Barefoot Running: Where To Begin
When you are looking at transitioning to a more barefoot style of running then I would suggested that it is best not to simply ditch your old running shoes and try and kick off barefoot running using exactly the same training routines and volumes you were performing wearing your traditional running shoes. This approach is quite likely to be a recipe for disaster with regard to sustaining an injury set back.
The closer to running barefoot you are (the more minimalistic your running footwear) the more your foot, ankle and lower leg will have to work to support, cushion and maintain your bodies posture whilst running. This will then in theory mean that your foot, ankle and calf muscles have to be that much stronger to carry out this style of running safely. Therefore, how to start barefoot running and avoid injury setbacks is much more than just someone making the decision that they are going to do it and set off running as they always have. At least some transitional period is required allowing time for your body to adapt and potentially some targeted strengthen and conditioning of appropriate muscles will help avoid injury.
Tips For Transitioning To Barefoot Running
- Do Your Homework: Work on strengthening your trunk and lower body in preparation for the change, with particular attention to your lower leg and foot muscles.
- Ease Into The Transition: Start practicing weight-bearing strengthening exercises barefoot, or whilst wearing your minimalist shoes. Include activities such as walking, the cross trainer or even just wearing them in and around the gym to do your regular weights routine prior to actually starting running in them.
- Kick Off Your Training With Some Interval Training: When starting out barefoot running one potential option to ease into things is to incorporate short intervals of only seconds – minutes of barefoot running within some longer walks somewhere like around a football oval. Easing yourself into it, little by little in a structured and progressively paced approach gives time for your body to adapt and strengthen to the different loads that barefoot running places on your body.
- Don’t Run With A Heel Strike With Barefoot: Do not attempt to run as you would in a traditional running shoe. If you heel strike normally when wearing a “regular” running shoe then you should not attempt heel strike when running wearing minimalist footwear. You must learn how to run barefoot! It is crucial you learn the mechanics of running with less cushioning underfoot, for some this comes natural however, others have to work at it. Remember you have to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. Barefoot running for some can be a process of peeling everything back and starting over.
- Consider Using A Running Coach: A couple of sessions with a running coach with a special interest in barefoot running could really help in guiding you with exercises to help your barefoot running technique. As well as technique tips a running coach can assist by set you up a training program to help achieve your running goals. Spending money on a running coach prior to embarking on your minimalist journey I feel is money well spent. A few dollars spent here may well end up saving you tenfold in the long run, helping you avoid significant medical expenses, as well as saving you from the pain and frustration of injury.
- Consider Minimalist Footwear As A Training Tool: If you use your minimalist shoes in your regular running program as if they are simply a new pair of traditional running shoes then you run a high risk of injury. Most likely statistically the injury would be to your calf muscles, or Achilles tendon. However, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis and other nasty injuries are also not uncommon in barefoot runners. It is important to exercise patience when starting off barefoot running and see minimalist footwear as a strengthening tool within your greater running program till appropriately conditioned.
Minimalist Footwear: A Training Tool For The Athlete
You must learn how to run barefoot, slowly pacing up your barefoot running as your body builds tolerance to running without the support of traditional running shoes. A transition for me should be treated as learning to run again and starting over, building up your mileage slowly. Because many runners don’t have the patience to take this step backwards in their daily, or weekly running mileage, putting the extra effort in perfecting their barefoot running technique they put themselves at significant risk of injury by introducing barefoot running at a pace to rapid for appropriate tissue adaption.
Done correctly on the “correct” foot and body type (where foot biomechanics, body weight and overall strength are important factors), I feel minimalist shoes or barefoot running can be a nice training tool to a runners arsenal. Personally because the majority of the patients I deal with in the Sydney CBD do most of their running in and around the city, or around their neighborhood on tarmac like surfaces I am generally not a massive advocate of barefoot running for the majority of my clients. As personally I feel this is really aggressive on the foot and body but may professionals would feel differently about this.
Whilst I feel minimalism may not be for all runners, most runners could benefit from strengthening their lower limb and feet. And carried out methodically and sensibly, barefoot running can be one way to go about this process of strengthening. Before you attempt any training program, or start barefoot running, make sure you first of all contact your podiatrist, physiotherapist or trusted practitioner for a personalised biomechanical assessment to see whether the change you are planning is appropriate (or even safe) for your individual circumstances.
Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products mentioned. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific advice or assistance on How To Start Barefoot Running should consult his or her general practitioner, podiatrist, physiotherapist or otherwise appropriately skilled practitioner.