Barefoot Running – The Naked Truth

It may seem counter-intuitive, but exercising/moving (including running) barefoot is more efficient and puts less impact through the body than wearing shoes or trainers. If you fancy giving it a go, this blog by Ollie Martin is a must-read.

Bare feet on the barefoot walk at WildFit Surrey

It may seem counter-intuitive, but exercising/moving (including running) barefoot is more efficient and puts less impact through the body than wearing shoes or trainers.
Barefoot exercise brings the following benefits:
– strengthens intrinsic foot musculature
– maximises biomechanical performance
– enhances proprioception (perception of your body)
– optimises balance and prevents falls
– enhances running efficiency
– facilitates venous return resulting in decreased blood pressure
– decreases ankle sprains
– lowers risk of shin splints
– minimises back pain
– diminishes risk of bunions

So why isn’t everyone doing it?
Well, it takes time to learn the new running technique plus many people’s feet have lost the strength and awareness from wearing supportive shoes for too long. You have to take your time to condition and learn. This is not an instant fix. If you do not take your time, you will injure yourself just as you would in conventional training.
You also get dirty, wet, cold feet, and derogatory comments, especially if you try the weird looking Vibram Fivefingers ‘barefoot’ shoes – so it’s not for everyone!

Keep it natural

However, the shoe industry is built on the assumption that you need shock absorption, motion control and lots of fancy technologies. The truth is, the body and feet have all the natural shock absorption and motion control you’ll ever need.

But, I hear you say: ‘I need arch support, I need heel cushioning.’

In fact, these aspects of modern shoes can be the problem, rather than the solution. If you support something too long, it gets weaker. If you push an arch from below, it collapses. If you cushion something too long, it loses sensitivity.

I have worked with Barefoot Ted’ McDonald, star of Christopher McDougall’s seminal running book Born to Run, who says:

“The hallmark of my barefoot running philosophy is regaining connectedness, mindfulness, and presence in your running and in your body.  Barefoot running is about tuning in to your own body’s highly sophisticated set of integrated awareness systems, systems that communicate through feelings and senses that are being collected in real-time as you move. From my perspective, learning how to run well means learning how to tap into the feeling of running well, which more often than not requires baring the foot to get the full feel of what happens when you move.”

Ted McDonald

So how do you do it?

Softer

  • before you begin, align your posture through a biomechanical assessment and corrective exercise programme – this will soften and balance your muscles, reducing stress load on your body and eliminating risk of repetitive strain injury
  • start easy and build up slowly – a MUST do otherwise you WILL injure yourself
  • relax your muscles, sinking shoulders and hips
  • adopt a meditative mindset. Clear your mind, let thoughts that come into your mind drift away without attachment, focus on your breathing and/or the muscles in your body. Are they tight? Is there pain? Which ones are working?
  • train at 50% of your maximum heart rate by keeping to nose, rather than mouth, breathing
  • learn to listen to your body – acknowledge and adapt to any pain; barefoot running gives you instant feedback and this is your best teacher

Quicker

  • increase foot cadence – not overall speed (yet). Aim for more than 180 foot strikes per minute. Buy a digital metronome or count 1, 2, 3 …
  • your speed will increase with more efficient movement at lower intensities
  • good technique (from efficiency) will shorten recovery times and reduce injury risk

Lighter

  • no pounding the ground – barefoot running is fluid, silent and smooth
  • you should feel lightness through your whole body
  • forefoot centric foot landing – the ball of your foot should touch the ground first
  • hard surfaces like tarmac are often the best to learn on because of instant feedback

Conditioning/gym exercises – the following support a barefoot running approach:

  • squat with correct alignment
  • two-footed jumping on the spot on the balls of your feet at 180bpm (beats per minute)
  • one-footed jumping on the spot on the balls of your feet at 180bpm
  • running on the spot at 180bpm
  • skipping at 180bpm

Barefoot running allows everyone to run injury-free, regardless of size, shape or fitness – you are born to run, so recapture your evolutionary heritage.

Related: Conditioning for Running Workshop with Ollie Martin – read more

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