In some parts of the world, shoe’s are referred to as ‘foot coffins’. These parts of the world are much closer to home than you may think.
From marathon runners to everyday office guys, an ever growing number of us are making the switch to barefoot running.
It’s Not Just For Hippies and Zen Masters
Have you ever considerd the impacts the shoes you wear to the gym, are having on your feet, muscles, hips and joints? If not you should.
Studies have found that not only do shoe’s make you walk and run with bad form, but barefoot running can actually be very good for your feet and the rest of your body.
Even the number of New York Marathon runners going barefoot is growing,. Heck, Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia won the 1960 Rome Olympic marathon in bare feet!
Cavemen Didn’t Have Nike’s
Our ancestors went without footwear for millions of years, and they managed to run from big cats and other life threatening mamamals all the time.
Why is it the norm today? Who says that runners, athletes and the guy in the street should be wearing shoes?
Sure it would be difficult to dodge the broken glass, oil and genral crap thats on our streets today, but if you start to think of the places it would be possible to go barefoot, the park, the beach, your own home and garden…then the possibilties of barefoot start to make sense.
Before you go burning your shoes, lets take a look at why barefoot running is good for you.
There are some scientific studies that suggest barefoot running can decrease injuries in the foot and knee joints. One study that I came across displayed evidence that running barefoot or near barefoot can decrease the impact of pressure on the knee and hip joints.
The researchers who conducted this experiment compared the results of 22 professional runners. The runners first ran with cushioned shoes and then barefoot. The results were conclusive;
running barefoot decreased peak patellofemoral joint stress (knee joint stress) by 12%
Barefoot runners are forced to change their gaite, this is because landing on the ball of your foot causes a change in the way you run. When running on the balls of your feet, the body naturally has an added spring to its movement which causes a decrease in the force put on the pelvis and hips when the foot lands.
Lastly, barefoot running has been proven to be more comfortable than running with shoes….over time. If you automatically switch to barefoot running, yes you are going to feel some pain especially if running on rocky or uneven surfaces. However, eventually and with correct form, barefoot running can be very comfortable regardless of the surface.
Take a look at the two videos below from a study of a foot strike on a tradmill, with and wthout shoes.
Shod Heel Strike
Barefoot Heel Strike
We can see there is a smooth curve on the graph for the bare foot srike, which shows the runners body weight is smoothly applied to the ground, which reduces the negative impact on the body.
If the runner was to apply the same heel strike in in the shod video, the full impact would be felt on his bare heel…painful.
Most barefoot converts begin in the home as thats the easiest place to start. Plus you don’t want to look or feel stupid on you morning commute do you!
Obviously there are occasions where going barefoot just isn’t an option. The shoe manufacturers have stood up and taken notice of this and have produced a variety of ‘barefoot like’ shoes that are designed to mimmick the real think.
Studies have shown that “barefoot running causes less collision to the feet than running with traditional cushioned sneakers”. This is due to runners typically landing on the balls of their feet or even flatfooted when running barefoot while those who run with sneakers almost always land on the soles of their feet. According to a study done by Daniel Lieberman, “landing on the sole of your foot causes much more collision than landing on the balls of your feet or flatfooted”.
This is because the sole of your foot is a small area being targeted when you run and people tend to land hard on this area due to their nature. When landing on the ball of your foot or flat footed however, the force is significantly decreased due to people naturally landing softer when they run on the balls of their feet because it is the “tip toe area” of the foot. Also, if landing flatfooted you have a much larger area taking the collision therefore less pain or tension will be caused.
If you would like to give barefoot running a try be aware that you need to build up to it. Do not just go and run three miles bare foot or you could cause injury to your foot and calf muscles. Start by decreasing the amount of padding in yours shoes, go for a shoe that offers little support and protection. Once you can handle that with no injury or added pain, switch to barefoot running but make sure to start at a low distance such as one or two miles and run on a soft surface first such as grass or sand. Overtime, as your body adjusts, you can build up to running your usual distance on whatever surface you choose.
Also, consider your current health before deciding to try barefoot running. If you have diabetes or sensitive nerve endings in the feet, you should remain running with a padded shoe regardless of the possibility of becoming comfortable over time. Make sure that your change from cushioned shoes to barefoot running is a gradual one in order to avoid muscle strains or tendonitis. Some other precautions to address would be your flexibility and your joint strength.
Make sure you stretch, especially your calf muscles as that is the muscle that will receive the most force, before and after running. Also make sure you pay attention to what your body needs and is saying to you as barefoot running is a serious switch and you do not want to cause damage to your body. Barefoot running is a great concept to at least try. If you don’t like it then you don’t like it but what is the harm in trying something new!
It’s not for everyone, but if you are a serious runner or gym goer, I would urge you to give it a try. It won’t cost you a penny and you can jump back into the foot coffins at anytime.