Barefoot Running

Discussions on barefoot running have started on most running forums and runners with a blog are devoting several posts on their personal experience and opinions on the barefoot hype.

With so many opinions and different results in personal experiences it's difficult to decide what to do for those new to running barefoot.

Let's take a closer look at the benefits and disadvantages of running barefoot or on minimalist shoes. We've made up a list of pros and cons from top athletes, coaches, medical experts, etc, for every runner to consider before experimenting with minimalist shoes or barefoot running

Barefoot Running Pros

  • Encourages efficient running form by promoting body awareness and tactile sensation.
  • Increases running economy by having less weight on foot.
  • Strengthens the foot-ankle complex and the rest of the kinetic chain (knee, hip, core and even upper body).
  • Cross-trains running muscles (running on grass, sand) by breaking up the repetitive environment of running on hard surfaces.
  • Increased strength in the lower extremities, less breaking and over-striding, and greater proprioception.
  • Barefoot running promotes a higher cadence, better posture, and a midfoot strike that renders heel striking obsolete.
  • Shod running can mute or alter feedback the body gets while running. This might allow a runner to adopt a gait that causes the elevated forces on joint torque.
  • Feet strengthening and barefoot running are a great way to train your weakness and become one step closer to a well rounded athlete.

Barefoot Running Cons

  • Requires a big transition due to a dominant shoe-wearing culture.
  • Requires proper implementation into training to avoid injury (i.e. too much, too soon mistake).
  • Decreased efficiency and speed on trails and pavement, because the skin and protective structures of the foot are exposed to a greater load and sharp objects.
  • We are surrounded by unforgiving surfaces like concrete and asphalt; most of us run on those surfaces because we have to by nature of where we live and the different seasons. Very few of the surfaces we run on actually help dampen any of the impact/force.
  • Hygiene factor. Barefoot runners, who have cracks, blisters, or scrapes on their feet, will have a higher risk of infection.
  • Lower extremity injuries may result due to the sudden increase of stress to improperly conditioned muscles and tendons. Stress fractures, tendonitis, bruising, and lacerations are all possibilities if a barefoot runner is not careful in their approach.
  • An extreme pronator will need some guidance in the form of medial posting, or additional support on the medial side of the shoe.

Barefoot/ Minimalistic Running Facts

Changing from shod running to unshod running caution is required. Let's take a look at some of the facts.

  • Most people have been wearing shoes from very early age, not allowing the feet to develop some of the critical muscles in the lower extremities.
  • Most people are forced to run most of their miles on (unnatural) hard surfaces such as asfalt, betumen, concrete, and pavement, which increases shock and stress on muscles and joints. Shoes would provide shock-absorbing coushoning and protection from scrapes and sharp objects.
  • Barefoot or minimalistic running strengthens the intrinsic or postural muscles in the feet and lower leg (in time).
  • Running barefoot or minimalist increases proprioceptive awareness and balance.
  • There are no clinical trials which show effects from barefoot/minimalist running for a prolonged period of time.
  • There are no research studies that prove wearing traditional running shoes increase injuries nor that barefoot/minimalist running reduces injuries.
  • While people have been wearing cushioned sneakers to exercise for years, it's no secret that the human foot was created long before shoes as we know them.
  • Pavement, asphalt, and concrete are human created unnatural surfaces which in turn called for more protection (running shoes).
Barefoot/ minimalistic running conclusion

From these long lists of pros/ cons and facts on alternative running techniques we want to try to conclude by not giving preference to either. There is maybe a need for more guidance in order to prevent unwanted injuries.

Introduction to barefoot or minimalistic running should be with small increments to allow strengthening of muscles and joints, and hardening of the skin under the feet with the growth of calluses. Using barefoot and minimalistic running as a method for improving gait, posture, body awareness, turnover, and landing of the foot, but as with anything new, take it easy. People who suffer from overpronation and other physical problems could experiment with alternative training methods but monitor changes (either way) closely. Running surface and seasons might dictate the best choice.

Links to barefoot/ minimalistic running


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