Barefoot running has become an increasingly hot topic in the popular media, and biomechanics researchers including a team led by William L. Jungers, PhD, claim that the idea has merit (Jungers WL. Biomechanics: Barefoot running strikes back. Nature. January 28, 2010. 433.). Rates of injury, torque on joints, and ground-reaction forces all rise for runners who wear running shoes, they say, and proprioception improves for those who take them off. Proponents say that relearning how to run barefoot (most people do it automatically as children) is a relatively simple, if slow, process, and that doing it properly can protect novices from the hazards.
Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee, authors of the upcoming book, Barefoot Running, and owners of what they call the largest barefoot-running school in the United States, offer the following ten tips for learning how to run barefoot in the safest way (from runbare.com):
- Start slowly-really slowly. Sandler and Lee strongly recommend a three-month learning process that begins with a single 100-yard run on a smooth, hard surface, such as concrete. Add approximately 100 yards every other day for the first month-especially if you’re already an experienced shod runner-and work up gradually, so that by the end of the third month, you can consider a run of six miles or so.
- Run with a toe-to-heel gait, stand tall, and keep your core muscles engaged. This rearranges your biomechanics so that your legs absorb impact shock, making landing on your bare soles painless.
- Never run barefoot more than two days in a row for the first month. The “rest day” allows your newly challenged bodily architecture-including your core muscles and lower-limb structures, to rebuild.
- Always watch what’s in front of your feet-you can avoid stepping on broken glass or sharp rocks if you’re constantly ready to step over or around them.
- Unless you have lower-limb neuropathy, start out running completely barefoot-even the soles on some of the popular “barefoot-like” shoes currently on the market block your sole’s proprioception and destabilizing the ankle. However, do carry minimalist shoes with you on your run, in case your feet tire.
- If you’re on a barefoot run and you think, “Maybe I should stop,” or “My feet hurt,” more than once, immediately put on your shoes and walk home. Never overwork your feet.
- Let your skin guide you. If it starts to feel sore or tender, it’s likely that your underlying tissues are also being overstressed. Stop running and give yourself a day of rest.
- Build up your connective tissue with toe scrunches and by picking up a golf ball with your feet after runs, but be sure you take a full day of rest.
- Build up your foot skin in 3D. Play barefoot in sand and on grass so that the skin of your arches is also being challenged.
- If you have peripheral neuropathy, only go barefoot in a highly controlled environment, such as a meticulously swept, well-lit indoor space. Walk instead of run, always keep your gaze on the area where you’ll be stepping so as to avoid hazards, and vigilantly examine your feet after any barefoot experiences.
For more information about barefoot running and its potential to counteract or prevent foot injuries, see “Barefoot Running: Trend or Timeless Wisdom?” coming in the April issue of The O&P EDGE.