By now, most people have heard of the barefoot running movement. You probably even know some wacko at your office whose got a pair of “the feet gloves” or better yet, those Born to Run style huaraches. Maybe you’re even thinking of trying it for yourself. Here are some things to consider before you jump on the barefoot bandwagon.
To Shoe or Not to Shoe
Barefoot running is appealing not only because it taps into our primal caveman instincts, but more importantly, because it encourages forefoot running, which is generally considered the safest, most efficient running technique. Forefoot running lessens joint impact and facilitates a higher stride frequency, which is often correlated with faster race times.
Will Barefoot Running Make You Faster?
Maybe, but probably not. However, barefoot running will help you learn how to run with less impact, which will reduce the likelihood of pain and injuries – at least in the long run (pun intended).
Transitioning to Forefoot Running
While running barefoot or with minimal footwear is a great way to learn the forefoot technique, it isn’t absolutely necessary. Even though I like to run in my Xero Shoes, you can learn to run on your forefoot in any comfortable sneaker (I still like to run in Vans, too).
When making the transition to forefoot running, it is common to experience severe soreness in your calves. This doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong. It just means you’re using muscles that you aren’t used to using. In time, those muscles will become stronger and the soreness following a run will subside.The Technique
Other than the obvious, there are a few key differences between the forefoot running technique and the heel-to-toe technique.
First, in forefoot running, your foot lands right under your hips instead of in front of your center of gravity. This does not mean that you’re up on the tips of your toes the whole time, but rather that your foot will land almost totally flat, with the heel just barely making contact with the ground. Maintaining good posture while bending your knees and leaning forward from your ankles will help facilitate this.Forefoot running technique is more about using your hamstrings and glutes to kick out behind you, as opposed to using your quads to reach out in front. Don’t think about lifting your knees, instead just think about picking your foot up off the ground. The rest should take care of itself.
Another difference with barefoot running technique is that you aim to keep your foot in contact with the ground as briefly as possible. Rather than leaving your foot down there while you roll from heel to toe, in forefoot running, you strike down quickly and move into the next stride immediately.
Whether you choose to wear shoes or not, relax, focus on proper posture and listen to your body to avoid pain. Ease in slowly and gradually, allowing yourself time to adapt.