Is Barefoot Running for Me? Guest Post by Jessica Hegg

This is a guest post from our friend Jessica Hegg from ViveHealth.com

Interested, but somewhat intimidated by the thought of barefoot running? Comical visions of Fred Flintstone powering his car with his barefeet come to mind, or Frodo Baggins and the image of the large, callused, furry feet of J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits. You may have heard of barefoot running from author Christopher McDougall who wrote the popular book Born to Run which focused a fascinating lens on the “reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons”. This tribe miraculously could run not 10, not 20, not 50, but hundreds of miles in the most rudimentary, flat sandals, and at times, completely barefoot.

No cushioning, no orthotics, no motion control, no ankle stabilization, nothing. How did they do it without tearing up their feet or spraining their ankles or tearing their plantar fascia tissue? Aren’t fancy running shoes a necessity to enhance running technique and performance and to prevent injury?

It’s the discovery of the most basic foundational principle of running technique and essentially the evolution of human bipedalism which encapsulates barefoot running. Shod running, or running with shoes, encourages a form of running where initial impact is made with a heel strike to the ground followed by pronation of the midfoot and forefoot then hitting the ground and distributing your weight.

Barefoot running flips this form on its head, engaging the forefoot first with initial impact on the lateral ball of the foot followed by the midfoot and heel striking the ground to distribute the rest of your weight. As this Harvard analysis reveals, barefoot running:

  • Strengthens the foot. With 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons in your feet, they are the powerhouse of your movement, energy, and strength. Barefoot running helps you discover muscles in your feet you didn’t even know you had, and strengthen them overtime for faster, stronger performance.

  • Is more efficient than shod running, requiring 5% less energy according to this 2014 study. How? Because a forefoot strike when running optimizes on the body’s foot and calf muscle to act like springs which store and release more energy than if you were to heel strike first like runners do when wearing shoes.

  • Feels freeing and good on the feet (after initial transition)

Worried about some of the challenges you may have heard about with starting barefoot running?

Getting started does require somewhat of a learning curve, but it is a release from fear that barefoot running is all about. The whole market of footwear when it comes to running is largely motivated by fear – fear of injury, fear of pain, fear of not being able to run as fast as you should. Barefoot running requires you to let go of this fear, which in turn unlocks stress relief and feelings of positivity. Challenges you might have in mind include:

Time: Transitioning from a heel strike to a forefoot strike takes time, training, and a strong will to hone the proper technique. The thing about shod running, however, is that it hurts like a dickens when you land on your heel barefoot. Your body is almost triggered to strike first with the forefoot after you start barefoot running because of this initial and unseemly pain.

The other thing about time is that you have to build up your barefoot running mileage slowly when you first begin, even starting by simply walking barefoot as much as possible. Aim for a quarter mile to a mile every other day in the beginning and then gradually increase around 10% distance each week.

Pain: Your feet are chock full of nerve endings, about 7,000 per foot, so in the beginning you will feel the ground beneath you in all its glory – sticks, rocks, cracked acorn shells, you name it. Overtime, with a growing awareness of your surroundings and the repeated pounding of the foot to terrain, the pain messages will dilute, calluses might develop as natural cushioning, and you will find that you can cover distance barefoot like your ancient ancestors once did.

That said, like with any sport or activity, improper form, bad posture, or weak technique might result in chronic pain in the knees, hips, ankles, etc. Never run through excruciating pain that should be evaluated by a medical professional. You will only hurt your chances of continuing barefoot running. Off the road or trail, your feet may benefit from aids like a bunion splint or hammer toe crest pad, which support certain bone deformities (bunions, hammer toes) and address arch issues that come from having to wear shoes (to work, etc).

Flexibility: Not only does barefoot running increase your stride length and the number of strides you can take when running, but it engages key muscle groups in the legs and feet that you may never have before. As your foot and leg act like springs when you strike first when running with your forefoot, you’re hamstring and calf muscles and adjacent tendons will act like powerhouses. Make sure to stretch them after runs when they are warm and pliable and even massage to break up scar tissue and stimulate blood flow to aid tissue repair.

