Barefoot running or simply walking around barefoot has had a lot of attention recently.
I see a lot of people blogging about its benefits, and it was even brought up during the Olympics.
Obviously it is not a new phenomenon, but how many of you have actually looked into running barefoot?
Probably not many.
Hopefully this article might stir something within and get you thinking about new possibilities.
I was always ‘led to believe’ that walking or running barefoot is not a good thing to do.
It damages our feet right?
If you listen to all those glossy running shoe advertisements, it seems that a good fitting, supportive shoe is essential to keep our feet healthy, to help us run more efficiently, faster and longer.
Could it be that these companies are more interested in commercial gain, than our health and wellbeing?
Remember the times when you did walk or run barefoot.
Running on soft grass or strolling on the beach as the sea laps around your feet. Even walking around the house barefooted!
These occasions evoke joyful, liberating and dare I say it, ‘spiritual’ emotions.
When you think about it, who doesn’t enjoy walking barefoot when the opportunity arises?
The Scientifically Proven Health Benefits to Barefoot Running
Running or jogging on a regular basis is a different matter altogether. I don’t know anyone who I’ve met in person, who runs barefoot…yet!
However, there is clear evidence that running without shoes or socks can do more for our health than just emotional wellbeing.
Scientists have found that running with shoes or ‘shod’ running, causes the runner to develop a heal strike action, where the runner lands on their heel first.
This constant heel pounding equivalent to 2 or 3 times body-weight, can lead to painful and potentially serious repetitive stress injuries.
Evolution has designed our feet to run without shoe support.
The natural strong arch in our foot that propels us forward and the meatier part of the front foot are designed for running.
As hunter gatherer’s we had to run in order to catch our food.
Even on extremely hard surfaces our feet our more than able to absorb the impact without fear of injury.
Try running barefoot, but landing heel first (as we do in running shoes).
Trust me, it is very painful!
That’s because we aren’t supposed to be running like that!
Running barefoot can actually help prevent many of these heel strike related injuries, because you naturally land on the front part of your foot and allow the arch of your foot to spring you forward.
Here’s a great video showing you the actual movement of the same runner, running with and without shoes:
Big shoe companies continually launch new and more expensive shoe ranges to give you better foot support, cushioning and stability, when it is actually less support and heel padding you need!
But I’ll Cut My Feet If I Run Barefoot!
Naturally this is one of the biggest causes for concern.
Today’s terrain can throw up a number of unpleasant objects that could hurt your feet – particularly glass and small stones.
The answer comes in the form of a 5 finger shoe, designed by a company called Vibram.
The Vibram FiveFingers KSO’s are as close to running barefoot as you can get.
I absolutely love my pair, and use them for just about everything – running outdoors, treadmill running, lifting weights (provides better posture), and at the beach.
After 2 or 3 weeks they tend to get a bit smelly from all the use. All you need to do is stick them in the washing machine on a low temp and they come out good as new!
Wearing the FiveFinger KSO’s is virtually the same as barefoot, because you are forced to use the same muscles and develop the same posture.
They just provide a level of protection from glass and rough surfaces.
Be the tortoise not the hare!
Walking or especially running barefoot takes time.
You have been brought up to wear supportive shoes and it will take a little while for your muscles to adapt to the new range of motion.
It might feel particularly uncomfortable at first, but stick with it.
The more you go barefoot or wear minimal shoe support, the quicker you will adapt and the more liberated you will feel!
It may take months for your feet and muscles to adjust, but the evidence suggests you will greatly benefit from it.
I was plagued with calf injuries before I started running wearing the FiveFinger KSO’s.
Now I can run as fast or as long as I like (o.k. not that fast or long!) and I haven’t picked up a strain or pull since.
That’s the biggest barefoot running endorsement I can possibly give.
But it’s hardly conclusive proof.
My suggestion is to simply try it for yourself.
Barefoot Running Is Not About Athletic Performance
I have not read any studies to suggest running barefoot will make you run faster or longer.
It’s not about that.
It’s about a feeling of freedom, fun and connectivity to the earth. (Sounds a little new-age, tree-hugging, but just go with it!).
Remember those barefoot runs in the grass when you were a kid?
Is about getting back there and enjoying the sensation.
Want to learn more about barefoot running?
There are some excellent, unbiased resources that go into much more detail than my quick resume here.
This video explains and shows you the biomechanics of why running barefoot is more beneficial and less ‘injurysum’.
Check out the following resources for more info:
Chris McDougall’s incredibly popular book ‘Born to Run’ in which he charts his rise from injured runner to elite ultramarathon runner.
Have you tried barefoot-style shoes?
Do you exercise in bare feet? Or do you think the barefoot craze is just a fad?