First, there are a few things worth pointing out: This is not trying to be a comprehensive guide to barefoot running. We compiled these guidelines from our own experience and from several sources. Apply at your own risk.
Studies and personal experience from many individuals show that barefoot running can reduce strain injuries. However, the topic is still new. There is a mixed view in the running community and in scientific circles on whether running without shoes is better for you. There is no clear evidence to back one camp over the other. Therefore, pay attention to your own feelings and turn to a physician if necessary.
With barefoot running, good functioning of the nervous system of the foot soles is essential. If you suspect dysfunction, barefoot running can be harmful. Listening to your body is most important.
Similarly, some problems or injuries to the feet may be a barrier. If in doubt, seek medical advice immediately.
The Basics of Barefoot Running
Barefoot running is based on two things:
- Strike the ground in a controlled manner with the front or middle of the foot first. The heel will never hit first.
- Maintain a proper running position and short stride that supports the foot to hit the ground correctly.
Let’s first compare the heel striking, which most runners use when running on shoes, and the forefoot striking, which is the key to barefoot running.
Heel striking and resulting forces:
Compare this to the forefoot striking and the resulting forces:
As seen from the examples, in heel striking, the collision of the heel with the ground generates a significant impact transient, a nearly instantaneous, large force.
In fact, the heel striking will slow down the forward movement slightly as the foot comes to the ground in front of the body.
In the latter video, in forefoot striking, the collision of the forefoot with the ground generates a very minimal impact force with no impact transient. The movement is flexible and lightly forward. It causes less strain on the legs.
Starting to Run Barefoot
The best way to learn the basic technique of barefoot running is – surprise – running barefoot. And that means just barefoot, no shoes.
This will force you to run soft. Even a thin, barefoot shoe isolates “sharp” objects such as rocks, which can initially mislead a beginner.
The more strongly your soles are familiar with the running surface, the more natural elasticity you will add to your running.
So when starting out, it’s a good idea to take short experiments with your bare feet.
EartRunners have good points in their article on how to start running barefoot, like run on a soft surface, keep your runs short, and do other activities to improve your strength.
Start with 10% Rule
It’s a good idea to start barefoot running with a 10% rule: run barefoot / with barefoot running shoes only 10% of your regular workout.
If you normally do 5 miles of jogging, for the first couple of weeks you would run only 0.5 miles with barefoot shoes. You can then increase the running rate by about 10% weekly.
Mix running surfaces
It’s good to try different surfaces when getting started – don’t practice with just one kind.
The maximum test for the softness of your running style is whether you can run barefoot on a dirt path. At first, the soles of the feet get hit too hard, but you quickly learn to use your thighs to soften your step.
However, of all surfaces, asphalt is excellent for training because of its smoothness.
You can search for the right technique without the unevenness of the terrain distracting you.
You will also be able to keep your head straight without glancing too much at the ground.
Because your goal is specifically to look for a soft running style with minimal impact, you should not shy away from hard surfaces.
Just remember to listen carefully to the feelings of your feet and stop in time if you notice any problems.
The most important barefoot instruction is: avoid pain!
Pain tells you something is wrong.
Pain while running can be a sign of a technical problem or overload.
So always try to vary the technique and see if you can get rid of the pain. The right running technique should not happen.
In case of overload, rest!
More on topic: 7 Reasons To Run Barefoot.