Barefoot Running: Why You
Should Consider Leaving The Dangerous Status Quo Behind
Barefoot running is not some fad or a regime fit only
masochists, but an old tradition that can bring some sanity back to our
injury-prone running tradition.
barefoot running was the only way to run for countless generations of
man. It is only since the invention of the running industry and the
widespread adoption of running shoes in the 1970s that we began our
perpetual waltz with injury.
We've got strained hamstrings, plantar fasciitis, and
bad knees by the thousands, and it's needless.
shoes and other corrective devices like orthodics cause
wide range of
injuries and there's no good reason for it. Our
species was born
run, and our current
state is just a butchery of our impressive abilities.
If you're interested in bringing some sense back to your
running, then I hope to introduce you to something that can help.
Running: Getting Into It
running is not something you can jump into in one day. Even if you
managed to get the technique down right away, your muscles, ligaments
and skin have likely been moldering in your shoes for most of your
life, and are now so weak from disuse that you'd quickly injure
yourself if you attempted too much too soon. It will likely take months
or years, depending on your fitness level, to fully make the change
But gradual increases to your barefoot
routine as well as the use of minimalist footwear can put you on a
sustainable path to improvement.
musculature of the foot is the greatest issue
leading to injury. Only two to three percent of the
population has real biomechanical problems, so we're basically creating
new problems by treating ones that don't exist
Hartmann, exercise physiologist for a number of
Olympic and professional runners.
are some purists out there who disagree, but I'm willing to throw truly
minimalist footwear, such as the Vibram Five Fingers, and authentic
huarache, under the banner of barefoot running.
Others, such as
Nike Free, which include a significant heel and quite a bit of padding
to disrupt sensation, I would not place there. Something like the five
fingers just serves to protect your skin from abrasions, while leave
most of the sensation intact.
question that actually running barefoot is far superior in terms of
sensation and ability to receive feedback, but you'll get most of the
basic benefits and pleasures of barefoot running in minimalist footwear
All the same, I encourage everyone to put in time
barefoot, because it's with nothing on my feet that I've seen greater
improvements in my running form than at any time in minimalist
Barefoot Running: Why It
off your shoes and socks and step outside. Move onto some grass and
press your feet down into it, feeling the blades tickling you. Now step
onto some concrete or asphalt and notice the retained heat of the day.
Try walking on a beach some time and notice how the little pebbles and
sea shells dig into your hide.
You can feel so
much that it almost seems dirty. There's good reason why there's a
giant grin on my face when I take off down a trail with nothing between
the earth and my skin. If you're used to being barefoot only briefly
indoors, moving around outside can be almost too much to take at first.
The reason is because your feet are chock full of
nerves designed to do nothing but sense. The falanga technique, a
regime of torturous foot beating and whipping in use since at least the
Ottoman Empire, was developed for good reason: it hurts like all hell,
and those nerves pick up every last bit of sensation.
we cram our feet into little foot coffins every day, which block out
all hope of sensation. It's like a sensory deprivation chamber for each
From a tiny grain of sand to a sharp rock,
your feet will start feeling everything when you go out barefoot
running, and it's glorious.
That sensitivity will give you a relationship with the
terrain like you've never experienced.
Barefoot Running: But What
About Getting Cut Up
been skinned and cut more than a few times while running barefoot, and
anyone who tells you that you won't be is lying to you. Minimalist
footwear will help you avoid this, if you're not interested in going
But as you continue to adapt, you'll
notice an entire new world of running cognition developing almost
outside of your awareness.
I was pleasantly
surprised one day while out on a trail when my bare feet danced between
a series of sharp rocks strewn across my path without me giving it a
second thought. My body would have been completely unable to do so
before I developed the awareness and reflexes necessary through
I've even had my foot collapse, for lack of a better
around a hard rock so that my skin didn't bear the full brunt of it.
Again, this was not something I'd planned, but just a reaction my body
All the same, my feet are far from
being able to take serious abuse, and I need to wear five fingers for
runs on hard surfaces longer than a few miles.
Barefoot Running: The Hard
often run across people who agree with barefoot running in principal.
They get that shoes weaken the foot, but they say something along the
lines of: "but man was meant to run over grassy fields barefoot.
Asphalt is not a natural terrain, and so we need cushioned shoes
without pronation control to run on them. This cushioning makes it so
we're running over something soft like grass."
And so even if they askew motion control, corrective
shoes, they'll go for cushioned clunkers like the Adidas Megabounce
Unfortunately, their argument is full of holes.
