Yes, just like most of the other so called “primal people” out there, I too run barefoot. Well, maybe not exactly barefoot (I am not that crazy), I run in my vibram five finger shoes for nearly 90% of all my training runs. I started running barefoot just about this time last year and my results have been fantastic! Before running barefoot I use to suffered from mild plantar fasciitis (heel/foot pain) after my longer runs or races. Lucky for me the pain was mild and thankfully it would usually subside after a few days it was still very irritating/scary. Since running barefoot I have been pain/injury free and my feet and ankles have become much stronger. While the barefoot movement is definitely getting bigger there are still a lot of non-believers out there, so lets look at some of the benefits to running barefoot.
- Become injury proof – Running shoes are supposed to prevent injuries, however many running experts believe that most running injuries are cause as a result of wearing shoes because modern running shoes are very restrictive and prevent your feet and ankles from moving naturally. Did you know that the human foot and ankle has more than 26 bones, 33 joints and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments? Our feet are very complex and each of the bones, joints and muscles in our feet have developed over millions of years of evolution. In fact the modern (restrictive) running shoe was invented by Nike around 1972 that was only 39 years ago! Think of modern running shoes like a knee brace (or any brace for that matter). If you wore a knee brace every day, the muscles supporting your knee would eventually become week because they don’t have to work very hard. Modern shoes are like a brace for our feet, causing our feet to become very week over time, thus both professional runners and weekend warrior alike are constantly nagged with injuries. When you run barefoot you run the way nature intended you to run, using and strengthening all those muscles in your feet.
- Improve your running posture – This is related to becoming injury proof because many running injuries happen because of bad running posture or form. Most running shoes have a thick heel with lots of cushion which forces the runner to heel strike while running. When you run barefoot you land on the balls of your feet which is the natural way to run. The best part about running barefoot is that your posture improves almost instantly you have no other choice but to land on the balls of your feet.
- Become faster – As mentioned running barefoot engages hundreds of muscles in your foot and ankle which not only strengthens your feet but also sends signals to your brain creating “muscle memory” in your feet. Having greater “muscle memory” helps with overall foot endurance thus letting you push just a little harder each time before your feet get tired. So while I am not guaranteeing world record speed, the improved running posture, less injuries, and improved muscle memory will definitely help you shave a minute or two off your 10k time.
How do I start? Lets look at a few tips on how to make the transition into barefoot running.
- Start slow – Your feet have been in a “brace” for a long time and your muscles have become weak, so start your barefoot transition slowly. Get some five finger shoes and start by walking, than gradually move to running. Just be patience and listen to your body, if your feet hurt stop. When I started barefoot I could not run more than 10-min, now I can run 4-miles before my feet and ankles become tired.
- Look at other options – Vibram five finger shoes are as close to running barefoot as you can get but you can receive many of the same benefits using other shoes such as the Nike Free. The Nike free provides minimal support and are a good bridge between running shoes and the five fingers. I actually started using the Nike Free about a year before I used the five fingers. With minimal support the Free’s will still help you strengthen your feet and ankles. The only problem I have with the Nike Free is that the heel is still fairly thick and this can lead to heel strikes.
- Get racing flats – I don’t race in my five fingers because they are hard to get on and it would kill my transition times so I race in racing flats. I also like to do my longer runs in racing flats. Racing flats are nice because well…they are flat (don’t promote heel strikes) and have minimal support so you can feel confident that you will still benefit from running in flats.
Have you been running barefoot? How do you feel? Do you think it helps? I want to hear your comments on barefoot running.