoes
Barefoot running needs little introduction. It’s been around for a while (ask your ancestors) and on the surface, it’s as simple as taking your shoes off. But is barefoot running good for you? A decade into the barefoot boom, here’s what we’ve learned so far.
BACK WHEN IT BEGAN
The recent trend in barefoot running was sparked by author Christopher McDougall’s claim that we were “born to run” (barefoot of course). His 2009 book of that name sold millions of copies and resulted in an explosion of runners taking up the natural style. The Barefoot Runners Society sprouted in the same year, and to back it all up, Nature published research showing how barefoot running was less likely to cause injury.(1)
Running barefoot can lead to a biomechanical shift in foot position, gait and foot angle that increases foot strength. It also improves tendon flexibility and runs economy.(2) (3) (4) There’s also the appeal of being literally in touch with nature (picture white sandy beaches and leafy trails).
It’s a compelling argument which has inevitably excited as many critics as fans. As habitual shoe wearers, most of us have developed a running gait and musculature to go with cushioned shoes. Compared to our forebears (or the ultra-running Mexican Tarahumara tribe) we are generally heavier, fatter, and taller – not exactly a recipe for success. What does science tell us?
BAREFOOT RUNNING IS GOOD FOR YOU.
One of the main claims behind the barefoot movement's is that it reduces injuries. The first study to properly test the theory produced exciting results – barefooters experience fewer injuries!(5) However, the truth was not as pleasant. The barefoot runners ran about half the distance as their shoed counterparts. Injuries sustained per kilometer were not different.
But that’s not the whole story. When running barefoot, the sole of our feet strike the ground using the front part of our foot. This natural reaction is to the impact of landing on your heel with no cushioning. Forefoot strikes reduce peak knee extension, and lengthen stride.(3) (6)
By retraining to land on the forefoot, common injuries to the hamstring, plantar fascia, and knee are reduced while Achilles tendon and calf injuries are increased. (5) (7) (8) For those with repetitive knee problems, barefoot running may offer relief, provided the strain on the Achilles and calf is well tolerated.
You may be surprised to learn that barefoot running can provide relief for those with.
Running economy is 1% for every 100g of shoe weight loss.
DOES BAREFOOT RUNNING INCREASE PERFORMANCE
There are other benefits to landing toward the front foot. This foot strike pattern stimulates the plantar (sole of foot) and Achilles tendon, returning energy with every stride.
In addition, while conventional running shoes contribute to muscle weakness by artificially stabilizing the foot, barefoot running enhances foot strength by activating these muscles. Walking in minimalist shoes can increase foot strength just as well as strength training.(3)
Although barefoot running is more economical, the impact of foot strength and elastic energy on running economy can be unclear.(9) (10) (11) As for actual performance, the evidence is unclear – though many runners perceive an improvement after training without shoes.(8)
What is barefoot running?
Barefoot shoes or minimalist running shoes are designed to minimize “interference with the natural movement of the foot.” (12) They are classified according to flexibility, heel-toe drop, weight, stack height (sole thickness at the heel) and motion control / stability technology.
In essence, the more flexible, flat, light, thin and simple the shoe, the more “natural” the movement.
While minimalist shoes have many advantages over barefoot running, they also eliminate the possibility of thermal injury, cuts and grazes.
IN A NUTSHELL
Barefoot running will change the way you run but injury is neither more nor less likely. Injury is more common in the Achilles tendon, calf and knee than it is in the knee or hamstring.
You don’t need to be a forefoot striker to be a great runner, but adapting your gait and foot strike pattern through barefoot running can develop foot strength and tendon elasticity, as well as heightening awareness of running form.
These changes have potential to benefit running performance, but as with anything new, starting small and progressing slowly is essential to avoiding injury. Equally, maintaining overall training stimulus is essential to prevent detraining – barefoot running should not limit the amount you train.
These are the guidelines to help you make this transition.
3 Tips to Transition to Barefoot Running
1. TAKE YOUR TIME
The transition to barefoot running should take place over several months. Habituation can take longer. Running barefoot for a week should not consume more than 10% of your running time, with a maximum duration of 10 minutes. Every week after that, barefoot running should be increased by 5%.
2. RUN SOFTLY
Start on a soft surface where you are unlikely to cut your feet (e.g. Until you are comfortable running on asphalt, gravel or a football field. Run lightly – focus on “quiet” footfall to lessen impact. For shock absorption and spring, place your feet on the forefoot.
3. LOOK AFTER FEET
Keep your toenails short and cover any cuts or blisters. After a run, wash and moisturize your feet. Consider a pair of minimalist running shoes, especially if you have a high BMI. Barefoot running is more dangerous if you are overweight. Running without shoes is not recommended if your feet are sensitive. You should also stop running without shoes if your feet are in pain.
Barefoot running can be a fun way to bring variety into your training. Maybe it’s time to take your shoes off?