Humans have been running for years with bare feet. As McDougall writes, “To date, the only people I’ve found who who refuse to consider the idea that running shoes are a bad idea are the people who sell them.” If you’re feeling the same way and ready to try barefoot running remember to start slow, lock down the forefoot technique, pay acute attention to your surroundings, and free yourself from fear and expectations.

Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Interested in all things related to living a healthy lifestyle she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.

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The Embarassing State Of Barefoot/Minimal Running

By Barefoot Dawsy

I’ve been running barefoot now for four years, and blogging about it for two. I admit that I started out, alongside many others, after reading the now famous book ‘Born To Run’.

At that time, the barefoot running resurgence was just starting out, amid criticism of the large shoe companies. The majority of this criticism was centred on the question of whether or not they were misleading the public as to the safety that their shoes provided.

There was an interesting study that came out of Newcastle University[1], in Australia, which basically stated that despite a huge and time-consuming search, there was no evidence that the pronation and motion control features of modern running shoes had any benefit at all.

This questioning of a hitherto nearly universally accepted truth was one of the fundamental drivers for the barefoot/minimal revolution, which saw the exponential rise of the minimal shoe, and the unprecedented uptake of barefoot/minimal running.

Here was our chance. There was a vacuum of useful, relevant data and proper studies, which was damning in its absence. The shoe companies were lying to us, and we were all being played for fools.

I, like many others, embraced the new style of running, and waited impatiently for the inevitable mountain of studies and evidence demonstrating the superiority of barefoot running.

It never came.

In fact, just recently a new study did come out[2], and it was woefully reminiscent of the Newcastle study. This one, however, tells the story of a lack of evidence that barefoot running has any benefits at all. It points to the few studies that exist, most (all?) of which are poorly crafted, and even unscientific.

Barefoot had a chance to become something more than a fad, and become the next big thing in running. Instead, its legacy is more overpriced shoes with questionable usefulness in injury prevention.

So, what do we do now? We can’t sit back and hope that somebody, somewhere manages to get the funding together to put together a clever, well-crafted study. Or hope that someone publishes one that proves conclusively, one way or the other, which style is better. 

What we can do is to take responsibility for our own testing and assessment of whichever style of shoe, or lack thereof that, we choose. We need to stop looking to major corporations to hand us the magic pill that will stop us getting injured. We need to take the time to learn how our own bodies want to move, and what style of running feels right, whether shod or unshod.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in running. Each of us has slightly different styles, preferences, pain thresholds, etc, so it’s on us as individuals to intelligently weigh up the options and make the best choice for ourselves.

What brought you to try barefoot running? Have you got any views on how the scientific community or running shoe industry are handling things? Let us know in the comments!


[1] C E Richards, P J Magin and R Callister. 2008. Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence-based?, Br J Sports Med 2009 43: 159-162 originally published online April 18, 2008 (doi:10.1136/bjsm.2008.046680)

[2] Hall JP, Barton C, Jones PR, Morrissey D., 2013. The biomechanical differences between barefoot and shod distance running: a systematic review and preliminary meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2013 Dec;43(12):1335-53. (doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0084-3)(Pubmed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23996137)

Micro-runs…A Better Way To Transition To Barefoot?

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Arguably the hardest part of transitioning from shod to barefoot running is not the discomfort, or form changes, or any of the usual worries that new runners have. No, the hardest part is keeping your mileage low and easing into it. It is so hard to keep to a low-mileage regime, since barefoot running just feels so good and right, and makes you want to keep going!

The trouble with overdoing it is that if your body’s not used to barefoot running, you can run into some trouble, and in some cases may even get injured. There are a lot of tips and tricks out there on how to ease into it gently, but we all know that the reality is most people will just get out there and run too far too soon. It’s human nature.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and having recently recovered from a trampoline-related stress fracture, I’ve had a unique opportunity to re-transition to barefoot running from scratch. After a bit of experimentation, I think I’ve come up with the ultimate solution to the problem.

I call them Micro-runs.

Micro-runs are very short, very easy runs that you do wearing your everyday clothes. All you need to do is take off your shoes and run 50-200m. You don’t need to sprint or break any records. Just do a quick out-and-back at a leisurely pace, staying nice and relaxed, and listening to your body.

It’s that simple.

Don’t get into your workout gear, don’t worry about planning routes, and don’t worry about time or pace, or any of the usual distractions that tend to come with most running programs. Just do this once or twice every day for a few weeks, and reap the benefits.

