If anyone has ever read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall their interest may have been piqued by barefoot running; running just like our ancient ancestors on the Serengetti. However we don’t live in a world where we must run to catch our dinner on the prairie, we live in a world where running is a pastime and a sport, not a means of survival. So is barefoot running, and barefoot shoes merely a clever marketing tool; or is there something to it?
Try to stand on one foot and balance.. Not too tough?
Now do it standing on a pillow… A bit harder?
Probably much easier if you now tried to do it in barefoot, on a hard wooden floor.
This is one of the major advantages of minimalist footwear and barefoot running. We can feel the ground and get great sensory and mechanical feedback through our foot that can help us utilise all of our 29 foot muscles!
Barefoot running can significantly impact positively on our running technique. The force of one’s heel striking the ground in minimalist shoes can subconsciously shift us to a more midfoot strike. Another way of thinking about it is the heavily cushioned, supportive running shoes allow us the heel strike and facilitate the potentially less desirable heel strike running pattern.
The benefits of barefoot running include reduced impact forces being absorbed by our knees, hips and lower back, perhaps reducing repetitive strain injuries at these joints. It can also increase our running economy and efficiency by utilising our muscles and tendons optimally. It develops muscle strength & endurance in our feet & calves, and allows the joints of our feet to move better.
However those who decide to move too quickly from running in supportive shoes to barefoot running have a higher risk of stress injuries and achilles tendon issues so here are a few tips if you are considering to change:
- SLOW AND STEADY!! Allow weeks to months to complete the transition to barefoot running. We would recommend no more than 1-2km running every other day for the first week. Ideally just wear the minimalist shoes for a few hours a day walking around on your normal day to day activities
- If you are already running a lot, keep your normal mileage and just swap in barefoot running. Over the course of several months, gradually increase the proportion of minimalist running and reduce the proportion of running in your old style
- When running barefoot start on a soft surface such as grass
- Concentrate on being relaxed through your stride. Take short quick steps, thinking about pulling the ground underneath you rather than pushing it away
- Consider some supplementary strength work such as calf raises
- Be aware of excessive pain. You will notice calf, achilles and foot ache but these should ease after 24 to 36 hours