The idea of barefoot running has recently become very popular. With lots of media attention, alongside the publishing of many great books and success stories on barefoot running, people are eager to experiment with new ways to avoid injury, and become faster. The idea of barefoot running has accurate scientific roots, but before you run out to the road and begin training barefoot, there are a few things you should know.
First of all, before trying barefoot running you should educate yourself. Read some popular books like Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, and understand why the concept of barefoot running seems so practical and exciting. You should also read some books that look at barefoot running from a medical perspective. (Also take a look at the links I provided at the end of this article) Many people want to try barefoot running because they believe it will help them avoid injury. However, this is not always the case. Back when the cavemen were running around without shoes, they were running on soft, absorbing terrain. In our asphalt covered world today, landing on your heel with the force of your entire body can be very damaging to your joints, bones, and muscles.
You should also look at your different options for barefoot running. Some people may want to run truly barefoot, with nothing on their feet. Others may like the idea of the Vibram Five Fingers, a minimalist “glove” for your foot that offers some protection while still maintaining the principles of barefoot running. Others, like me, may be more wary of the barefoot running concept. For this reason, they may want to simply change from a large bulky training shoe to something lighter.
For the beginning barefoot runner, the biggest thing is to transition slowly. My suggestion is to start off by switching to a lighter training shoe. Almost every major brand is now offering very lightweight training shoes that still offer some support and cushioning for impact on pavement. (Check out the Adidas adiZero Tempo,the Mizuno Wave Precision, and the Asics DS Trainer) While you are continuing to train with your lightweight shoes on the road, you can begin to do very short barefoot strides on soft grass. This will strengthen the muscles that are used with barefoot running that are not utilized while running in traditional training shoes. This is one reason why it is not a good idea to quickly jump into barefoot running. Slowly, you can increase the distance of your barefoot running as your muscles strengthen. Listen to your body, if you feel no pain, then you may be ready to begin some longer runs on different surfaces by purchasing something like the Vibram Five Fingers for a little bit more protection. However, if you find that running without shoes isn’t working out, don’t be discouraged. Talk with your doctor or a physical therapist and discuss a plan to transition from heavier training shoes to something lighter, and if all goes well you may remain on path for trying out barefoot running.
Many different people from different backgrounds and levels of running want to try out barefoot running. As a runner myself, my best advice to all is to simply take it slow. Make sure that you know about barefoot running by reading about it first, not simply throwing away your shoes to go run a few miles on pavement. Think of barefoot running like a new diet. You need to make sure that what you hope will make you healthier, does not actually do the opposite.