To the uninitiated, barefoot running comes across as fringe sport reserved for the rare combination of ultra athlete and super hippie. Still, there are benefits to be gained for even the casual participant. Barefoot running, or running in minimalist footwear, can promote improvements in bio-mechanics and can, in some cases, even relieve running-related injuries. Instead of looking at barefoot running as an all-or-nothing sport, try working some barefoot running into your training as another useful tool for unlocking hidden potential.
The Earth Under Your Feet
It’s important to understand the differences between running in traditional running shoes and running in minimalist footwear and running barefoot. If you look at any athletic shoe store's running section, you will mostly see a bunch of different shoe brands that almost all look the same. The shoes have a thick piece of padding at the heel which narrows toward the toe. Compare these popular, traditional running shoes to minimalist running sandals. When you take away the reinforced cushions, your body has to generate the spring and stabilization. Without all that force-absorbing padding, the barefoot runner receives increased feedback from the ground. As a result, barefoot running can teach the runner to run with less bone-jarring impact, to become lighter on their feet, and to be more efficient in their movements.
Take the Leap but Go Easy
The best recommendation for getting into barefoot running would be to buy some zero drop shoes or some sort of minimalist footwear and go out and give it a try. If you like the increased communication with the ground, then you can consider working in some true barefoot miles. Remember, true barefoot running is exactly what it says it is: running barefoot. Whether on the street or on the trail, it’s skin on ground. Making the leap isn’t for the faint of heart. Remember, no one can tell you how you are supposed to run. The idea in barefoot running is to let your body be your guide. You may also want to research and become a student of running gait, stride frequency and how your foot strikes the ground.
Build up your endurance gradually and try to step out of your comfort zone. If you are able to run in zero drop shoes, then transition to running in minimalist footwear. Once you are satisfied at that level, you can then decide if you want to set those piggies free. Barefoot running should be as simple, fun and exhilarating. Bottom line, any time you change your footwear or running stride, start with very short distances (as in 100 yards or so). Listen to your body, and never overdo it. As your mechanics improve, add distance gradually over time. Barefoot running can be an effective tool for improving your performance and health.