Centuries ago you’d be hard pressed to see any human being walking or running around with shoes on their feet. Did they know something we don’t know? Granted, they also had limited provisions back then, but they also lacked one more thing… injuries.  They couldn’t afford to be injured because nine times out of ten they had to chase down their food to survive. 

Fast forward to today and the barefoot “movement” has become one of the most popular trends in fitness. Footwear companies of all shapes and sizes now have their versions of barefoot or minimalist shoes—some of which have no more than 1 mm of padding under foot. 

For the purest, shoes of any kind are off limits and the ideal is to get your bare foot in contact with the ground while running. But the question you might be asking is, why would someone want to go to these extremes? 

Benefits of Barefoot Running

Although the verdict is not completely out, there are a few main benefits associated with barefoot running that stand out as motives for the unshod person. Uncommon to popular belief, you actually experience LESS impact to your joints! Less impact equals fewer injuries. You may wonder how this is possible, but it is, and here’s how. 

When you run barefoot, you have to change your mechanics. You don’t just rip off your shoes and socks and sprint down the freeway. The first thing you need to do is learn how to land with a forefoot strike instead of heel strike. Trust me; if you land on your heel while attempting to run barefoot, you WILL be taking a trip to the emergency room within three strides.  

A forefoot strike involves landing softly on the balls of your feet while your heel hovers just above the ground or lightly touches down with only the slightest of impact. In turn, your foot and ankle disperse the impact with a spring-like action that spares all the joints through your entire kinetic chain from a massive amount of trauma.  

According to Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Biological Sciences at Harvard University, running with a heel strike is the equivalent of getting hit in the heel with a hammer two to three times the weight of your body. I’m no scientist, but that sounds like a heck of a lot of pressure!

Another noted benefit of running barefoot is this “thing” called earthing or grounding.  Well renowned cardiologist, Dr. Stephen Sinatra, claims that grounding is the optimal way to get yourself into homeostasis—a balance of the body’s internal processes. He also adds that in mere seconds, your body picks up electrons from the earth that make your blood less viscous and ultimately reduces the chances for cardiovascular disease.  As you can see, the rewards are both external and internal. 

Barefoot Running Technique  

Running barefoot is not a fast process. On average, it can take 12 to 18 months to go from shod to unshod. As mentioned above, the first step is to learn how to run with a forefoot strike with your regular shoes. 

Once you have that dialed in, move to a thinner- soled shoe. Skater shoes work really well in this case because they have hard-rubber, flat soles. Then work your way to a thinner and thinner sole until you get down to the 1 mm size. After that, it’s finally time for your bare feet to meet the earth. 

Always start off walking before running. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.  There are over 10,000 nerves in the bottom of your feet and you want them to adapt to the sensations underneath them gradually. 

The best approach is to run with minimalist shoes, then take them off at the end of your workout and walk for a short distance. Each time you run thereafter, increase the distance slightly.  

Once you feel comfortable, jog the short distance that you started with. Then slowly increase it every week until you get to a point where your shoes will no longer be needed. Only when you get to this point, you can start increasing your speed. 

Barefoot Running Tips 

Slow and steady definitely wins the race with barefoot running. Ego needs to be completely eliminated. You have to be willing to walk in a lot of spots, jog slowly and even stop at times to navigate your next series of moves.  

This is all part of the fun. Then before you know it, you will have created a sense of awareness in your mind and body, and a newfound connection to the earth that you didn’t know existed. 

To expedite your learning curve, be barefoot as much as you possibly can. This includes walking around the house, sleeping, driving, working and playing Frisbee in the grass. The more you expose your bare feet to the terrain below, the faster the muscles, bones and skin will remodel and recognize what’s going on.  

The take home message is, have fun, be safe and just smile at all the people who might give you weird looks when you come prancing by.  

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