The craze has come and gone but there’s still errs about the running community that suggests maybe barefoot running is the way to go. Well, today on this episode of Runner’s High, I am going to give you my opinion and what I think most runners should do on whether barefoot running is good for you or not.
As always, if you haven’t been with me here on the channel before, hit that subscribe button, stick around for more episodes of this show I call Runner’s High. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. And today we’re going to talk about barefoot running. -- 2005-2007-ish, if I remember right, Christopher McDougall released his book, Born to Run, and this coupled with the Vibram fivefingers, coming out, made the barefoot craze boom.
Now, we are well past that over a decade and a half, I guess now past that point, but there’s still plenty of people that want to start barefoot running and think it’s going to be the cure-all for them. There was an amount of time that I spent when I was fitting shoes for runners and people with medical conditions; they wanted to come in and get the barefoot shoes, get the, you know, zero drop shoes after they’ve been wearing something very, very clunky for their particular condition and feet.
Well, in many cases, it wasn’t the right shoe for them. But there are a few people it worked out for. And it is always our feeling like, hey, this is the thing that worked for them, maybe it’ll work for me. Well, that’s true, there are always going to be exceptions to the rule. So, I’m going to give you my opinion on where it plays a role that is barefoot running and if you should try it. I had to first give the caveat that it’s not for everyone, and that is to run barefoot all of the time.
I remember a particular teammate I had in high school who really got into the barefoot craze, because this was at that time, 2006 season I think it was. In any case, he was running around on pavement bare feet. And it was just -- I don’t think he ended up getting hurt. I think our coach made him put shoes back on. But it was a recipe for disaster, and that’s why our coach made him put his shoes back on.
The thing is that we are not born wearing no shoes and growing up that way. So, obviously, we’re born wearing no shoes. But I mean, we don’t spend our childhoods running around without shoes, going to the store without shoes, not wearing shoes all the time. There’s a certain amount of ligature and musculature in your feet that develop when you grow up that way like the subjects of Christopher McDougall’s book do, the
They grow up in huaraches, I’m sure I’m butchering both their name and the name of the sandals. But they grew up in sandals and their feet are going to develop in a different way than us who grew up in basically athletic shoes. So, there’s a certain amount of time and adjustment it takes and it is years, not months, typically, that it takes for somebody to move to barefoot only running. Does that mean that you’re going to be faster? Probably not.
So, generally speaking, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. If you’re running and there’s no problem with how you’re running, don’t try to fix it. This is something I did my senior year and I wish I had this advice then or knew myself and could listen to myself. In any case, I kind of ran a little odd but it worked for me. I had a little odd biomechanics and I was convinced, okay, the people in the front of the pack are forefoot striking, and I’m simply not doing that enough.
Well, I tried to fix my own biomechanics by doing more barefoot running, by running in more minimal shoes, all those kinds of things, and I ended up with a stress fracture because I was doing all this weird shit. And I cost myself basically two seasons two, to three seasons of the year because of this. I actually -- it was a pre-stress fracture, it took much longer to heal than an actual stress fracture. And I didn’t have the personal guidance I needed to do the small tweaks I needed to improve my running form.
Now I have since improved it, but that was under the guidance of former pro triathlete, Barb Lindquist at her running camps or triathlon camps, really. But under the tutelage of somebody who actually knows what they’re doing, and take you through the drills that you need to go through. So, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t use barefoot running in your routine to help your in-shoe running be better. What I would suggest and this is something that we did in college as well and I do now when I have the opportunity is if you have a nice surface like say the infield of a football field or the inside of a track that has nice grass or turf of some kind, run on that after you’re done.
So, this is similar to the strategy that I talked to Jason Fitzgerald about on the Smart Athlete Podcast, also here on this channel. So, hit that subscribe button. When I talked to Jason, he’s a big proponent of doing strength work to prevent injuries. But along with that, changing your shoes out for different runs and different kinds of shoes. Well, going along with that, you can spend some time barefoot to prevent injuries as well. This doesn’t mean all of the time you spend is barefoot, but maybe 5-10 minutes after you’re done with your run. So, what you’re going to do here is change the firing pattern, change the exact amount of muscles and types of firing that your muscles are doing so that you’re trying to prevent injuries.
Because most of the injuries we sustain as runners are from repetition, they’re overuse injuries. We’re doing the exact same thing too many times. And that’s why Jason suggests changing your shoes out for different runs so that you are moving just slightly differently between runs. The other thing that this short period of time being barefoot does is it increases your muscle memory for good biomechanics. So, when you take your shoes off, generally speaking, most people will do this naturally, you’ll run with a more forefoot, midfoot kind of strike. And getting this into your muscle memory will translate over so that you do it in your shoes as well.
Now, I try to make a good point that it doesn’t matter so much whether you forefoot, midfoot, or heel strike as that your feet are planted underneath of you. So, if you take a look at this, this is from the Fourth of July race that I did recently. Here’s my finish. You can see my biomechanics, if we slow it down, you can see I strike underneath me. Now there is a slight touch down beforehand. This is natural when you have this kind of forefoot, midfoot strike, you touch down slightly beforehand.
But when the plant happens, when all of your weight is down, that’s underneath your body. And that’s the big point of “proper” running form is that you’re not braking, which is where heel striking often comes into play. But you’re allowing all of your forward momentum to continue by planting underneath your body and then pushing off out the back.
The one exception to my general rule of spend a little bit of time but not a lot of time barefoot running is if you’re having chronic injuries with your shoes and you’re having all kinds of problems, and you just want to try something else, give it a go. That being said, don’t use the 10% rule for mileage. Go slower than that. Because remember, in the beginning of the video I mentioned, it takes time for that musculature and that ligature in your feet to develop and become stronger. If you try to build the same amount of miles without shoes that you did in shoes, you’re likely to end up injured.
Now, you should also try to find softer surfaces. I’m a big proponent and I’ve said this for years, we have all these surfaces that aren’t natural; asphalt, cement, concrete, those kinds of things that we run on. By running in shoes, we’re more likely to simulate dirt, softer grass, like that kind of environment than if we’re on concrete without anything. So, shoes are the way we simulate a more natural footfall on softer surfaces. So, if you’re going to go barefoot, try to find those softer surfaces: clean fields, in-fields. Sometimes you can do the track but your feet are probably going to feel pretty burned up by the end of it because of the texture of the track.
In any case, let me know what your experience with barefoot running; has it helped you, has it hurt you, how have you built mileage? If we can collect enough data from enough people, that will hopefully help everyone down in the comment section. So, please leave your experience down below. I’d love to hear from you. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.