In recent years, humans have been turning to the art of barefoot and natural running as a means of improving both physical and mental health.
A recent study conducted by the International Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that out of 863 adult runners surveyed, 10% reported running barefoot on a regular basis. This number has been steadily increasing in recent years as more people learn about the potential benefits to running with minimal or no footwear.
This practice requires either no footwear or minimalistic shoes while running to get the most out of your body’s potential. Many people are embracing this style due to the reputed advantages that come with it. But is there any truth behind the claims?
In this article, I will delve into the history of barefoot running, the potential benefits and drawbacks, and tips for those interested in giving it a try.
History of Barefoot Running
Barefoot running has a long history dating back to ancient times. Early humans ran barefoot as a means of survival, hunting for food and escaping from predators. Running barefoot was a natural and necessary part of daily life.
In the early 20th century, barefoot running began to gain popularity as a form of exercise and recreation. In the 1920s, a running coach named Percy Cerutty advocated for barefoot running as a way to improve technique and prevent injuries. His methods and ideas were adopted by many runners, including Olympic champion and world-record holder, Roger Bannister.
However, barefoot running fell out of favor in the 1950s with the advent of the modern running shoe. Shoes with cushioned soles and arch support became the norm for runners, and barefoot running was seen as unnecessary and even dangerous.
In recent years, there has been renewed interest in barefoot running. The book “Born to Run“ by Christopher McDougall, published in 2009, brought barefoot running back into the mainstream and highlighted the potential benefits of running without shoes.
Since then, several studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of barefoot running, and it has been found that running barefoot or with minimal shoes can improve running form, reduce impact forces and prevent certain types of injuries.
Today, barefoot running is still a controversial topic in the running community, with some runners embracing the barefoot style and others skeptical about the benefits and safety of running without shoes. But what is certain is that the history of barefoot running runs deep and it has been around for centuries and will continue to be a subject of discussion and research.
Benefits of Barefoot Running
- Improved Foot and Ankle Strength: Go barefoot to unlock your body’s hidden potential! Strengthening the muscles in your feet and ankles will not only increase stability and balance, but also reduce injury risk through improved strength and flexibility.
- Better Form: When running barefoot, the body naturally adopts a midfoot or forefoot strike, rather than a heel strike. This can lead to a more efficient and less impactful stride, reducing the risk of injury to the knees and hips.
- Increased Sensory Feedback: Running barefoot encourages a mid- or forefoot strike, which yields an efficient and low-impact stride. This can help protect the knees and hips from painful injuries!
- Stress Relief: Ditch your shoes and discover the joy of running barefoot! Feel the earth beneath you, connect with nature and experience a sense of liberation that will help to clear away all stress from your mind.
Drawbacks of Barefoot Running
- Risk of Injury: While barefoot running can reduce the risk of certain injuries, it can also increase the risk of others. Without the protection of shoes, the feet are more susceptible to cuts, scrapes, and bruises.
- Not Suitable for All Terrains: Running barefoot is not suitable for all terrains. Sharp objects such as rocks, glass, and debris can cause injury to the feet. Running on pavement can also be harsh on the feet, leading to pain and discomfort.
- Takes Time to Adapt: Transitioning to barefoot running can take time and patience. The muscles in the feet and ankles need time to adapt and strengthen, and it is important to start slowly and gradually increase distance.
Tips for Starting Barefoot Running
- Start Slow: Begin by walking barefoot and gradually increase to short runs. Give your body time to adapt and avoid overdoing it.
- Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to any pain or discomfort. If something feels off, stop and give your body time to rest and recover.
- Gradually Increase Distance: As your body adapts, gradually increase the distance of your runs.
- Strengthen Your Feet: Incorporate exercises to strengthen the muscles in your feet and ankles, such as toe raises and ankle rotations.
- Find the Right Surface: Look for soft surfaces such as grass, dirt, or sand to run on. Avoid pavement and sharp objects as much as possible.
How to Safely Transition to Barefoot Running
Having always been intrigued by the concept of barefoot running.
