Barefoot running...no, you are not crazy

Sarah Schultz

English: barefoot running

Have you seen anyone in those crazy looking toe shoes or actually running around town barefoot?

Are they crazy?  No.  For thousands of years humans have run barefoot, chasing their prey, running to school, or playing hide and seek.  All of this running was done on the forefoot or ball of the foot.  When the common running shoe was invented in the 1970’s, the running world was changed forever into heel or rear foot strikers.  Heel striking sends much greater forces through the foot and lower leg during running than forefoot striking.  Forefoot running using the calf muscle as a spring to propel you forward.

For more information on the science of barefoot running check out the Harvard University Biomechanics Lab at http://barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/index.html.

Now you’re probably wondering, doesn't that hurt?  The answer is a little at first.  Now, before you go out and buy minimal or five finger shoes to protect your feet, you really do need to learn to run barefoot first.  Why?  Because when you run barefoot you can feel the ground under you and get tremendous feedback from your feet.  I personally felt like my feet were scraped up a bit but I looked at them and there were no scratches.  If you heel strike barefoot you will learn really quickly to stop doing that.  If you switch to a minimal shoe without learning to run barefoot, you most likely will continue heel striking and increase your injury rate.   The main reason that people get injuries from running in minimal shoes is because they haven’t trained their body to run barefoot yet.

How do I start?

  • Begin walking around barefoot every day for 30-60’ indoor and/or outside.
  • When you feel ready to try running outdoors go straight to running on a hard surface.  Running on sand or grass will not give you the same feedback of running on cement.
  • Run with the knees bent, don’t extend to a heel strike.
  • Lift your feet often.  Need to have a high cadence of 180 beats per minute.  A high cadence decreases the impact on the foot.
  • Start slow (not speed but miles) – it takes your calves two weeks to six months to adapt.
  • Don’t run barefoot two days in a row.
  • A sample program would be:

 

Monday Wednesday Friday
Week 1 5’ 5’ 10’
Week 2 10’ 10’ 15’
Week 3 15’ 15’ 20’
Week 4 20’ 20’ 25’

 

  • Listen to your feet.  If they hurt it is okay to walk.  Remember you are “waking” tissues that have been “asleep” for years!
  • Give yourself three months to adjust and learn the techniques of barefoot running.  At that point in time you may transition to miminalist shoes, however, you should continue to run barefoot 25 percent of the time.

Ready to give it a try?  You can find more information on barefoot running at www.naturalrunningcenter.com and www.barefootrunning.com.  Another good resource is Ken Bob Saxton’s “Barefoot Running: Step by Step” http://www.amazon.com/Barefoot-Running-Step-Technique-ebook/dp/B00504TLYC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340314257&sr=8-1&keywords=ken+bob+saxton.

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