First, the idea that finger-width of padding is going to
help support your foot is ridiculous.
foot is based around the arch, one of the strongest structure in the
natural or man-made world. Put pressure on it and it gets stronger, not
Go find an engineer or an architect and ask
him if he'd consider putting padding under an arch. Of course he'll
tell you that's insane, because jamming something flexible under an
arch only weakens it. You'd be asking for your building to collapse.
This holds true for feet too.
The impact of your
body running on the ground can be up to 12 times your weight, and a few
centimeters of rubber isn't going to make a difference. Science has
even backed this up, noting that running shoes do not reduce the forces
working on your body during a run (1).
Such padding also impedes the good work our body is
supposed to do when we run. When
running barefoot on solid ground, we compensate for our lack of
cushioning by plantar-flexing the foot on contact, creating a softer
landing (2), but we can't do this effectively in shoes.
we can consider shoes protective devices in the sense that they will
stop your feet from getting cut or bruised if you step on something,
they're laughably inefficient at doing what they're supposed to do.
Barefoot Running: But I
Have A Flat Arch Or A High One
matter. My feet are as flat as pancake...or at least they were
before I started barefoot running. Now they're as flat as slightly
lumpy pancakes. As I refined my technique and started putting in
serious mileage in minimalist footwear, I noticed that my arch was
strengthening and becoming visible. Now the inside of my foot visibly
arcs, if only slightly.
Regardless, people put
way too much stock in how their feet look. There's an arch, be it high
or low, there unless you've suffered a serious injury or have a
physical deformity, so give it a chance to work.
Barefoot Running: But I
Under Or Over Pronate
we all pronate. Somebody is just trying to make a buck off your hobby.
I bought the whole overpronation thing for years and I wound up
severely injured because of my shoes and the technique they allowed me
to develop. I also wasted a ton of money on "magical thinking"
Pronate is not a dirty word. It's actually quite a
flex, spread, splay and grip the surface,
meaning you have
less pronation, and more distribution of
-Jeff Pisciotta, the
senior researcher at the Nike Sports Research Lab,
who headed development of the Nike Free shoe.
see this in action, take off your shoes and go run a few steps. On a
hard surface, your foot will likely land on the outside edge of your
foot automatically and and then gently roll in towards the big toe.
It's a shock-absorbing twist which allows the arch to compress,
therefore strengthening it.
You can't land on your
heel because the pain will tell you it's not a good idea, so the whole
dynamic of your landing, and your ability to over or under pronate,
Even if you're not like everyone
else, you don't have to worry. Pronation is a natural thing. Be happy
that it occurs, cause it's one of our body's little advantages.
Barefoot Running: Escape
shoes are not protecting you, they're harming you. The ridiculous
injury rate of runners can mostly be blamed on their unnatural
All the fancy motion control gadgets we throw in makes
more expensive the running shoe, and the more packed with
injury-prevention and anti-pronation gear it is, the more likely you
are to get injured in it. Cheap shoes that have less protection cause
fewer injuries than
expensive ones (3).
Shed your shoes and escape your injuries.
Barefoot Running: Feel the
already mentioned that my arch has developed slightly through barefoot
and minimalist running, but more importantly, the muscles in my lower
extremities have all become tremendously stronger.
a foot in both hands and thumbing it, it feels incredibly firm
muscular, which it never was before. My calf muscles and ankles have
likewise become stronger.
Remove the crutch,
which causes your muscles to shrivel and your tendons to stiffen, and
your foot will spring to life again. It will take some readjustment,
but it's for the best.
feet in shoes is similar to putting
them in a plaster cast. If I put your leg in
plaster, we'll find 40 to 60 percent atrophy of the musculature within
six weeks. Something similar happens to your feet when they're encased
- Dr. Gerard
Hartmann, exercise physiologist for a
Olympic and professional runners.
Barefoot Running: Following
Read why man was born
to enjoy barefoot running.
Learn about the raw
food diet that that perfectly compliments distance
Get tips on how to start
Barefoot Running Sources:
(1) Bergmann G,
Kniggendorf H, Graichen F, Rohlmann A
(1995). Influence of shoes and heel strike on the loading of the hip
joint. Journal of Biomechanics 28, 817-827
(2) Frederick EC
(1986). Kinematically mediated effects of sports shoe
design: a review. Journal of Sports Sciences 4, 169-184
(3) Robbins SE,
Gouw GJ (1991). Athletic footwear: unsafe due to
perceptual illusions. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 23,
ng barefoot isn't without its hazards, but by
following these tips you can make the transition a lot easier.
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