Should we be running barefoot

Barefoot running is a growing trend in fitness circles. Online weight loss coach Andrew Cate looks at the pro's and con's of baring your sole.


Why is barefoot running growing in popularity?

Humans have been running barefoot, or only used minimal footwear for millions of years, with the highly cushioned running shoe only becoming prominent since the 1970s. But the call to return to nature is getting louder as the popularity of barefoot running continues to grow. It's based on the theory that running shoes provide un-natural levels of cushioning and support, changing the way our feet strike the ground and increasing the risk of injury. Shoe companies have cottoned on to the trend, with a variety of minimalist shoes that fit each toe like a glove. Recent scientific research has shown that there may be a strong case to reduce the amount of training time you spend in traditional running shoes.

The research

According to a report published in the journal Nature, people who run barefoot demonstrate a very different ankle angle on impact, foot strike and loading rates, and may be less prone to injury1. The researchers analysed runners who were barefoot and in running shoes using footplates and video cameras1a. They found that barefoot runners often land on the mid or fore-foot before bringing down the heel, while runners in shoes mostly rear foot strike, allowed by the elevated and cushioned heel of the modern running shoe. 

Their analysis found that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners generate smaller collision forces than shoe wearing runners, decreasing the effective mass of the body that collides with the ground. The researchers believe that going barefoot may help protect the feet and lower limbs from some of the impact related injuries experienced by a high percentage of runners1b. However, more research is needed before it can be proven conclusively that barefoot runners or those in minimal footwear have reduced injury rates.

Practical tips to running barefoot

When you consider that runners' feet strike the ground approximately 600 times per kilometre, it makes sense to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries. So is it time to throw your traditional running shoes in the bin? Maybe not just yet, but it certainly might be worth giving barefoot running a try, even if it only makes up part of your training program. Following are some suggestions on how to introduce barefoot running into your exercise regime.

Build up gradually - Different muscles and forces are involved in barefoot running, so give your feet and lower body time to adjust. Start with barefoot walking, and then introduce small amounts of jogging (between 10 - 20 minutes), increasing time and speed depending on how your feet respond.

Try minimalist shoes - You don't have to be completely "bare" when you go barefoot running. Most footwear manufacturers offer minimalist shoes that are light, flat and flexible, and have a separate pocket for each of your toes. Rubber-soled socks are even available. They offer the benefits of barefoot running, but eliminate the risk of injury from glass, stones, or from hot or slippery surfaces. Like all foot wear, try them on first to see how they feel.
Alternate, don't eliminate - Take advantage of the best of both worlds, and alternate between running barefoot, and in traditional running shoes. Unless you are an elite runner, the cushioning and arch support provided by traditional running shoes may still provide benefits.

Run quiet and light - Run softly with very little up and down movement, keeping your feet under your hips and shoulders. Take springy, slightly shorter strides to make sure you land on the ball of your foot before rolling onto your heel. Seek out help from a running coach if you need any guidance on technique.

Blackmores The articles produced by Blackmores are authored by a dedicated team of expert writers who tailor their content to address topics that resonate with our community's interests.

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