Aerobic exercise is a key component to our overall well being. One great way to perform aerobic exercise is to run.
Running is an inexpensive sport and you can do it anywhere without any equipment. All you need is your feet and a place you want to go.
However, there is one problem, studies suggest that 30% of the runners are injured every year and many people find it hard to run consistently with all the niggling injuries.
Running With Bare Feet
In one of my marathon training, I ran across Singapore.
It was a fun journey (including asking a stranger for direction and he end up telling me to take public transport to my destination) exploring places and sights in Singapore that I never discovered before.
On the other side, after my run, I injured myself and I was down with plantar fasciitis (inflammation of a thick tissue in the bottom of the foot).
I also couldn’t complete a marathon without injuring my feet or knees in the process. This frustrates me and I went on a desperate search for an answer.
I stumbled upon a book titled Born To Run, written by Chris McDougall. It was in the book that I found out about running with bare feet or minimalist running.
Why Run With Bare Feet?
First of all, why run?
1) Running is a great aerobic exercise
2) We are one of the best endurance species in the world – Humans are able to outrun horses in endurance races. Look at this example.
3) Running is an excellent outlet to relieve stress and attain a sane mind.
But why run with your bare feet?
After reading Born To Run, I went on to research more on bare foot running/minimalist running. I found a research done by Dr Lieberman, which shows some interesting findings on biomechanics of running, foot strike, and how shoes are inhibiting our natural way to run.
Here are 3 reasons why to run with bare feet.
1st Reason – Our Shoes Make Our Feet Weak
If you suffer from running injuries even though you are pouring money into orthotics and the latest running shoes, the answer for you may be to stop wasting your money and embrace minimalist running or run with your bare feet.
Think of your shoes as a cast. If you cast your arm or your leg for a long period of time, your muscles tend to go through atrophy process and you end up with smaller and weaker muscles. The same thing goes for wearing shoes. You cast your feet and you end up with weaker feet.
Modern shoes come with thick cushions and support that promises to protect your feet from injuries but it may in fact cause more injuries instead.
2nd Reason – Problem With Heel Striking And How To Prevent Running Injuries
If you are reading this article and not wearing any shoes, try this exercise out yourself.
Go run 1 lap around your house with your bare feet.
Did you notice that you land near your forefoot instead of landing on your heels?
When we run with our shoes, the thick cushion and support make it possible for us to heel strike (land on heel first). However, heel striking is not really possible when you are not wearing any shoes because it is simply too painful to do so.
Even when we jump, we land on our forefoot instead of our heels because landing on our heels send a huge impact to our body and increase the possibility of getting injuries. Landing on our forefoot will help to absorb of the landing impact. Landing on your forefoot is just a natural reaction of your body to absorb impact.
If you land with a heavy impact frequently, you increase the likelihood of injury.
3rd Reason – You Can Wear A Weird Looking Shoes
I felt great when I first started running in minimalist footwear (Vibram Five Fingers Bikila LS Model).
Vibram Five Fingers is like a glove-like footwear with a piece of rubber between your sole and the ground to act as a protection. It looks funny and I never thought that I would be able to wear it out without being laughed at.
But once I did, I can’t imagine running without my pair of Vibram anymore.
My five finger shoe still looks weird to many people and sometimes it attract some weird stares. But it also gives me the best running experience ever and I would choose this experience rather than shelving my Vibram just because of some weird stare from others.
As I had said earlier, Vibram only have a thin piece of rubber between your foot and the ground. This thin piece of rubber protects your feet and still allows your feet to feel the ground surface.
You can feel the difference when you step on the grass, asphalt, sand and any other surfaces that you encounter. Ditching the thick cushioned shoes mean that you unleash more than 7000 nerve endings found in your foot (they are crying while you are wearing thick cushioned shoes).
These 7000 over nerves help to provide information on the ground to your body so that your body will be able to adjust your foot strike and landing regardless on any ground surface.
How To Start Running Injury Free
Note: First of all, I have to emphasize on this. I started exploring more about barefoot running and minimalist running because I tend to get injuries after running for long period of time. If you do not sustain any injuries or chronic pain while running, there isn’t much reason to change your running style unless you want to explore more about minimalist running or bare foot running style. But if you do have chronic pain or suffer injuries due to running, why not shed the shoes and try out barefoot running or don some minimalist footwear to see if it works for you.
