Exercise 301: Barefoot Running

feetLooking to spice up your running routine? Try barefoot running. Before you click away from the page hear me out. While barefoot running seems like a new craze it’s actually quite an ancient tradition. While shoes protect our feet from the elements and are generally cute, we weren’t born with them on our feet. Shoes can actually throw our bodies out of alignment, even running shoes. This has resulted in some people returning to basics and running barefoot. It takes some getting used to primarily because our feet have been in shoes since before we could talk. Our brains don’t register the sensation of our feet touching the earth very often.

There is a debate on whether or not barefoot running is more beneficial than running in shoes. Some of the benefits cited include a better foot strike or how your foot hits the ground as your running. A study conducted at Harvard University does show there is a difference in how the foot strikes the ground when wearing shoes versus being barefoot. While the study doesn’t conclude that one is better than the other, it does reveal that it doesn’t cause harm for most people and that cushioned soled shoes are not required for many people for the purposes of running. WebMD says one of the benefits may be that it’s more comfortable and results in less impact on the joints because the foot strike is either on the balls or on the middle of the foot versus the heel. Striking on the heel is more prevalent when running in regular shoes which has a higher force of impact on the body. Another benefit is that barefoot running strengthens the muscles in your foot because you actually get to use them!

Even if barefoot running is better for us don’t throw off the shoes and hit the road just yet. You must prepare your body for the experience. Ken Bob Saxton is often credited with popularizing modern day barefoot running. He has run numerous marathons in his bare feet. Watch his video below to get some tips from him on how to ease yourself into this practice or check out his book, Barefoot Running Step by Step. The most important thing is to ease yourself into it. Tips to get started include:

  • Start off vigorously walking
  • Run a short distance and focus on your balance and foot strikes
  • Watch where you’re going! Seriously, when you’re running in shoes you’re not really looking at the ground, but you need to be vigilant to not step on a rock or piece of glass
  • Don’t run barefoot two days in a row in the beginning
  • Take a dip in a cold bath afterwards to prevent swelling (you could do this even if you wear shoes)

You want to know if I barefoot run don’t you? I do, but I do it in barefoot running shoes which has a thin layer of rubber to protect my foot from the ground, no cushioning. I absolutely love running in barefoot shoes, I also wear them for standing in surgery as well. At first it took some getting used to. I wore them to walk the dog and around the house. I did a short run the first time. My mistake was running in them two days in a row. My feet didn’t hurt, but my calves were on fire. It was really hard to balance at first while I was running. I didn’t realize how much I relied on my cushion-soled shoes to hold me up. A benefit that I found for myself was when I wore regular shoes (heels included) my feet wouldn’t hurt as much after a long day. Another thing I discovered is if I put on regular running shoes they hurt my feet, they felt cramped. I wear the Vibram FiveFingers brand that has a sleeve for each individual toe and I found that my toes would “spread out” during the run, which felt great. There are also some that enclose the toes together with a similar thin layer of rubber, I find they are comfortable but don’t let my toes spread out the same.

Just give it a try, add something new to your regimen. It’s something easy to try and doesn’t require any investment. The cost of barefoot running shoes varies on the type of shoe, but you can get a good pair as low as $40. Try something new in the new year, if you don’t like it you can always stop.


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