Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Post By: Grayne Wetzky

How to run barefoot

It's a reoccurring theme in human history that we tend to think we can improve on anything in nature. Sometimes it is true, but other times it is definitely wrong. Some horrid examples are formula to replace breast milk or freeze dried mashed potatoes. The same kind of thinking is the reason why people think wearing shoes is better than going barefoot.

Conventional wisdom says that shoes protect our feet from sharp rocks, hot asphalt and dirt. The problem is that our feet don't really need to be protected against there things. By wearing shoes we are actually weakening our feet and learning how to walk and run wrong.

There are many health benefits to kicking of your shoes, but going barefoot over night can lead to problems of it's own. For lifelong shoe wearers it's important to relearn how to use the feet properly.

 The unnatural cushioning of the feet that modern shoes provide ruins the way people move. Without the sensory feedback from the soles of the feet we lose our natural tendency to walk and run properly.

With thick padding under the feet we tend to lengthen our stride. A longer stride means the foot lands in front of the body when walking and running. When the foot lands out in front, the natural point of impact is the heel. The heel is not designed to absorb the weight of the whole body when running. When you land on you heel the impact is transferred up to your knees which causes much needles swear and tear on that joint. People who do a lot of running and use the typical long stride technique almost always have knee problems.

If you want to check for yourself how unnatural the typical running style is, take of your shoes and socks and run a few yards. If you use the same stride as you do when using running shoes it feels completely wrong. I don't recommend doing this experiment on asphalt or a hard surface, but if you do you will feel how brutal the impact on the heel is.

I grew up walking and running barefoot all summer long. I still go barefoot as much as I can. As a result I naturally run and walk on the balls of my feet when I am barefoot. If you have never really been barefoot this is a skill you might have to learn from scratch.

The best way to learn how to use your feet correctly is to walk barefoot as much as you can. Pay attention to how your feet feel when they hit the ground. The impact should be soft. There should be no awkward foot positioning or pain. Start of walking barefoot in grass or on softer surfaces. A good start can be to do all your yard work barefoot (maybe with the exception of using an edge trimmer or other foot mauling machines).

The main reason why people use strides that are too long is because they want to move fast. When you are learning to walk barefoot, slow down. A slower pace will naturally shorten your stride and your feet and legs will naturally find the right stride for you. Walking in shoes weakens essential muscles and bones in the legs and feet. If you are just starting out with barefoot running or walking your legs will probably be very sore. Don't overdo it when you start out. Your feet and legs will adjust quickly if you consistently ditch the shoes.

After a few weeks of going barefoot you should be able to start running shoe-less. Starting to walk barefoot is relatively risk free. Most people will naturally fall into a correct walking technique. When you start running the ante is higher. Proper running technique is essential when running barefoot or your experience will be very painful.

The most important thing is to not land on the heel anymore. It can be difficult to unlearn a lifetime of incorrect running, but if you land on your heel when running barefoot your body will scream in protest. The proper way to run barefoot is to make sure the foot lands softly right under your body. Running barefoot feels very different from running in shoes. It's difficult to explain but when you run barefoot on hard surfaces it feels more like you are floating along than running. This is because you need to land softly and on the front of the foot.

The stride you use when running barefoot is much shorter than most people are used to. When running in shoes you probably feel every stride as a moderate impact. You can hear the soles of your shoes hitting the ground and you kick off the ground with your rear foot. You can not run like this when barefoot. Your feet will suffer unbearably after just a few minutes if you try it.

When you run barefoot the forward motion comes from your body leaning forward. Your feet are used to keep you from falling on your face. So instead of pushing off of your foot you should just lift it of the ground to move it forward. Land your stride directly under your body. If you shorten up the stride like this, you don't break your forward momentum. You don't need to slam your feet into the ground anymore, just gently place your foot under you to keep your body falling forward. When running properly the heel barely touches the ground at all.

The proper running technique can be difficult to understand just from a written article. The only way to understand the proper way of running is to go out and run barefoot. Start small and pay attention to how your body feels. When you use proper technique, running barefoot feels effortless and natural.

One of the hardest things to adjust to for many people is the increased number of strides. Since the strides are shorter your feet will hit the ground more often than you are used to. It can feel like you are tip-toeing and not using the full potential of your stride. I find that a great way to overcome this feeling is to go trail running. When you are running on an uneven natural surface a shorter quicker stride feels very natural.

Running barefoot takes some work before you get used to it, but if you are willing to put in the hours the benefits are numerous. Not only will you experience fewer injuries but you will likely also find running more enjoyable.

  1. I couldn't agree more. Not to mention the faster gain in leg muscles. Barefoot is the way to go.

  1. Anonymous

    Perhaps you meant to use the word 'heel' instead of 'heal' to refer to the padded, rounded extremity on the the hinder part of the foot.

  1. @ Anonymous Indeed I wish I had spelled heel correctly throughout the article. Thank you for pointing out this embarrassing, yet consistent, error.

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