If you’re a frequent gym-goer you may have noticed, in the last couple of years or so, some people wearing minimalist shoes like the Nike Free or the Vibram Five Finger shoe, which has defined toes that make them look like they’re really barefoot, that is if their feet are metallic silver with green accents!
Sports companies have spent a lot of time and money trying to develop the perfect shock-absorbing, supportive shoes for athletes, but exercise experts are now asking whether it is better to train in bare feet. The barefoot buzz began with the 2009 publication of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, which chronicles the successful and injury-free running habits of the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico. Since then, athletes and podiatrists have hotly debated the benefits and dangers of exercising unshod
The idea behind barefoot running is that all the mechanics put into running shoes over the last few years–cushioning, air filled soles, anti-pronation support, midfoot bars that do something–has not protected runners feet, but rather made them weaker. Running barefoot, or running in minimalist shoes makes runners’ feet work more and grow stronger. Switching to a forefoot strike as well (where runners land on their forefoot first as opposed to their heel) will also shorten runner’s strides, making them run more efficiently and make them less susceptible to injuries. Although barefoot running has had the most press, other athletes are considering the benefits of training without shoes. For instance, a workout called balletone promotes barefoot training as a means of achieving better flexibility and form for dancers
It’s too early to tell whether the benefits of shoeless exercising outweigh the disadvantages. For instance, podiatrists are concerned that exercising without shoes will expose athletes to lacerations, broken toes and foot infections from unsanitary training conditions. Additionally, not a lot of valid research exists to back up the claims that barefoot running reduces the incidence of injury
Minimalist running is running using shoes that offer little or no cushioning to the human feet. In doing so, a runner is able to simulate the same effect of running barefoot but with the added advantage of having a layer to protect your feet. Simply put, it’s like running barefoot, but with protection
The primary advantage of running using minimalist shoes is the protection that they offer. Most of the running that we do on a daily basis is on road/tarmac which is not safe for the naked feet. Let’s face it; you don’t want a broken glass piece or a piece of twig to crash your Sunday long run. So if you want to run barefoot and do it on the city roads, the safest option is to use minimalist running shoes
Is it for me?
Barefoot running/minimalist running may be right for some people and wrong for others. Traditional running shoes may be right for some and wrong for others. The only way to find out is try both. And if you’re happy with what you’re doing and are running comfortably, well, then maybe you shouldn’t try any kind of switch. Find what makes you happy, not what someone says should make you happy, and be glad you have a choice
Adapting to barefoot running
Deciding to try running barefoot will prove to be a commitment much like the original commitment you made when you first started running altogether. With barefoot running, you basically need to start your training process over again. But don’t eb put off – if it proves to eb for you, it won’t take very long and you’ll be back to the same mileage barefoot as you were with shoes on
When we say barefoot, we really mean ‘wear minimalist shoes’, particularly if you live in an urban area. there are many brands and this Runners World article discusses the pros and cons of the most well known
Generally speaking, you need to aim for two things with your running bio-mechanics:
1 – Develop a soft, relaxed landing on the outside part of the ball of your foot (not too much on the toes) then lower your heel down gently. This will decrease the ground reaction force but will increase the demand on the calf and Achilles tendon
2 – Don’t over stride; this often leads to the toes being pointed down, increasing the demand on the calf. Over-striding will increase the force requirements of the calf and subsequently increase your risk of injury
Be careful not to overdo things in the beginning. The muscles in your legs aren’t prepared for the increased demand you’re placing on them and the risk of injury will increase. Here is an example of a safe transition plan to the barefoot running style:
– Start by walking around barefoot frequently (around the house, walking the dog, etc.). This will help prepare your legs for the increased strength needed. If you use resistance training, add eccentric calf raises and eversion to your repertoire
– Week 1: Run a maximum of a quarter mile to one mile every other day without shoes
– Increase your distance by no more than 10% per week. This amount should be individualized, but 10% is typically on the high end. Remember that if you get injured you will have to take time off and start back at square one. Slow and steady is the way to go
– If you have pain/increased soreness, take a day off! Be smart about adapting any new training programme and listen to your body as it’s the best indicator of your health
– The most important tip of all is to enjoy your barefoot runs. You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable or anxious about natural running
Barefoot running isn’t for everyone. If it feels unnatural or hurts, don’t try to push it. Everyone has different running mechanics, muscle strength and muscle length, the combination of which determines your personal running style. Put simply, barefoot running isn’t for everyone!