The more time you spend around barefoot running and minimalist running — the more articles you read in magazines and newspapers, the more interviews you hear with doctors or runners, the more stories you see on the news, the more websites you see about it, the more research you hear about it — the more often you’ll hear one particular admonition.
Actually, if the piece is supportive of running barefoot, you’ll hear it as a recommendation. If the piece is anti-barefoot, then it’ll be a warning.
And that bit of instruction/caution is:
Transition to barefoot running SLOWLY. If you make the transition too quickly, you’ll get hurt.
But to focus on how quickly or slowly you make the transition is to miss the point. Running barefoot safely and enjoyably isn’t about whether it takes you a day, a week, or a year to do so. It’s about HOW you make the transition, not HOW LONG it takes to make it.
It’s about form and function, not about seconds on the clock.
In other words, the keys to running barefoot are following a few rules: Continue Reading
While barefoot running isn’t new, it’s popularity has been going through the roof since Christopher McDougall’s book, Born To Run, became popular in 2009.
Ironically, Born To Run isn’t really about barefoot running. It’s about the Tarahumara Indians in the Copper Canyon of Mexico and how they’re able to run pain-free and injury free for hundreds of miles, well into their 70s. It’s about the first ever ultramarathon held in the Copper Canyon. It’s about the fascinating characters around this race. And it’s about Chris’s exploration of safer, more enjoyable running.
It happens that around the time the book was becoming popular, one of the people featured in the book published a study about barefoot running. That person is Dr. Daniel Lieberman from Harvard University and, in a nutshell, what Daniel showed was:
Runners in shoes tend to land on their heels, essentially using the padding built into the shoes
Landing in this manner sends a massive jolt of force (called an impact transient force spike) through the ankles, knees, hips, and into the spine
Runners who run barefoot tend to land on their forefoot or midfoot, with the landing point nearer to the body’s center of mass (not out in front of the body, like shod runners)
Barefoot runners use the natural shock-absorbing, spring-like mechanism of the muscles, ligaments and tendons within and around the foot, the ankle, the knee, and the hip.
Barefoot runners do not create the impact transient force spike through their joints
In short, running shoes could be the cause of the very injuries for which they’re sold as cures!
Take off your shoes and you’re less likely to land in a biomechanically compromised manner.
This seems to explain why people who run barefoot often report the elimination of injuries (that were caused by bad form that they no longer use) and, more importantly, that running is more fun!
Now it’s not all as simple as this.
The shoe companies, realizing that barefoot was becoming a big deal, began selling “barefoot shoes”… most of which are no more barefoot than a pair of stilts.
Even the Vibram Fivefingers, which look like bare feet, aren’t necessarily as barefoot as they appear.
In an independent study, runners in Xero Shoes (formerly Invisible Shoes) were found to be biomechanically identical to when they were barefoot.
The key to successful barefoot running seems to be the ability to use the nerves in your feet, to Feel The World. Basically, if you try to run barefoot the same way you do when you’re in shoes, IT HURTS!
Figure out how to do what doesn’t hurt and you’ll be running in a way that’s more fun and less likely to cause injuries.
Now, I know it’s not as simple as that, and I’m the first to admit that the science supporting barefoot running isn’t in yet. But, then again, there’s no science that shows that running shoes are helpful.
Think about this: people lived for millions of years without shoes, or without anything more than a pair of sandals like Xero Shoes or a pair of moccasins. Runners ran successfully up until the 1970s with shoes that had no padding, no pronation control, no orthotics, and no high-tech materials.
The three parts of our body that have the most nerve endings are our hands, our mouths and our feet. There’s only one of those that we regularly cover and make numb to the world… does that seem right?
Put a limb in a cast and it comes out of the cast a month later atrophied and weaker. When you you bind your feet in shoes that don’t let your foot flex or feel the earth, isn’t that similar to putting it in a cast (or as barefoot runners like to say, a “foot coffin”)?
There’s a lot more on this site about what the benefits of barefoot running — and walking, and hiking, and dancing, and playing — may be. If you have any questions, ask them here, or on our Forum. Or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Pinterest.
Join the conversation. Join the conversion. Feel The World!
When I tell people that I run barefoot (or when they see me out running without any shoes), the first response I get is
“Oh, so you run on the grass?”
Or when I suggest to people that they might want to try running barefoot, the first thing they say is,
“With my feet/knees/ankles/eyelashes, I’d need to run on the grass.”
I mean, it makes sense, right?
Grass is soft. Feet are soft. Therefore, feet should be on grass.
Barefoot = Grass is the common wisdom.
But wisdom is rarely common, and what’s common is rarely wise.
Here’s what I can tell you, though. And it’s not just me, every accomplished barefoot runner I know will say the same thing. And all the other good coaches I know agree.
