What do you wear on your feet when you run? Shoes of course! But do you really need shoes? The vast majority of people would say, “Yes, of course!” In Winnipeg half the year is winter running on snow and ice would not be very fun. But there are those who are ditching their shoes all together and training barefoot or in minimalist shoes (. The main reason for training barefoot, by barefoot runners, is often because it helped the person with their plantafasciitis, achille’s tendonitis, knee pain, ITB pain, hip pain, or lower back pain.
Proponents for barefoot running indicate that our feet are meant to respond to the surfaces that they encounter and this form of running results in less force on the body. Conventional shoes allow for cushioning and protection from the ground and weakens the muscles in the feet. Running barefoot strengthens the foot.
The skeptic in me started to question. Is there really a difference when running with or without shoes? Do injuries occur less often while training barefoot?
- Those who run without shoes tend to land on their forefoot versus their heel (with shoes).
- Barefoot runners have shorter stride lengths
- Barefoot running has an increase in stride frequency.
- Vertical ground reaction forces are lower in barefoot runners
When it comes to injuries there doesn’t appear to be any research that shows an actual reduction in injury rate. There was one interesting article that found a reduction in pain in those with chronic anterior compartment syndrome. The two individuals in this study showed improvements with training barefoot and performing rehab exercises intended to prepare them for barefoot running. All other reports were more anecdotal evidence. I also saw a case report of a person who developed a metatarsal stress fracture as a result of running barefoot (abstract only).
There appears to be some logic to the argument of running barefoot. The resolution of symptoms in runners’ injuries may be a result of changes in running mechanics thus placing less stress on the offended tissues. The shoes that these runners were wearing, though intended to help, may actually be causing the problem. Weakening of the foot musculature may be the result of many of the foot, ankle, knee, hip or back ailments that runners experience. Therefore, at this point in time, I recommend some barefoot training inserted into a running program. This will give the muscles of the feet an opportunity to train and strengthen.
To prepare yourself for barefoot running, start with walking around your house barefoot. Try walking as if you are sneaking across a floor that squeaks; “tip toe across the floor”. Progress to light jogging on grass for short distances. Increase your volume and speed as you see fit. You can also work on skipping and making sure to land on the forefoot; both one leg and two leg skipping. You may also want to consider strengthening up the feet musculature with towel crunch exercises and stretching your calf muscles more frequently.
- Running Barefoot or in Minimalist Shoes: Evidence or Conjecture? – great article providing information on preparing for barefoot running. If you need help finding it just email me.
- Running Barefoot or in Minimalist Shoes: Evidence or Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners
- Effects of forefoot running on chronic exertional compartment syndrome: a case series.
- The rise of barefoot running