It’s a Barefoot Revolution

Posted: September 5, 2011 in Rebel Running, Training
Tags: , , , ,

Summer vacations in Panama as a child are the origins of my barefoot experience. I never thought twice about walking, playing soccer, or playing basketball barefoot on all terrains – it was just a part of the indigenous culture. Little did I know that the time spent playing barefoot was setting me up for an injury-free running career.

Shoeless supporters claim that wearing running sneakers actually weakens our tendons, ligaments, arches, and the small muscles in our feet. The argument is that relying on the cushioning and arch support results in poor foot biomechanics – your body’s proprioceptive system loses a lot of its input. On the other hand, others say that wearing the right shoes can actually correct biomechanical issues and reduces the risk of injury. Maybe our feet aren’t literally ready to hit the ground running.

Unfortunately there’s not enough research or evidence to prove or disprove either theory. But there are some pros and cons to barefoot running you should probably be aware of.

First, the CONS:

  • Well, if you’ve been running in sneakers for some time with no issues, why change? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • Beware of overwork injuries, by simply getting out and running barefoot every day. Many of our feet just aren’t accustomed to it and we could face plantar pain (even plantar fasciitis), Achilles tendinitis, or calf strains.
  • BLISTERS. Enough said.

Now onto the PROS…

  • Learn to land on your forefoot rather than landing on your heel. Heel striking is essentially putting on the brakes with every stride you take. Sneakers with heavy heels often lead to heel striking.
  • You may strengthen your muscles and develop a more natural gait for your body. Landing on your forefoot will allow your arches to act as natural shock absorbers.
  • You might also improve your balance, proprioception, and feel more grounded. Running barefoot activates the smaller muscles in your feet, ankles, and hips which can help with your coordination.

For me, mixing barefoot running and modern sneaker running works best. After all, I don’t plan to run barefoot November through March. But I think it would be worthwhile for anyone to join the barefoot revolution. As with anything, take it slow. Walk barefoot first, do strides or shorter runs on sand/grass, before moving onto more unforgiving terrain. Build up your durable feet.

Going completely barefoot not for you? Maybe try out one of the minimalist shoes below. As you can expect from the name, these shoes provide as little support as possible, while still adding a comfort level to the barefoot experience. There are a few leading minimalist brands. I strongly suggest the Vibram Fivefingers as they fit like a glove for your feet. The quality of these is superior than that of its competitors, though fitting your 4th and 5th toes in can be a bother on occasion. The Fila Skeletoes attempts to quell this 4th and 5th toe issue by combining the two toes into one slot, which makes it easier to slip on and off. Unfortunately there have been complaints of durability, as some have been falling apart after moderate use. If you’re ready to take the first step, I say go FiveFingers.

Become a part of the revolution!

-Rebel Dels

  1. Liz B. says:

    I’ve been interested in barefoot running but haven’t had a chance to actually give it a try yet. Although those minimalist shoes don’t work for me. I have really long toes, and my second and third toe are longer than my big toe. They don’t really make shoes that accommodate all types of feet.

    • rebelrunner says:

      Unfortunately the weather timing isn’t right, but I’d even suggest transitioning to pure barefoot running on occasion. Gradually of course. Grass, dirt and other softer surfaces first

  2. I was pressured by my boyfriend to try vibram shoes. Now I can’t imagine running in anything else! I was an orthopedic nightmare from the waist down and had never run without pain, and now I am training for marathon with no joint issues. 🙂

  3. Maureen says:

    Another con to barefoot running: glass and other sharp debris. That’s always what stops me from going barefoot–you just never know what’s going to be in between the ground and your foot.

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