1st Step: Shed The Shoes And Strengthen The Feet
If you run in regular shoes for a prolonged period of time, your lower feet and foot muscles are weak due to the extra support and cushioning that your regular shoes provide.
The first thing that you need to do is to strengthen the feet. Don’t fail to do this step and jump straight into running with your bare feet or minimalist footwear.
Rushing into barefoot/minimalist running without the proper preparation can lead to injuries.
You can check out the link below for exercises that you can do.
You can also start walking bare foot or with a pair of minimalist footwear to get a feel of the different surfaces.
If you would like to run with a pair of minimalist shoes, I highly recommend Vibram’s Bikila LS model (which is the one I use too).
2nd Step: Start Running
Choose a hard surface preferably with no pebbles or branches that can hurt your feet. A basketball court will be a great place for you to start. You can choose to run with your bare feet or wear a pair of minimalist footwear.
Choosing a hard surface helps to improve your running form. We tend to land more heavily when we wear our shoes due to the false perception of “softness” in the ground. This false perception is generated due to the thick cushion in the shoes.
Running with your bare feet or in minimalist footwear will help you get more feedback from the ground. This in turn helps you to land lightly on your feet.
One thing to take note is to be aware of your foot strike. Are you heel striking or are you striking with your forefoot. You should aim to strike the ground with your forefoot. Check out the video below.
Note: Run just for a short period of time (5 to 10 minutes) at the start. Too much too soon can cause unwanted injuries.
3rd Step: Progress Slowly
When I first started running in my Vibram, I almost cried like a little girl due to the stress and pain that my calves are experiencing.
So if you are just starting out on running with bare feet or in minimalist footwear, remember this – START SLOW.
If you decide that you are ready to run a longer distance, go ahead but limit your distance increment to 5 to 10 percent.
I made the mistake of progressing too fast by increasing my mileage when I’m not ready (running bare foot or in minimalist footwear really feels too good to stop) and end up getting injured.
Do take note to stop immediately when you feel any pain. Running with pain doesn’t mean it will do your body any good and it can cause injuries.
4th Step: Keep Working On Your Form
Here are factors that you need to take note on your posture.
1. Land on your forefoot instead of your heels.
You need to work on correcting your foot strike at first but subsequently it will come naturally to you.
You should aim for forefoot or midfoot strike but do take note that if your forefoot strike is too much towards your toes (kinda like you are tip toeing), your calves will end up really sore.
Refer to the videos examples in the Reference Section to find out how to do the proper foot strike.
Tip: Try running on the spot. It is impossible to heel strike while running on the spot.
2. Upright posture
Keep your body upright with your legs and knees under your hips. You should also look good and balanced instead of plodding and huffing.
3. Quicken your cadence with short strides
Running with bare feet will prevent you from over striding and a quicker cadence (foot turnover rate) will ensure that you make full use of the elasticity of your body to absorb and recoil energy.
4. Land lightly and Run Quietly and Be Aware of Your Surroundings
I used to run and listen to audiobooks at the same time but I stopped doing it after I started running with bare feet or in my Vibram.
Listening to music or audiobooks mean that I can’t focus on my surroundings, my body, my posture and breathing.
I find that when I run while being in the present is much more enjoyable than listening to music or audiobooks. Try running without listening to your MP3 player and see how it works for you. Listen to your body, focus on your posture and form and be aware of your surroundings.
Another thing to take note is to land lightly and run quietly.
Sometimes people freak out as I run pass them, as they are caught by surprise and they can’t hear any footstep coming from behind. Not that I want to do this, but this is just the result of running with bare feet or in minimalist shoes.
Minimalist running has help me to get rid of my plantar fasciitis and it also helps me to be more in tune with my senses. I also enjoy running in a zen like state and running is now a great way for me to exercise and also to balance myself. I have to say that running with bare feet and minimalist footwear has helped me in my case and I would recommend it to others.
If you want to give bare foot running or minimalist running a try, go ahead and do it. Do tell me about how it fares for you. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below and I will try my best to answer them.
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- Recommended Vibram Five Fingers – Bikila LS Model
- Recommended reading – Born To Run by Christopher McDougall
- Start running bare foot – Article by Barefoot Ted
- Video by Barefoot Professor: Dr Lieberman
- Harvard University Skeletal Biology Lab – Barefoot Study – Interesting read
- A cool video on barefoot trail running