If you’re completely new to barefoot running, check out this article on the reasons behind the barefoot running movement and proper barefoot running technique.
One of the most common criticisms the barefoot running movement receives is that people who start running barefoot get stress fractures. While this is technically accurate, the real question is: Why do they get these stress fractures at all? The answer: because they start too quickly.
Think of your feet like newborn babies; pale, fragile, wrapped tight and kept in the dark. When you first bring them out into the light of day, it’s important that you do so gently, slowly.
How slow? I recommend you spend one to two months gradually developing strength, especially if you live in an urban area and don’t have access to trails and other natural surfaces. I know that seems like a lot, but it’s a lot better than spending any time on crutches. So let’s get to it.
How Do I Start Running Barefoot?
First off, your feet are absolutely covered in nerve endings so the transition to barefoot running will most likely be a little uncomfortable. Initially you will feel every pebble, twig, and crack in the ground–and this is a good thing. By exposing your feet to the earths surface you are actually teaching yourself how to run. The overabundance of nerve endings on your feet relay information to your brain, which naturally causes you to develop a stride that puts the least amount of stress on your body. Pain is your best teacher.
Secondly, running barefoot relieves much of the impact on your ankles, knees and hips. However, that force does not simply disappear. Your body must now rely on new scarcely-used muscles like your calves and feet to absorb the force of your footstrike. In the same way the you are sore after lifting weights for the first time after a long layoff, this increased stress on these new muscles can cause injuries if you’re not careful. Here’s how to avoid them.
Getting Started: A Training Plan
1. Walk Barefoot (1-3 weeks)
The first step I would advise you take when transitioning to barefoot running is to walk barefoot. As much as you can, simply walk around without shoes. This will naturally strengthen your leg and foot muscles without the risk of injury. This doesn’t mean you have to show up to work shoeless, but as much as you can, try to get used to moving without shoes.
Once you have gotten accustomed to the sensation of being barefoot and have gained some necessary strength, it’s time to start running!
2. Start on Natural Surfaces
When beginning, I advise you to start on soft natural surfaces like dirt, grass or sand. These softer surfaces naturally reduce the impact and the strain on your legs and feet. If you don’t want to go completely barefoot, you can invest in some minimalist footwear like Vibram Five Fingers that will give you the benefits of barefoot running while protecting your feet from rocks, glass or other dangerous items. However, if you can go completely barefoot…I recommend it.
3. Start Slowly (1 week per time interval)
Begin by running barefoot for five to ten minutes before your usual run. If you normally run for a half an hour, run the first five minutes barefoot and the last 25 in your regular running shoes. Don’t overdo it. Even if you feel good, stop after five minutes. Focus on low intensity jogging, the greater the intensity, the more stress you put on your legs. Avoid tempo runs, fartleks, and other high intensity workouts until your feet have fully acclimatized to barefoot running.
4. Gradually Increase Time
After a week (or seven runs) start running for ten minutes. After two weeks (14 runs) run for fifteen minutes. Continue this process of gradually increasing your time spent barefoot until you can complete an entire run without shoes.
5. Pay Attention to Your Form
Barefoot running naturally creates a more natural stride by causing you to land on your forefoot and deceasing your stride length. However, it’s not quite as simple as taking off your shoes. It’s also important to focus on running with good form. To learn how to run correctly and injury free check out this article on Barefoot Running Technique.
Rejoice in the newfound freedom of barefoot running and the shift you have made towards a healthier and happier life.
Throughout the entire process, it is absolutely crucial that you listen to your body. You can spend hours reading articles and watching videos on barefoot running but when it comes down to it, no one can teach you more than yourself. Be present and really tune into the messages your body is sending you while you’re running. This added mindfulness is a critical aspect of safe, injury free running and your body and mind will thank you for it.
Start today by taking the first step towards a stronger and healthier body by initiating a change that will serve you your entire life.
Remember, you’re in this for the long haul. There’s no rush. Don’t try to make your feet grow up all at once.
To your health and happiness,