Barefoot running offers advantages, but is it for you?

Is Barefoot Running for You?

That has definitely been a much-asked question the past few years.  Ever since the national best selling book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall fueled the debate and sparked a revolution in barefoot running.  The best thing to come from the debate is a renewed study and focus on proper running form.

First, let’s cover a few advantages and disadvantages to consider when attempting to run barefoot.

 

Advantages:

  • It strengthens the muscles in your foot, especially in the arch. A healthy foot is a strong foot, one that pronates less and is less likely to develop a collapsed arch.
  • It may make you a more efficient runner.  When you forefoot strike, you use the natural springs in your foot and calf muscles more to store and release energy. Running barefoot or in minimal footwear (usually lighter than traditional running shoes) means that there is less mass to accelerate at the end of the leg with each stride.
  • Barefoot running feels great! Your feet have lots of sensory nerves. And because there are minimal impact forces when landing forefoot it can be very comfortable provided you develop some calluses on your feet.

Disadvantages:

  • Thick-soled shoes are more forgiving when running over glass, stones, ice, etc.
  • If you have been a heel striker, it takes some time and much work to train your body to forefoot or midfoot strike, especially because you need stronger feet and calf muscles. Runners may be at greater risk of developing Achilles tendonitis when they switch from heel striking to forefoot/midfoot striking.

You don’t need to run barefoot all the time to get the benefits.  Lightweight, more minimal shoes, can also provide the best of both worlds: comfort and performance.  The beautiful thing about running barefoot or in minimal footwear is that you are working with your body’s natural proprioception, the ability to sense your own position in space.  With less between you and the ground, you get immediate sensory feedback with every step, which encourages you to stay light on your feet and run with proper form.  Some people who are recovering from injuries or who have biomechanical anomalies or just like the feel of shoes will benefit more from lacing up.  Whether you wear shoes or go barefoot, what’s important is that you pay attention to your form.  Some people benefit from running barefoot or in a minimalist shoe to help them focus on their form.

Still interested and want to try running barefoot or with less shoe?  Before you toss out all your running shoes, remember slow and easy.  When runners do too much too soon, injuries often occur.  Try not to focus on your speed rather work on form and endurance.  Start out on sand or grass with easy 5-10 minute runs once or twice a week.  As long as it feels good, gradually increase. We are all experiments of one, so listen to your body, enjoy the journey and have fun!

Daniel Brass is the Owner and Head Runner @ Black Dog Running Company, The Grand Strand’s Specialty Running Store
He is always happy to talk running, along with giving encouragement and training advice. The store is located in the Sport’s Corner, downtown Myrtle Beach on the web @ www.blackdogrunning.com or call 843.685.5637

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