Many people are now beginning to understand and embrace the natural way to run. Running barefoot is the way people ran naturally before running shoes were developed, and many successful marathon runners from other countries have always run barefoot. Barefoot running is becoming very popular for a number of sound reasons.
Barefoot Running Technique
Going barefoot is a natural state of being. Babies learn how to walk best barefoot, and not wearing shoes helps their feet to develop in a more natural way. Pediatricians often instruct parents that babies only need shoes to protect their feet, and the same is true of adult runners.
When jogging became very popular in the 1970′s, running shoes were marketed as a way to increase running proficiency. Many experienced runners began to notice that wearing the shoes resulted in more injury to the ankles, knees and shins and began to forego wearing the heavy, padded running shoe and resort to a more natural barefoot running technique.
Studies performed in the 1980′s showed that even very pricy running shoes touting the benefits of pronation correction and cushioning resulted in more injury to the runner than less expensive shoes. In 2001, a study in Sports Science reported that a person who runs barefoot will have substantially lower levels of ankle and lower leg injuries.
How the foot hits the pavement when walking is referred to as the foot strike. The foot should land flat or come down on the back of the heel then roll through the sole of the foot and push off on the ball of the foot for the next step. That is the normal foot strike. When a person comes down on the back of the heel very heavily it can result in too much force upon striking the ground and slow the person down. If a person lands too hard on the middle of the foot or ball of the foot then stress is placed on the Achilles tendon, which is an injury that sprinters often suffer.
Tradition held that runners should come down on their heel first and then roll the foot to the toe. But proponents of barefoot running say that the proper barefoot running technique is for the middle of the foot to come down first, which cuts down on the collision force of coming down hard on the heel. Wearing a running shoe encourages the heel to hit the ground heavily and it slows the runner down. Alternatively, the barefoot running technique gives the runner more feel and control over where the foot hits the ground.
Sprinters usually land on the ball of their foot, but when running barefoot the impact is lessened so injury does not occur as often.
Minimalist Running Shoes
Runners wear shoes on their feet mainly to protect the foot and toes on hard and uneven surfaces. Also, shoes protect the foot from cuts and infections when stepping on rough surfaces. Many runners are resorting to a minimalist running shoe that provides protection, but does not change the natural way of running barefoot. One such shoe is the Vibram FiveFingers shoe. These shoes have no cushion in the heel and basically just provide a covering for the foot. They look different because each individual toe has its own slot in the shoe. This is supposed to strengthen the muscles in the foot.
The Vibram FiveFingers shoe may not be comfortable for people with high arches or foot deformities such as extruding bones. The shoe should fit very snugly, almost like a glove. Toe socks can be worn to help keep the foot warm.
Other minimalist running shoes may also help to develop a correct barefoot running technique. They are shoes that have no arch support, motion control, and only a small heel height. These shoes reinforce the correct technique while providing cushioning and flexibility. The shoes will not have individual toe slots, and instead the toe box is usually roomy so the shoes can be worn with or without socks. There are also specific shoes appropriate to wear when a person will be doing various types of walking or running, such as trail running, cross-sports, fitness walking and road running.
The Best Way to Get Started with Barefoot Running
It is recommended that people begin to develop their barefoot running technique gradually, as it is not easy for everyone. Walking barefoot, especially on grass or sand, is the best way to start to get used to the feel of being barefoot and strengthen muscles in the ankle and foot. Some people actually stand on gravel to toughen the bottoms of the feet as well. It also takes practice to learn how to land on the mid-foot versus the heel. Barefoot runners should start out slow and gradually increase their speed as they get used to the different technique. It may take time, but the health and fitness benefits of barefoot running will surely be a satisfying reward.