by Mbio Staff October 16, 2018


Barefoot running, also known as natural running, involves running in bare feet without any shoes on.

This type of running has grown in popularity in recent years as people turn to the barefoot running technique to learn to run pain-free or in a more natural way.

But is this just the latest in a long lineup of fads that will fizzle out? Or is there merit behind this technique? Read on to find out.

Why Try the Barefoot Running Technique?

The barefoot running trend has recently taken off. The book "Born to Run" by Chris McDougall examines the Tarahumara Indians that live in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. The book has sold over 3 million copies.

McDougall talks about how these people run hundreds of miles without rest and enjoy it too. One of the pivotal points in this book is the myth that our feet are born broken. Shoe brands brainwash us to believe that we need increasingly new and improved shoes to protect our knees from injury.

But maybe, the people without technological advances are the ones that are doing it right. Maybe running barefoot is natural and better for our bodies.

Other adopters of the barefoot running claim that instead of cushioning and supports to modify our gait, we should learn to run the way our bodies were meant to run. Without relying on devices, we can learn how to run lightly, efficiently and without injury.

In fact, the best pro marathoners in the world are Kenyans and Ethiopians who log thousands of miles completely barefooted before they ever lace up their first running shoes. While learning to run barefoot might not make you a top marathon running, it can help you learn to run in a new, more natural way.

But not everyone is convinced that this is a good experiment. Is it just the latest crazy trend?

The Running Barefoot Debate

There are many experts that agree that shoeless running is better for our tendons arches and ligaments. These are the researchers that firmly believe that orthotics lead to an increased risk for injuries. Some people who support barefoot running do so from the basis of returning to natural means of running before marketing told us how to run.

On the other side of the camp are some experts that feel that biomechanical problems with the feet, ankle or knees are best solved with proper footwear. Podiatrists, for example, recommend orthotics to relieve foot pain.

Also on this side of the camp are people that question why start running barefoot in the first place. If you aren't having pain while you run, why would you start this (possibly dangerous) technique?

Right now, running barefoot is still pretty new in the Western world and not a lot of research on the long-term outcomes is available. What we have is anecdotal and case studies of rural tribes.

What we need are studies on the long-term effects of running barefoot in our modern society on our roads.

How to Start Running Barefoot

One of the great things about running barefoot, with or without the use of a minimalist shoe, when you are a beginner is that your feet will tell you how much you can do.

This will help you progress faster without overdoing it and getting injured. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Scrap Your Mileage

Running without shoes is a whole new ball game. It's not just a small adjustment to your technique. It's unrealistic to expect to keep your six-mile daily routine when you begin running without shoes.

Scrap whatever mileage you usually do each run or per week when you begin running barefoot. This will allow you to listen to your body's cues and build up your stamina without getting injured.

If you have been wearing shoes all day every day for years, it will take time for your feet and ankles to get used to working without the support of shoes.

Start by walking around the house barefoot for a day and notice how your feet feel the next day. If you feel good, go for a slow 1/4 mile jog the next day.

Remember, starting off slow gives your body time to get used to the new physicality of barefoot running. Once your body is ready, you can work on adding miles and increasing your speed.

Run on Hard Surfaces

You might be tempted to start running on grass to give your baby-soft feet a chance to toughen up. Wrong!

The grass is uneven, bumpy and will have all sorts of hidden rocks, holes and other objects that can cause you to get hurt.

Likely, your ankles are weak from years of shoe support. Running barefoot on the grass will increase your chances of rolling your ankle and putting you out of commission. You can run on grass later, but for now, run on hard surfaces.

Hard packed sand or concrete is the best place to start your barefoot running regime. Hard sand is great for beginners because you will be able to examine your footprints to evaluate your technique. Learn more about beach running including tips and tricks.

The Barefoot Running Form

Running without shoes will probably cause you to change your form as you run. For one thing, you will need to learn how to land on your forefeet or midfeet (balls of your feet).

When you run barefoot you need to change your stride length. With shoes, you run best by extending your legs far apart. The reverse is true for barefoot running.

Try to concentrate on keeping your feet under your hips at all times and being light on your feet.

You want to have short strides, almost as if you are running in place. Yes, it feels strange at first but keep at it. It will help you learn how to stop landing on your heels.

Evaluate Your Barefoot Running Technique

Running without shoes takes some technique adjustments. If you do it on the sand you will be able to see your footprints to see how you are doing.

Make sure your footprints are light. Your toes should not dig into the sand. That will cause blisters if you run for any distance.

Look at how deep the heel imprint is. It should not be any deeper than the rest of the foot. If it is, you are landing on your heel.

Whether you run on hard sand or concrete, listen to the sound your feet make. You should try to make as little sound as possible. You don't need to strike the ground hard.

If you hear your feet hitting the ground loudly, chances are you are hitting the ground with your heel. If so, you need to practice correcting your technique so that you land on your midfoot silently.

The barefoot running technique takes time to master. It's not always intuitive.

So why do it in the first place? Here are some of the benefits of running without shoes.

Pros of Barefoot Running

We've already touched on some of the benefits of running barefoot. They include feeling more grounded.

Moving without shoes improves balance. It helps you become more aware and connected to your environment. Especially if you are running 1 of the 5 most beautiful running trails in the world.

Running barefoot will allow your gait to become more natural. As this happens, you will strengthen your foot muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Your Achilles tendon and calf muscles will stretch and reduce injuries that occur as a result of tight tissues.

Running shoes have padding that causes runners to land on their heels. Yet, that is like pulling the breaks with each stride.

Running barefoot will teach you to land on your forefoot instead of your heel. This will make you a more efficient runner. Plus, landing on the forefoot lets your arches act as shock absorbers, the way nature intended.

Your coordination will also improve from barefoot running. When you run without shoes, the smaller muscles in your ankles, legs, and even hips are activated. As a result, you get improved coordination and balance.

Cons of Barefoot Running

The major disadvantage of running without shoes is the lack of protection your feet have against rocks, glass, nails, and thorns. In winter months, shoes protect your feet from the cold. Without them, you are at risk for frostbite.

The bottom of people's feet is usually soft and delicate. You will likely suffer from plantar pain when you first take up barefoot running.

Many runners do too much barefoot running too soon. Then they get something called "top of the foot pain" which happens when you push your feet too hard.

Another con is that you will get some strange looks or comments. This is not a huge deal but you will have to prepare for some quizzical stares.

Bottom Line

Thanks for reading! We hope you found this guide about the barefoot running technique insightful.

While there is no long-term research about the pros and cons of barefoot running, we think that it's something to explore if it's something that calls to you. And if you find that you love it, do it.

Next, check out these 10 pre-run stretches you should do for a better run.

Mbio Staff
Mbio Staff

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