I decided it was time to give this more natural and efficient approach a go. Although initially hesitant, It was essential for me to proceed cautiously as I made the move away from my shoes.
To start, I began with occasional barefoot runs that lasted no more than a few minutes on softer surfaces such as the grass or track. As my confidence increased over time, so did the duration of these runs until eventually became comfortable running for longer periods without shoes.
It was important for me to be mindful of my body and its signals. Whenever I experienced any aches or discomforts, I would pause my run either to take a break from running or switch back into shoes.
As I progressed in my barefoot running journey, I met two expert barefoot runners.
Jack and Rose.
Jack said, “Barefoot running is not just about running without shoes, it’s about relearning how to run most naturally and efficiently possible.”
Rose said, “The key to successful barefoot running is to start slowly and listen to your body, it will tell you when it’s ready for more.”
The nerve receptors on the soles of our feet called proprioceptors, which are responsible for balance, coordination and proprioception, are stimulated more when we run barefoot. This can lead to better balance and coordination.
With their guidance and assistance, I was inspired to stay persistent in achieving my goal. Finally, after months of training, I could sprint confidently without shoes! This not only improved my running form but also allowed me to run quicker with greater effectiveness.
Overall, transitioning to barefoot running was a challenging but rewarding experience. I learned to listen to my body and trust in the natural process of adaptation. I discovered that barefoot running is not just about going without shoes, but rather revamping your gait for a more natural and effective running style.
Barefoot Running and Injury Prevention
Embarking on a journey of barefoot running, I was unwavering in my mission to minimize the risk of injury. As going shoe-less could place additional strain on feet and legs, it was essential for me to make sure that best practices were followed at all times for optimal safety.
In 2010, a Harvard Medical study validated this idea. Professor Daniel E. Lieberman concluded that “By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most runners generate when they heel-strike. Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world’s hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain. Further, it might be less injurious than the way some people run in shoes”
Ready to toss your cross trainers? Not so fast. Since you’ve been running the heel-strike way your entire life, it’s important to transition into the barefoot style. In the aforementioned study, Lieberman also warned newbies that “If you’ve been a heel-striker all your life, you have to transition slowly to build strength in your calf and foot muscles. Running barefoot or in minimal shoes is fun but uses different muscles.”
I consulted with a doctor who specializes in sports medicine, Dr. James. He explained to me that “The most important thing when it comes to preventing injuries while running barefoot is to start slowly and gradually increasing the intensity and duration of my runs.”
Dr. James also advised me to pay close attention to my running form. Barefoot running requires a different technique than running with shoes, and it is important to focus on landing on the midfoot or forefoot, rather than the heel. He said, “Barefoot running is a great way to improve your running form and prevent injuries, but it’s important to take it slow and focus on proper technique.”
I also made sure to strengthen my feet and legs with exercises such as calf raises and toe curls. Dr. James suggested that “Strengthening your feet and legs will help your body adapt to the demands of barefoot running and will also prevent injuries.”
In addition to these steps, I also made sure to stay hydrated, eat a balanced diet, and get enough rest. I also made sure to listen to my body, and if I felt any discomfort or pain, I would stop and take a break.
Thanks to Dr. James’s advice and my commitment to taking the necessary precautions, I was able to make the transition to barefoot running safely and without any injuries. Now I can enjoy the many benefits of barefoot running, such as improved running form, increased efficiency, and a greater sense of connection to the environment.
Barefoot Running for Flat Feet
If you’ve got flat feet, running is probably more than a little painful for you. Although true flat-footedness affects only about 25% of the population, many people (perhaps you) suffer from poor muscular arch strength.
To alleviate this problem, many people instinctively buy expensive athletic shoes that feature enhanced arch support. These shoes may work temporarily, but unfortunately this does nothing to solve the problem of flat feet. Flat feet are caused by weak arch muscles, and traditional athletic shoes do nothing to strengthen your arches! Running with these popular types of shoes will only give you more pain in the long run.
So you should just give up running all together, right? Nope! There’s a solution that will work for you: barefoot running.
