What is Barefoot Running?
Simply, barefoot running is all about running in bare feet as our ancestors did. In today’s world, going barefoot is not always possible, so running in ‘minimalist’ shoes is the next best thing: Shoes that have minimal cushioning, little to no arch support, thin, flexible soles to allow your feet to move naturally.
In the past, your doctor, physio, or podiatrist may have suggested you get shoes with more support for your arches, your heel, or more cushioning for a more comfortable running experience, but studies have shown that these kind of shoes actually cause our foot muscles to become ‘lazy’ and not work in the way they are physically intended to.
Transition is Key
Running barefoot can feel amazing. If you’ve always ran in traditional heel-wedge trainers, trying on a pair of minimal shoes can feel amazing. But adopting a natural running style whilst trying to maintain your current running mileage can be risky, because you’re using different muscles in your feet and calves than you normally would.
The lower heel to toe drop you find on a minimalist running shoe allows the muscles and tendons in your feet to push, pull, flex, and grip, increasing foot strength and a more natural running cadence.
Choosing the Right Shoe
With the recent back-to-basics approach to running fuelled by studies that barefoot and natural running is less likely to result in injury, a whole host of minimal shoes have been developed. We are spoilt for choice.
It is important to bear in mind that running in minimal running shoes is like starting a new strength / fitness program. Overdoing it could result in injury, to take care and listen to your body.
An Example Program to get you started
The day after running, pay attention to how your body feels. You will be using muscles at different levels of intensity than before.
1st Day: 5 minutes at an easy pace either before or after your normal run in your normal shoes. Even if you feel great, don’t go longer.
2nd Day: Normal shoes, normal workout.
3rd Day: Start with a warm up in your normal shoes. Assess your body. If your calves are noticeably tighter and sore, then stick with a 5 minute run in your minimal shoes, or wait another day. If you feel good, then go for a 10 minute run in your minimal shoes. IF you need to run further after that 10 minutes, switch back to your normal shoes.
4th and 5th Days: Normal shoes, normal workout.
Over the next few weeks work up to 15 minutes twice a week. 15 minute runs in minimal shoes a couple of times a week is enough training stimulus to begin to strengthen the muscles in your lower leg and foot.
Your Running Gait
Adopting an ideal running gait is essential for maximum performance and injury prevention. You should dedicate a small proportion of your training to work on your running form. Metronomes are a great place to start. You need to be hitting around 180 steps per minute (3 steps per second), which means reducing your stride length to shorter, lighter steps.