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Barefoot Running: Is it for you?

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barefoot running

Have you seen people running around in those funny looking toe shoes? There’s a new trend in running catching on quickly, and is often referred to as the Barefoot Running Movement. It is easy to first be skeptical – don’t we need cushion to protect us from injuries? In 1960, Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila, the greatest Olympic marathoner of all time, won the first of his consecutive gold medals sans shoes in a world record 2:15:17. When you run barefoot, your body engages your vision, your brain, the soles of your feet, and all of the muscles, bones, tendons and supporting structures of your feet and legs.

Physical Therapists can help runners analyze both walking and running gait patterns with a particular focus on proper footwear, orthotics and the various types of running shoes available to the masses. Most people spend years in supportive footwear, which can cause weakness and fragile feet and ankles. This is why the transition to barefoot running has to be slow, deliberate and planned. It is best to seek professional help from a physical therapist or podiatrist when transitioning to barefoot running as they can address the muscles that may have become weak over the years, and help you strengthen these problem areas to decrease the risk of injury when transitioning to a new running style. It is also advisable to change your running technique first before attempting to change your footwear.

Running Pattern Changes for Barefoot Running

In order to run barefoot properly, your running pattern must change. Traditionally, the heel cushion in running shoes encourages you to hit the ground with your heel first (heel strike). However, people who hit the ground with the heel first tend to have higher rates of injuries such as stress fractures, patellofemoral pain syndrome (anterior knee pain), plantar fasciitis, shin splints, hip pain, and back pain. In barefoot running, the ball of the foot hits the ground first. This allows the large muscles of the calf to absorb impact forces (such as ground reaction force). With barefoot running, the knee is also bent more at initial impact when compared to traditional running. This allows the hamstrings and quads (quadriceps femoris) to contract without compressing the knee joint as much as with traditional running. As a result, step frequency increases, but more efficiently since oxygen consumption decreases when using a barefoot running technique.

Some of the benefits of running barefoot include fewer injuries, due to “natural running” and faster speed, due to increased running economy, from zero weight on your feet. In addition, your weight & speed will influence what sole, or lack thereof, works best for you. Discover what works best for your body in order to make the transition to barefoot running safe and successful.