“The debate isn’t about Bare Soles vs. Shoes. It’s about learning to run gently. Master that, and you can wear — or not wear — anything you please.”

– Christopher McDougall

Christopher McDougall wrote ‘Born to Run’; a book about barefoot running after he repeatedly injured himself while running. The year was 2009 and barefoot running was being discussed with more fervor than ever before.

The book discussed the Tarahumara people in Mexico who run close to 100 kilometers at high speeds, barefoot, on a regular basis. In fact, there are several cultures around the world consider running barefoot as the natural way of running and throughout human history, running barefoot was considered the most natural technique.

There have always been Minimalists (runners who run in minimal shoes or barefoot) who believe that barefoot running can correct a runner’s form and eventually lead to a forefoot strike. This results in fewer injuries because non-minimalist runners run with a heel-strike. However, this has not been scientifically backed and there is no clear consensus on the benefits of running barefoot as a whole.

McDougall’s book also had some controversial chapters that conclude running shoes have done little to prevent injuries. The popularity of minimal shoes, such as the Nike Free and Vibram FiveFingers, has stoked the fire a little more. While some studies have found that less weight on your feet will improve your running efficiency, it’s also worth noting that running barefoot will lead the foot to impact the ground differently.

When you choose to discard your running shoes, then you get that much more feedback from the ground and if you have not perfected your running form, this could lead to some serious injuries. You get a sense of friction, which starts off the impact avoidance, and it becomes very uncomfortable to land on your heel, which is something novice runners are wont to do. So it’s advisable to actually have some experience of running regularly, before you decide to give up on shows.

Soft surface like the beach is a great way to attempt barefoot running (Image: Mike Baird)
Soft surface like the beach is a great way to attempt barefoot running (Image: Mike Baird)

Barefoot running also forces you to drop your training volume down quite a bit, which is something only experienced runners can afford to do, as they will have the right mindset to pick up the training volume later on. If you keep up your training schedule as before, your feet will not be able to handle it immediately. So you have to build up your runs almost from scratch. The trick is in not doing too much too soon, because your feet will not allow it. So first start running regularly, before you decide to go shoe-less.

Going with the quote above, here are some ways that you can introduce your body to barefoot running

  • Strengthen the lower body and core
  • Start walking or using the elliptical, with a more minimalist shoe, and introduce your body to the idea of barefoot running.
  • Begin to incorporate short intervals (seconds to minutes) of barefoot walking around the house or on the track, while also continuing to run using minimal shoes
  • Be patient and stretch more than usual. We always recommend stretching at the end of every run. You just have to do a little more of these, especially for your feet

Give barefoot running a shot over a period of time and you can decide for yourself whether it’s something you want to embrace.

Main image: Chris Hunkeler

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