There’s something primal about barefoot running, and it can be such a liberating and exhilarating experience. Senses are heightened, agility is increased, and weight reduced. Most runners will experience some sort of running injury in their training or workouts, leading to frustration, and for some, depression. Barefoot running can rejuvenate your running experience, making running more enjoyable and less injury prone.
Benefits of barefoot running
The modern running shoe is a quite a recent invention, having been invented in the 1970s. These cushioned shoes may be the reason why approximately 75% of shod runners heel strike. Runners who heel strike experience impact forces 2-3 times their body weight. That’s equivalent to hitting your heel with a hammer with the same amount of force, and with every step. Shoes make this impact more comfortable, but such impact still remain, which can lead to injuries such as planter fasciitis, shin splints, and stress fractures. Studies have concluded that:
…runners who habitually rearfoot strike have significantly higher rates of repetitive stress injury than those who mostly forefoot strike.
Those who heel strike barefoot quickly learn to land more flat, having their arches absorb impact and returning energy. It’s been estimated that barefoot runners use 5% less energy than shod runners.
Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman discusses foot striking more in-depth:
Transitioning to barefoot running
As barefoot running is gaining in popularity, you may hear about reports of an increase of injuries among barefoot runners. These injuries are not because barefoot running is dangerous, but rather due to the transition period from running shod to running barefoot. People have been in shoes most of their life, and returning to being barefoot must be a slow and gradual process to prevent injury. The amount of time it takes to transition from barefoot walking to barefoot running will very depending on the person. Some recommend walking for at least 50 miles, while some health and fitness coaches recommend an entire year.
It is advisable that you start completely barefoot and by going for walks. By using minimalist footwear, you are still reducing the needed sensory feedback for a natural gait, which can be more dangerous. Walking will help you with your gait and help strengthen the required muscles. Minimalist shoes should be used as tools where running conditions are exceptionally rough.