Since we first learned how to move on two feet, we’ve been running barefoot. It wasn’t until the 70s that shoe companies convinced us that we needed a lot of padding and technology to protect our feet. Today, the average runner is wearing some heavy-duty, super-technological piece of foam equipment protecting their feet every time they hit the pavement.
The question is, do we really need that? Over the past couple years, many people have been embracing the idea that the best way to run is the way we first learned how to run: barefoot. Most of us, however, have much more fragile feet compared to our cavemen ancestors who grew up barefoot. This is why barefoot shoes have been developed to give us a layer of protection while replicating the natural movement of our feet. Check out our form, technique and gear tips below to learn how to start running barefoot.
Why Get Started Running Barefoot?
The greatest pitfall of modern shoes is that they cause runners to land on their heels. Just think about it, you would never jump a ledge and brace your impact by landing on your heels, so why batter your ankles with improper form while running? Barefoot running form aims to prevent this wear and tear and injury. Even though barefoot shoes will help your form, you must also make an effort to deliberately improve your running technique. Land on the balls, or midsections, of your feet, with your foot nearly horizontal (or almost touching the ground) so your calves don’t have to work double time. After the front of your foot touches down, let the heal naturally follow behind. It should feel comfortable and smooth; don’t think too much, just let your natural pace flow.
Master Your New Barefoot Running Technique
Your barefoot shoes will help you adjust to this natural running technique, and they’ll also look like some of the craziest shoes on the market. The first time you put them on you’ll see why, landing on your heal is suddenly painful, and awkward. Instead, you’ll begin to shift to landing on the ballof your foot automatically. You’ll also find that, to do this, you have to take shorter, faster strides, instead of the big lopping ones you can pull off with the padded heal. Avoid landing with your foot too far in front of your hips, you will be pointing your toes more than necessary and over-working your supporting muscles. After the first few runs, your calves will likely feel ridiculous, but that’s part of adjusting to this new stride. Try supplementing your running with biking, swimming and other types of cardio training. Give it time and patience, and you’ll soon learn to master the technique.
Barefoot Gear: What To Avoid
In deciding which one of these minimalist shoes to go with, you’ll immediately be faced with some trickiness and some options that you’ll want to avoid. Most of these shoes have slots for your toes, but the fact that your toes get to wiggle individually isn’t actually the point – it’s that you have almost no padding to obstruct or alter the natural stride you’re trying to develop. The very first versions of these shoes, the Vibram 5 fingers, were little more than a thin piece of tough rubber, with some fabric to keep it on your foot. Since then, companies have developed shoes that look like “minimalist” shoes, with the toe slots, but are deceptively padded. Again, that’s defeating the purpose. Avoid these options. You want as little between you and the environment as possible. For some guidance, check out our list of best barefoot running shoes.
Remember that correcting years of running while landing on your heel will take time. You’ll need to be careful not to repeat old mistakes, and learn how to run like Mother Nature intended.
Cover Photo Credit: Mad1331 / Flickr.com