How can having less support fix weak arches? It’s actually pretty simple. Using barefoot running shoes naturally alters your stride in such a way that arch muscles are exercised and strengthened. Think of it this way- if you wanted to build big Popeye arms, would you exercise your arms or put them in a cast? You would use resistance exercises like weightlifting, obviously (and eat lots of raw spinach).
If you have flat feet, wearing the typical “ultra-cushion super bounce” shoes is like putting a cast on your arms and expecting them to grow. Not happening! To actually fix the flat foot problem, you need to strengthen your arches, and barefoot running shoes are the best way.
Of course, you’ll want to start slow. Once you pick out the best pair of barefoot running shoes for you, you’ll probably want to start by just walking in them during the day. Once you feel that your feet are getting stronger, you can step up to light jogging and eventually full-on runs.
In short, if you’re sick of duck feet, barefoot or minimalist shoes are for you. Good luck, and happy running!
Barefoot For Weightlifting
Barefoot running shoes aren’t just for barefoot runners.
If you’re a gym rat, you should seriously consider a pair of minimalist shoes. Getting the most from a weight room workout requires proper form, and traditional athletic shoes work against you. The elevated heel disrupts your base and impairs lifting efficiency.
Not to be confused with “Banana Weightlifting”
In order to compensate for wobbly support from traditional athletic shoes, your muscles and tendons have to exert excess force to maintain balance. At best, this will take away from your overall output potential and limit the amount of weight and number of reps you can complete. At their worst, traditional athletic shoes can cause torn muscles and sprained ligaments.
When you lose the shoes, your base is strong and stable. During squats, deadlifts, or power cleans, you’ll be able to drive through your heels and midfoot in order to utilize glute and hamstring muscles more efficiently. As with barefoot running, you’ll have to adjust to barefoot weightlifting. Soon enough, however, you’ll be lifting more weight than you could have with athletic shoes.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of commercial gyms turn a deaf ear to the barefoot argument. If you just start taking off your shoes when lifting, expect attendant backlash. To avoid confrontations, consider picking up a pair of minimalist running shoes. Most of them are gym-friendly, and they allow the same neutral footing as no shoes at all. Plus, your feet will already be adjusted should you ever want try barefoot running (if you haven’t already).
If you’re a weightlifter, minimalist shoes are a near must. You’ll be able to build muscle more effectively and avoid injuries by tossing the athletic shoes in the trash. Need more proof? Guess who is notorious for barefoot weightlifting… The Terminator! Can’t argue with results.
Should you Buy Barefoot Running Shoes?
Although it may sound a little crazy at first, barefoot running has plenty of benefits. Here are some of the top reasons you should use barefoot running shoes.
Think, how much is the latest pair of super shock-absorbing running shoes? Most of these shoes that are supposedly “the best” are at least $150. That’s a pretty big chunk of change. The vast majority of barefoot and minimalist running shoes are $100 or less These aren’t cheapies either- they’re the best barefoot running shoes you can buy.
Maybe $50 isn’t quite enough of a difference to convince you. Many people believe that buy spending more on a “quality” pair of traditional athletic shoes, they will be able to run more and avoid injuries. This simply isn’t true! There is no data showing that wearing traditional running shoes reduces the risk of injury. In fact, some studies have shown that running with typical athletic shows actually increases injury rates.
Know what that means? More trips to the doctor. More expensive knee braces, wraps, and ice packs. Don’t forget how expensive knee surgery can be, should you ever need it.
By using the best barefoot or minimalist running shoes, you not only save money on total shoe cost, but you also save money on potential medical bills and injury treatments!
Empowered by your ambition to become fit, you determine that running should be an essential part of your daily regimen. Every morning you rise at dawn, nourish yourself with a nutritious breakfast and prepare for the upcoming run by stretching. You feel elated after every single 30-45 minute jog – this is confirmation that you are successful in this pursuit towards improved health!
There’s no doubt: staying committed to such a journey will have its rewards. After a few days or weeks however, a familiar monster rears its ugly head: the dreaded knee injury. Now it hurts to walk, and you can’t imagine running without being in excruciating pain.