In fact, what I’m about to say is SO true, that if you meet a coach who tells you otherwise, RUN AWAY (barefoot or not, I don’t care) from this person as quickly as you can, because they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Here it is:
THE WORST SURFACE for learning to run barefoot is GRASS.
Three big reasons:
BIG: Who knows what’s hiding in the grass. If you can’t see it, you might step on it.
BIGGER: One of the principles of barefoot running is that you don’t use cushioning in your shoes… well, when you run on grass, you’ve basically taken the cushioning out of your shoes and put it into the ground.
BIGGEST: Running on grass, or any smooth surface does not give you the feedback you need about your barefoot form to help you change and improve your form.
The best surface for barefoot running is NOT grass or sand or anything soft, but the smoothest and hardest surface you can find.
For me, here in Boulder, Colorado, we have miles and miles of bike path.
In New York City, the sidewalks are perfect!
So, what makes a hard, smooth surface the best? It’s the biggest reason, from above:
Grass and sand and soft surfaces are too forgiving of bad form.
Hard smooth surfaces tell you, with every step, whether you’re using the right form.
If it hurts, you’re not.
If you end up with blisters, you didn’t.
Pay close attention and each step is giving you information about how to run lighter, easier, faster, longer.
I’ll never forget going out on the University of Colorado sidewalks with the Boulder Barefoot Running Club. I had a blister on the ball of my left foot (more about that in another lesson). But I decided to see if I could run in such a way that I didn’t hurt .
At first, each step sent a shooting pain up my leg. Then I made some adjustments and I just felt the friction on the ball of my foot.
By the end of the first mile, I had made some other adjustments — using each step as an experiment — and the next thing I knew I was picking up the pace while putting out less energy than ever. I was running faster and easier than I’d ever run without shoes… and it was painless.
This would have never happened on grass.
I needed the feedback of the hard surface.
If you want to see a barefoot runner get a wistful look in his or her eye, mention a newly painted white line on the side of a road. Smooth, solid, cool… it’s the best!
Oh, and it’s probably no surprise that the advantage of Xero Shoes is that when you wear those on the road, they still give you that feedback you need… but with protection from the surface.
Okay, so the big question is, “WHY use huarache, the Tarahumara running sandals?”
The answer is pretty obvious, but there are some important-yet-surprising pieces to the puzzle.
The obvious answer about huarache is: It’s the closest thing there is to barefoot running, without some of the hazards of barefoot running. Namely, you’re adding a layer of protection to your feet that bare skin simply can’t give you, no matter how well conditioned your feet are.
Especially with the 4mm Vibram Cherry sole material we use in our huarache kits and custom huaraches, you get what I like to call “better-than-barefoot.” The soles are so flexible it’s like having nothing on, so light, you barely notice them… except it’s blissfully clear that you’re not getting scraped up, cut up, scratched up and dirty like you would if it was just your tootsies on the ground.
That said, I’m not going to say “Don’t run barefoot and run with huarache running sandals instead!”
Well, because running barefoot gives you more feedback than running with ANYTHING on your feet.
If you want to know how efficient your form is, go barefoot and you’ll know (that is, if it hurts, you need to change something!).
If you want to know if you could be running lighter or easier, go barefoot and you’ll find out (did I mention: if it hurts, you need to change something?).
Conversely, putting ANYTHING on your feet, including huarache sandals, can mask some improper technique, give you the illusion that you’re better than you are and, possibly, lead to overtraining. Especially at first.
That said, since it takes awhile to develop that new barefoot running technique, and since it takes a while for your feet to get conditioned (btw, they do NOT get calloused), I recommend a mix of barefoot and huarache running.
In fact, what I often do is carry my huaraches with me when I go out barefooting. And if my feet start to get a bit sore, and I’m still a ways away from home, I’ll slip on my huaraches for the 2nd half of the run.
Or, I’ll warm up in my huaraches, and then slip ‘em off (using the method of how to tie huarache sandals here), and take off from there.
Oh, if I’m on serious trails — and by serious, I mean a lot of rocks, twigs, etc. — then it’s all huarache, all the time.
I love it when people ask, “Can you really run in those things?” as I run by them in my Xero Shoes.
Well, Jonathan Sinclair and Melissa Gosse, otherwise known as Ultra Mel & Jon — at http://ultramelandjon.com/ — had that experience a LOT of times recently. That’s because they ran the Madagascar Race the Planet ultramarathon stage race, running over 250k in 7 days.
How’d they do it?
Well, check out this video we made where I asked them that, and a whole lot more.
If you’ve ever thought about running marathon+ distances, listen to what this young and talented couple have to say.
I know, I know… “Exer-genie” sounds like the name of a fitness gadget that women in the 1950′s would have used.
But don’t let the name fool you. This is one serious piece of equipment, all rolled up into a tiny, travel-friendly, package that anyone of any fitness level can use to get stronger and faster.
The Exer-Genie has been used by Olympians and professional sports teams for decades. And, frankly, given what a gadget geek that I am (especially fitness gadgets), I can’t believe that I only recently discovered it.