There are several reasons why the micro-run approach is different to most other transitioning techniques, and why this makes them so much more effective while reducing the chance of injuries from doing too much too soon.

The first is that very few people feel comfortable sweating a lot in their non-workout clothes. Going out in your regular clothes will help you keep your sessions short and relaxed, which is exactly what you want to do when transitioning.

The second is that you can literally do them anywhere: on your commute home, on the way to the shops. Even on the way to the car (my favourite). Just nip up to the end of the block and back again before you head out!

Lastly, it lets you fit in more exercises than you probably otherwise would, since you don’t have the time overhead of getting your running gear together, or the pressure to stay out longer once you are fully dressed. You can even do more than one a day if your feet are up to it!

Micro-runs are a great way to supplement your existing training, and can give you a great indication of how well your feet are acclimating to being barefoot. After each run, pay attention to how your feet feel. At first they may feel a bit raw or tender. Wait for this feeling to subside before doing another micro-run.

I found that doing these, in conjunction with being barefoot at home, and elsewhere as often as possible, made the transition nearly painless and a lot more comfortable. Within a few weeks, I was ready to start running a kilometre or two a couple times per week, and have built up from there.

I’d highly recommend giving micro-runs a go if you’re new to barefoot running, or if you suspect you might be susceptible to overdoing it. I’d love to hear how you go, so if you try it, be sure to leave a comment and let me know how you’ve found it!

Happy running!

Review: Merrell Trail Glove

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Merrell1As far as I’m concerned, 2013 is the year of trail running. Trails offer such a great opportunity to improve your technique and become a better, stronger runner.

One thing I have discovered along the way, however, is that some trails are better tackled with some footwear. Where I live, there are a lot of trails, and many of them are barefoot-friendly. However, there are certain tracks that, unless I want to pick my way slowly and painfully, I prefer to do in minimal footwear.

With this in mind, I jumped at the chance to try out a pair of Merrell’s Trail Glove.

Merrell2The Trail Glove is part of the Barefoot series of shoes that Merrell have become famous for over the past couple of years. Unlike some of the other shoes in the line however, the Trail Glove includes several features that make trail running a little bit easier on the soles, even if they do sacrifice some of the barefoot feel that the other shoes offer.

 

Looks

Merrell3One thing that I noticed straight out of the box is that these are some nice-looking shoes. They have a well-put-together appearance, and there’s no question that the design team spent a lot of time thinking about this aspect of the shoes.

Merrell4

 

 

What I really liked is that despite having a large toe box, the shoes don’t have the ‘clown shoe’ appearance of some other shoes I’ve tried out with the same feature. This is a real plus.

 

 

 

Construction

Merrell5The Trail Glove’s uppers are made of a very lightweight, breathable mesh, which is attractive and functional. It is one of my favourite features of the shoe as it is very comfortable and allows ample air to flow in and out of the shoe (a necessity when going sockless).

Merrell6The soles of these shoes are a little bit thicker, creeping in towards the 10mm mark. This is the upper end of thickness that I prefer in a shoe, but it is a huge help on the tough trails. Made by Vibram, they feature a reasonably aggressive tread, and a contoured design.

Merrell10Merrell9With the thicker sole usually comes rigidity, however these soles have been designed in such a way as to allow a fair bit of flexibility. This flexibility is mainly uni-directional however. I could lift my toes up without any trouble, though bending downwards meets a bit of resistance. For a road shoe, this is not normally a problem, however I did find it a little bit restrictive on some trails.

The shoe does not contain any insole. Instead, the interior of the shoe is seamless and very foot-friendly. This was a nice surprise, and is typically a sign of good design and construction.

Performance

We’ve had some pretty variable weather here in Sydney lately, so my poor Trail Gloves have been through a bit of everything. On the whole, I was very pleased with their performance.

Merrell7Where the Trail Glove shone, in my opinion, is wet weather. The tread pattern is medium-aggressive, and held on well, even in slick conditions. The mesh uppers allow water to flow in and out without much trouble, allowing my feet to dry out pretty well.

I found that I needed to take them off ever half hour or so to let me feet dry out a bit, but I never got any blisters from them, which is a good sign.

