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Running Barefoot: How To Do It Without Hurting Yourself 

Running barefoot isn't without its hazards, but by following these tips you can make the transition a lot easier.

Running Barefoot Rule #1: Relax

I'm serious, take it easy. If you go into this like you're assaulting a fortress you're going to end up hurt and hating the whole idea of running barefoot.

This is the most important idea you can sink into your head. Running is easy, so don't over think it. Just remove the impediments (shoes), and let your body do its thing. If you start tightening up whenever you see something that could potentially hurt, you've already lost.

Running Barefoot Rule #2: Get A Feel For It First

Before you run anywhere, slip out of your shoes and onto some grass. Note the texture of the ground. If you can find some terrain with dips or rocks, try running running your feet over these. 

Running Barefoot Rocky Terrain

Step into holes and notice how your feet move to accommodate the dip. Place your feet on some rocks and shift your weight onto them in various ways. See how your feet adjust to that weight coming down on the rocks.

Do your feet fold around them? Do they it take the weight full on? Pay attention. Maybe you'll find that certain rocks almost massage the soles.

Now before you run- even if you plan to always wear minimalist shoes- you should spend some time walking barefoot. Your feet react differently to inclines, declines, and the various objects scattered before you.

If you can find a rocky, shell-filled beach such as those common throughout New England, try walking there.

Let your feet get used to feeling the varied terrain, because they've likely spent much of their time in sensory deprivation.

One of the reasons that people fear running barefoot is because they associate the idea with pain. In that pain, though, there's a potential to learn a lot about smooth running.

Remember that you will never toughen your soles enough to run badly on pavement. If you don't have the technique, you're going to get injured.

Running Barefoot Rule #3: Beware the Minimalist Footwear Trap

Minimalist footwear is great. It takes a long time to build up the toughness of your soles to the point where you can run many miles, but in the Vibram Fiver Fingers, you can start running safely as soon as you get the technique down.

Running Barefoot StrideHowever, in minimalism there is a trap. When we protect our sensitive soles, we also stop the messages our soles are telling us about how to run gently, or, the all-important "stop you fool, you're going to hurt yourself" message.

You'll learn far more about proper technique barefoot than you will even in five fingers. I'm not saying you shouldn't run in minimalist footwear, cause I love my five fingers, but just be aware of what the trade off is.

Running Barefoot Rule #4: Straighten Your Posture

You don't need to be ram rod straight, and I wouldn't suggest you try to be,  but you should certainly not be bent over at the waist.

Not only is being bent over a huge waste of energy, but it completely changes how your moving you're weight through space. 

Now leaning forward isn't a bad idea, but you need to know how to do it, and there's no real rush. If you want to learn how to bend, think about how ski jumpers learn. They do so at the ankles, and so should you. Maintaining good posture while doing this can take some practice, so don't sweat it if you don't have it down at first. It's a skill you can safely pick up later. 

Running Barefoot Rule #5: Quick, Short, Light Steps

Running Barefoot Treadmill

Heel strikers often seek to expand their stride and cover more ground, but Without the ability to crash down on their heel, humans must adopt a short stride.

The feet lightly touch the ground and then the heels kick up in back. Imagine that you had to pull each foot up over a log and you'll get the right effect.

This does not affect speed, as far as I can tell. I'm a faster running barefoot than I ever was in shoes.

Running Barefoot Rule #6: A Correct Technique?

Rather than pronouncing a single best way to run barefoot -and there is probably no such thing- I will outline a few principals that seem to apply to just about everyone. I don't pretend to have reached a level of perfection in my barefoot running, but I think I've come far enough to offer a bit of advice to those wanting to get off to good start.

As soon as you start running barefoot, your style will change. The sensation you've been cut off from so long will serve as a corrective device. Try to run on your heels and you'll quickly learn that's not a good idea, for instance.

Heel striking will never work without a sensation-disrupting running shoe, especially once you've left the soft grass behind and head out onto a hard road.

At first, I landed flat footed, but after putting in many miles, I found that it was more comfortable and energy efficient to land on the outside of my forefoot and roll inwards. I noticed that this method necessitates the building up of more calf strength than is otherwise needed.

I know a few who land on the toes and then drop the back of their foot down, as if they were sprinting, but I find this uncomfortable and tiring after more than a mile or so. I feel like I could injure myself doing this, so I leave it alone. 

I suggest you avoid micromanaging how your foots lands, or consciously deciding how you're going to place it on the ground with every step.

After you've gotten away from a heel strike and set your posture, I wouldn't worry too much about perfection. See how, when you stop thinking about it, you body wants you to place your feet on a variety of surfaces. Experiment.

You'll probably gravitate toward very quick, small steps, as if your foot was just lightly kissing the ground. If it's a strain, you're trying too hard. Relax.

Running Barefoot Rule #7: Conditioning

Running Barefoot Beach Run

When you start to run, don't overdo it. Even if you could previously run an ultramarathon, running barefoot will change things.

I'd start off doing no more than two miles at a time, and then build up your miles at no more than a 10 to 15 percent weekly increase.

Your calf muscles will likely complain the most, but others will likely be used in new ways, and they will get sore too.

I've been flatfooted all my life, so it was with some surprise, once I switched to a forefoot landing, that I noticed my arch building itself up ever so slightly. It's not dramatic, but my feet were once completely level, and now the inside of both of them goes up slightly.

If I take a foot in both hands and feel it, I notice that it's now much more solid than it ever was before. My feet were broad to begin with, but I think my foot has also gotten slightly broader due to the increase in muscle. When I move, they feel very solid and grounded. My calf and ankles also seem stronger.

Running Barefoot: Following Up:

Learn why we were born for running barefoot.

Read about a healthy raw food diet that contributes a lot to running stamina.

Why would you want to run barefoot? Learn about the problems caused by running shoes.

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