Let me show you a quick video of how my training partner, World-champion sprinter Cathy Nicoletti, and I now use the Exer-Genie as part of our sprinting training.
In short: we’ll do resisted runs with enough resistance to slow us down no more than 10%, usually increasing the resistance with each run, and then finish with a non-resisted run.
We’re planning to integrate more heavy-resistance running (for improved drive phase performance), as well as resisted walking lunges and bounding. Sometimes we’ll use the Exer-Genie at the end of a speed workout. Other times we do an entire workout with the Exer-Genie.
There are essentially 2 models of the ExerGenie that you’ll be interested in: The Classic system with a shorter rope for strength training (you can practically replace a gym’s worth equipment with this), or the long-rope Speed system for doing resisted running (and jumping, bounding, lunging, etc.). If you’re into suspension training, like with a TRX, you’ll want to look at the Dynamic Life system as well… a variation of the short rope system.
The folks at ExerGenie are INCREDIBLY helpful and committed to your fitness. If you have any questions, just give them a call (number is at the website). Tell ‘em we said Hi! Find out more about the Exer-Genie here.
Some readers may know that Michael Sandler is one of the reasons Xero Shoes exists.
Back in the Summer of 2009 he said, “You know, if you treated this hobby of making barefoot sandals like a business — and built a website — I’d put you in a book that I’m writing called Barefoot Running.”
To make a long story short, 24 hours later I had a website
Well, Michael has a new program called “The Mindful Running Program” and he interviewed me for it.
Some of what we talked about:
Using “mental rehearsal” (not visualization) to prepare for races
How barefoot running can become instant meditation
The 4 “neurological types” of barefoot runners, and what each one needs in order to improve
And, then, on a personal note:
What happens in my mind when I’m running a 100m, or when I was competing as an All-American gymnast… or when I was captured and shot at in Tienanmen Square in 1989!
Dennis Kimetto shattered the marathon world record when he ran 2:02:57 in Berlin.
But how fast can we really go over a 26.2 mile course?
Well, long-time distance running guru, Phil Maffetone thinks 1:59 is do-able. VERY do-able.
And he also thinks that the person who sets that record will be running barefoot!
Frankly, we hope he (and, I know it sounds sexist, but it’ll be a “he”) opts for a tiny bit of protection and wears a pair of Xero Shoes!
Phil’s book has some fascinating info about the sub-2 marathon, and even things that might help you run faster than you thought you could. And you’ll find out why he thinks the sub-2 wil be run without shoes.
Check it out on Amazon — http://www.amazon.com/Sub-Two-Hour-Marathon-Within-Runners-Training/dp/1629148172
And to show you something beautiful, look at this slow-mo video of Dennis. Even with a 10mm drop in his shoes, he’s a serious mid-foot strike runner.
What motivates you to run? What is your favorite race distance? How often do you run?
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There are LOTS of reason you'll want to get out of your regular shoes and go barefoot or wear Xero Shoes. But the "barefoot world" is full of mythology, contradiction and, frankly, lies told to you by giant shoe companies. Even ones that sell minimalist shoes.
How do you discover the truth? How do you find the fastest and easiest way to start enjoying being barefoot or minimalist, whether you're a walker, hiker, paddle boarder, or runner? Simple. By signing up and receiving our free 7-part series: "Feel The World: How to enjoy the fun and benefits of being barefoot"
“An almost-barefoot feel, but with some protection... provides barefoot-like balance. It's so light you hardly feel it...” -Los Angeles Times
“Winner 2011 "Best Huarache" A powerhouse of a sandal that has no apparent weaknesses.” -Christian Peterson
“I was extremely surprised and delighted by how well the Invisible Shoes fit my feet... the closest to going barefoot without actually going barefoot...” -Jessica Lee
“It wasn’t until Steven made me my first pair that I understood how much fun they are to run in. My feet feel like they’re completely bare...” -Scott McLean
“If you are a barefoot runner or plan on running barefoot, you need a pair of huaraches!...”
“Xero Shoes for kids make an awesome summer sandal. They can be tricked out with beads and charms to make them even more fun. My daughter's daycare teachers always want to know where to get them!” -Justin Owings
“These are soooo cool!! It really is like running barefoot, but with a little protective mat under your feet. Your foot is completely free, unlike the Vibram FiveFingers...” -Joy Frantz
“Running in my Xero Shoes is really enjoyable – they maintain almost all of the fun barefoot feel, and give me enough protection to take on more challenging terrain..." -Donald Buraglio
“These are pretty much the only shoes I wear now. It makes sense that being barefoot (or close to it) is the way to walk..." -Tracy Jones
“Xero Shoes are the closest thing to actual barefoot running. Putting them on made me feel like a Native American warrior! They're great for my strength training workouts as well as running..." -Al Kavadlo