The wide toe box was a pleasure and went a long way to providing a comfortable ride.

Merrell8If there was one aspect of the shoe that I didn’t like, it was the sole’s built-in arch. It’s quite rigid, and I was aware of it the whole time I was running. I felt that it was a bit too long for my foot, and caused a little bit of discomfort. I’d love to see this feature removed in future versions of the shoe, as it did detract from the overall enjoyment of wearing these shoes.

That being said, I did have a good time testing these shoes out, and it’s always a big plus when a pair of minimal shoes is socially acceptable in the looks department. I’ve had several strangers comment on them, and they have been included in my ‘going-out’ pile of shoes, as well as having a place in my trail running kit.

It’s great to see high-quality minimal shoes finally start to take off in Australia, and I look forward to seeing what Merrell will be coming up with down the track.

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank Merrell for providing a pair of Trail Gloves for review. To find out more, visit the Merrell website, download the Barefoot Challenge app, and/or visit your local retailer!

Join Us On #BareChat Tonight (Plus Earth Runners Giveaway!)

#BareChatOn Wednesday, January 9th, at 7pm Mountain Time (GMT-6) BeginningBarefoot.com will be hosting #BareChat!

What’s #BareChat you ask? Well, it’s a chance for barefoot twitterers to connect with one another, share experiences, answer some questio

So how does it work?

At 7pm (MST) on the 9th of January (tonight!) head onto your favourite Twitter client and search for hashtag #BareChat.

@BarefootDawsy will be asking a series of questions about your experiences in barefoot running. To join the conversation, just add #BareChat to any of your tweets, and they’ll show up as part of the search results.

EarthRunners_logoTo kick off the first #BareChat of 2013, we’re giving away a unique prize – a pair of EartherRunners sandals. These sandals are specifically designed to allow a runner to remain connected to the earth via conductive materials. If you’re at all interested in ‘Earthing‘ then these are the perfect shoes for you. If you’ve never heard of Earthing before, then come along to #BareChat where we’ll be talking about what it is, what the skeptics say, and how it fits in with barefoot running.

Earth-Runners4

All you need to do to enter is to participate in the #BareChat conversation tonight!

If you have any questions, feel free to comment here, or hit me up on Twitter (@BarefootDawsy).

See you there!

We’re always looking for new questions to ask during #BareChat, and for sponsors for our giveaways. Please email me if you you think you can help!

Thanks For A Great Year!

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

It was a year ago today that I hit Submit on the first ever Beginning Barefoot post. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some incredible people, try out some awesome gear, and learn more about barefoot running then I could have imagined.

So, to celebrate Beginning Barefoot’s birthday, it seemed fitting to say a big THANK YOU to all the people who have helped make this year a great one.

First off, I’d like to thank all of those companies and individuals that were generous enough to offer their time and provide samples to review on this site.

Of course, all this wouldn’t be possible without all of you out there reading the articles and following Beginning Barefoot on Facebook and Twitter.

To all of you wonderful people, thank you!

 

Join Beginning Barefoot and Sockwa Tonight on #BareChat!

#BareChatOn Wednesday, November 21st, at 8pm Mountain Time (GMT-6) BeginningBarefoot.com will be hosting #BareChat! What’s #BareChat you ask? Well, it’s a chance for barefoot twitterers to connect with one another, share experiences, answer some questions, and win some prizes! #BareChat will be held every second Wednesday night at 8pm Mountain Time (GMT – 6 hours), starting October 24th 2012. So how does it work? At 8pm on the 21st of November, head onto your favourite Twitter client and search for hashtag #BareChat. @BarefootDawsy will be asking a series of questions about your experiences in barefoot running. To join the conversation, just add #BareChat to any of your tweets, and they’ll show up as part of the search results. Sockwa LogoWe’ve teamed up with Sockwa and will be giving away a fabulous outdoor activity pack! The pack contains a pair of Sockwa G2 or G3s, a Sockwa hat, sunscreen and stickers! All you need to do to enter is to participate in the #BareChat conversation on November 21st! If you have any questions, feel free to comment here, or hit me up on Twitter (@BarefootDawsy). See you there! We’re always looking for new questions to ask during #BareChat, and for sponsors for our giveaways. Please email me if you you think you can help!