There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be.
- George Sheehan

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Getting Started with Barefoot Running

I do a lot of talking on this blog, but to put it simply, here are something to keep in mind if you're considering trying barefoot running:

1.  Start out barefoot.  That terms gets used a lot with all the minimalist shoe options out there claiming to be "barefoot running shoes."  Don't even bother with them.  Take off your shoes and get ready to go.

2.  START SLOW!  Let your skin be your guide.  Meaning, when you go out running barefoot, and your skin starts to feel irritated, then you're done.  By only doing as much as your skin allows you to do comfortably, you won't stress the inner structure of your foot and do actual damage.  Your skin and foot pad will gradually increase in their ability to handle the workload, as will the muscles, bones, and soft tissue in your feet.  That's why starting off in shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers can be so dangerous - you can't feel the ground, and therefore can't feel when you've done too much and injured yourself.

3.  Run on hard surfaces.  Yes, the non-barefoot running "experts" claim that barefoot running should only be done on grass.  But smooth concrete is a barefoot runner's best friend.  Harder surfaces give the best feedback, therefore your form will be easier to correct.  Grass also hides hidden dangers that you could easily see and avoid on concrete.

4.  Lift your feet!  Runners used to conventional shoes and heel striking might be under the impression that you have to push off with your toes.  Instead, think about lifting your feet off the ground and allow momentum to carry you forward.  If you push off your toes barefoot, you will stress your feet and tear up your skin.  If you push off in minimalist footwear, you risk injury.  Lifting the feet is key.

5.  Shorten your stride, increase your cadence.  Quicker, shorter steps help the foot land under the body's center of gravity, rather than out in front of the body and on the heel.  A midfoot/forefoot landing under the body greatly reduces the impact forces on the body.  Think of your body coming to a screeching halt every time you heel strike and the impact forces that would cause.  With a shorter stride also comes higher cadence.  A recommended rate is 180 bpm.

6.  Allow your heel to "kiss" the ground.  Some people new to barefoot or minimalist running (especially in the Vibram FiveFinger community) think that you have to "run on your toes."  NO!!  The landing should be under your body on the forefoot or midfoot, but the heel should briefly touch the ground afterward.  Midfoot first, heel second.  When that heel touches the ground, the arch flattens out and absorbs a great deal of the shock.  If you ran only on your toes, your calves and Achilles would take that beating, and that leads to some very painful injuries.

Example and explanation of barefoot running, by Michael Sandler of

Some initial advice and drills:

Check out Barefoot Running University, Barefoot Runners' Society, and for great resources on getting started with barefoot and minimalist running.

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