After a couple weeks, your knee starts to feel better and you can run again. There’s a problem, however. You haven’t run in a long time! It’s like starting at the bottom of a mountain. If you keep getting injured, staying in shape or losing weight will be nearly impossible.
Using barefoot running shoes instead of traditional athletic shoes will help you remain injury-free. Running without traditional athletic shoes forces you to land on the middle of your foot, instead of the heel. This greatly reduces the total impact on your knees and other joints.
By using barefoot running shoes, running won’t be nearly as strenuous as with traditional running shoes. The change won’t happen overnight, but once you strengthen the muscles in your feet you’ll make use of a proper stride utilizing proper posture and shorter strides. With a bit of practice, you will be able to run further and long than you had before.
The proof of barefoot running efficiency is seen in native running culture such as the Tarahumara. These are a people renowned for their long distance running ability, sometimes traveling over 100 miles in a single session! This group of people don’t have shock absorbing sneakers, arch supporting technology, or knee injuries.
Try this little experiment: While sitting, lift one leg and place your firmly on each side of your lower calf, about 8 inches above the ankle. Now, “strike” the floor with the ball of your foot, as though you were landing while barefoot running. Raise your leg and do the same thing, only this time, strike with your heel. Feel the difference? That’s your soleus muscle (highlighted in blue).
When you run with proper barefoot technique, your soleus muscle is much more engaged, and it will gradually become stronger. While checking out barefoot running shoes, you may have been wondering how people run in them without twisting or rolling their ankles. It’s simple- a strong soleus muscle stabilizes the entire lower leg and helps maintain a solid and flexible base while running.
Landing on the heel does not engage the soleus nearly as much. If you’re running in traditional athletic shoes that promote heel-striking, you’re not using all of your muscles to their full potential. This is one of the reasons you’ll be sore after starting barefoot running, but hang in there!
Studies on the Effectiveness of Barefoot Bunning
As I became increasingly more intrigued by the science behind barefoot running, my curiosity grew. I needed to discover how effective barefoot running was and make a comparison between it and traditional shoe-clad jogging.
One study that caught my attention was a 2009 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, which found that runners who transitioned to barefoot running had a significant reduction in their impact forces, which can reduce the risk of injuries such as stress fractures.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Daniel Lieberman, noted that “Humans have been running barefoot or in minimal shoes for millions of years, but the modern running shoe has only been around for a little more than 30 years. The shoe may have been causing many of the running injuries we see today.”
Another study from 2010, published in the Journal Nature, found that runners who transitioned to barefoot running had a more natural and efficient gait, with a shorter stride and a higher cadence. The lead author of the study, Dr. Irene Davis, stated that “Barefoot running is not just about running without shoes, it’s about running more naturally and efficiently.”
These studies, along with many others, support the idea that barefoot running can be a more natural and efficient way to run, with potential benefits such as reduced impact forces, improved running form, and a decrease in certain types of injuries.
However, I would like to note that it’s always important to consult with a doctor before making any drastic changes to your exercise routine.
Its not what is on your feet its what your feet are doing– Christopher McDougall
All in All
Barefoot running has a plethora of potential advantages for your body and mental health, including strengthened feet and ankles, improved technique, heightened sensory feedback, and needed stress relief.
Of course, it does have its downsides too—like the risk of injury or not being suitable for certain terrains—but even these can be mitigated with proper knowledge and time to adjust.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of barefoot running, it’s essential to start at a slow pace and pay close attention to your body. With time, gradually increase the distance while strengthening your feet to find an optimal surface for running. Even though this type of exercise can be beneficial for some people, not everyone should engage in it; therefore, make sure that you talk to a healthcare professional before making any changes to your current fitness routine.
It is important to note that barefoot running does not necessarily mean being entirely shoeless. Shoes, such as Vibram Five-finger’s, or flexible, Zero-drop shoes provide a minimal amount of protection while still allowing for the foot’s natural movement and flexibility.