Do you suffer from joint pain, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis or cramping? Perhaps, you just want to see improvements in your running? Maybe your “medical” doctor has told you that you need to quit running all together. Barefoot/minimalist shoes promise to correct poor running technique which is to blame for many common ailments that runners face.
Barefoot in Action
The barefoot movement has been propelled by some of the top long distance runners in the world. Bruce Tulloh, Herbert “Herb” James Elliot, Zola Pieterse, and many more have trained and even competed absolutely barefoot. I should also mention my favorite people, The Tarahumara people of northern Mexico. The Tarahumara use the toe strike method of running, which is natural for barefoot running. Often, the men kick wooden balls as they run in “foot throwing”, or rarajipari competitions. The foot throwing races are relays where the balls are kicked by the runners and relayed to the next runner while teammates run ahead to the next relay point. These races can last anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days without a break. That’s a long time to be running barefoot! Recently, an Australian couple set out on their “Running Raw Around Australia” campaign. The couple hopes to inspire and motivate conscious lifestyle choices, promote kindness and compassion for all living beings, and raise environmental awareness for a sustainable future. In 2013, these raw vegan athletes will run 365 marathons in 365 days. Here’s the kicker: they’re doing it all barefoot!
The human body was built to run. Our legs and feet were designed to absorb the shock of landing and turn that energy into forward motion by way of our natural arch. Most runners today have been conditioned to wearing big clunkers like the Nike XL5000s (Probably not an actual shoe). Because of the added absorption from the sole of the shoe, their legs are no longer doing the work. Their gate has been thrown off, legs weakened, and are now landing predominately on their heels. The foot of a barefoot runner lands with a more springy step on the middle, or on the ball of the foot. The duration of the strike is shorter and the step rate is higher. Studies have shown that a higher pre-activation of the plantar flexor muscles are present when running barefoot. Forefoot strike, shorter step duration, higher rate and higher muscle pre-activation are techniques to reduce stress of repetitive high chocks.
So you’ve decided that you want to give barefoot a try? I recommend that any runner who is wanting to go barefoot, give a minimalist shoe a try first. You should transition slowly back into the natural rhythm of things. New Balance, Merrell, Mizuno, and Adidas have many good options for beginners. Click here for a review of some of the top shoes. Many vendors of minimalist or barefoot shoes will “strongly” suggest that you work your way into your new shoes. You should not attempt to do your long runs in them right away. In fact, you should probably only be doing about 20 – 30% of your running with them at first. Give your body time to adjust. You spent many years training your legs to be in the condition that they are in now. Don’t expect them to work out all the kinks over night. It can take up to 6 months to completely transition your legs and feet to work with your new shoes, so be patient.
Barefoot shoes are not a fashion statement. They are meant to be used as corrective tools to minimize injuries. Aside from the health benefits, barefoot shoes give you a sense of freedom. They allow you to feel every step of your run. Once I slipped into my Vibrams, I realized the connection with Earth that I had been missing. For me, running is a form of meditation. It is a place where time stands still and I feel completely connected with nature. Nothing matters except for that next step. Barefooting elevates this feeling, allowing you to attain maximum “chi.”
Here’s are the shoes I used for transitioning, in chronological order:
|New Balance 730|
Used these for approximately 6 months. One injury at about 2 weeks in.
|Merrell Road Glove|
|VFF Bikila LS|
Completed two half-marathons in the Merrells. These are currently my alternate shoes. No injuries.
These are the ultimate barefoot shoe!
The Vibram Five Finger Bikila LS. I’ve been using these since March, 2013 and refuse to wear anything else. No injuries to report. I have written an extensive review that can be found here. I used these shoes in the New River Marathon.
What shoes are you currently using? Do you have some favorites? Let me know in the comment area below. Happy Running!
If you’re ready to experience a true barefoot shoe, check out my GladSoles Running Sandals Review.