Five Keys to Successful Barefoot Running

Barefoot running on the beach

With a new year upon us, many of us have made a decision to get more healthy for the new year. And, one of the easiest, most efficient, and best ways to stay healthy is to simply get outside (or to the gym) and run. It doesn’t take that much equipment and the return on the investment for your body and mind is substantial.

A recent movement in the sports world has been a movement to doing the activity more naturally through barefoot running. The idea behind running without shoes is to allow the body to teach itself better form from the ground up. With better form, a light landing, and a proper gait both the impact and the chance of injury is substantially reduced for the athlete. Based on the research, findings, and recent barefoot running book written by Dr. Craig Richards of Australia and myself, here are some key pointers to keep in mind as you attempt to transition to barefoot and minimalist running.

1. Transition Slowly

Give your body plenty of time to adjust to barefoot running. It is best to start out walking without shoes around the house, driveway, and even your yard before hitting the roads bare. Once you can walk a long while without shoes, begin altering the terrain on which you walk. You might even discover how barefoot hiking off road can really awaken the 250,000 nerves of the feet.

2. Think Ergonomics

This is a strange thing to thing to think about but if you want to run for the long haul, meaning until you are well beyond old and gray, think about how you can move more naturally. When running, always keep your body’s posture in line with the rest of the body. Barefoot running will teach you to keep you feet beneath the body with a forefoot strike (landing on the heel is just too painful). When you keep an aligned torso and the feet below your center of gravity, the knees will always stay bent. Throughout the entire running cycle, the knees should always be bent, the feet below the body, and the leg never extended out in front of your hips.

3. Count Your Steps

Running barefoot or even in minimalist footwear will allow you to land more lightly because the weight of the shoes (or your feet) allows the body to monitor how hard your feet hit the ground. When you run, count your steps. This is called cadence. When you run without shoes, aim to have your feet patter along the ground at 180 beats per minute. This might be easier if you count only one foot’s landing at 90 times per minute. Such a cadence ensures that you are taking enough steps to lessen the impact transient absorbed by your lower legs and body.

4. Take Days Off

One of the most important things that you need to do when first starting out with barefoot running is to take days off between barefoot outings. This does not mean that you cannot workout at all, but try to avoid running one day barefoot without taking the next day off. This day break is important for the body as the smaller tissue of the feet and legs heal and adjust to your new venture. It takes lots of time. Do not be impatient and augment your time without shoes gradually, even as slow as one to two minutes per week. Such small investments with rest will ensure a safe transition.

5. Listen to your Body

Essentially, barefoot running is a way that you can really listen to your body. By figuratively putting your ears to your feet, you can feel how your body, form, and emotions change when you toss your trainers aside. Listening to your body should help you gauge your workouts and help you limit pushing yourself too far (as the ego is wont to do). Be mindful of your body and patient with your feet and the rewards of a more natural running style, less injury, and more joy for your runs will transpire.

Overall, barefoot running is more than a fad or trend. People are discovering its benefits every day. Be sure to follow these pointers and if you need help with transitioning. And, if you want to have an idea of the entire movement and how you can adapt it to help you meet your running goals, be sure to check out our guide, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Barefoot Running (Penguin), which is a part of a best-selling series on sports.

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