How To Run Barefoot - Xero Shoes

How To Run Barefoot

“How do I start barefoot running?”

“What’s the best book/course/coach for learning to run barefoot?”

“Can you show me what barefoot running form looks like?”

I get these questions a lot. And, frankly, I don’t want to answer them. In fact, I’ve resisted writing this post for, well, months.

Here’s why (in no particular order, even though I’m using numbers to delineate my reasons):

  1. Frankly, if all you did was take off your shoes, go for a run, stop when it hurts, and experiment to find ways of running that don’t hurt, you would learn more than I, or anyone else, could tell you.
  2. Those of us who’ve observed barefoot runners and coached barefoot running are starting to notice the obvious: different runners have different form. That is, when you look at the BEST runners, they may have a few things in common, but they’re not all doing the same thing. So, I don’t want to say something that isn’t going to be relevant for YOU.
  3. To be totally candid, I’m in an awkward political situation — as a guy who sells “barefoot-style” footwear, and who would like to have ALL the coaches referring their clients to me, I can’t single out one coach/book/technique over another (or one “under” another, either). I can tell you that if you listen to ALL of them, and then follow a bit of advice I’ll give, below, you’ll appreciate each coach for his/her unique contribution to you barefoot running form.
  4. Many runners aren’t aware of what their bodies are actually doing, so certain recommendations won’t be effective anyway. If I say to you, “don’t land on your heels,” and show you a video of how you’re “supposed” to land on your foot, you may be 100% convinced that you’re doing what I suggested, and then a video might show that you are totally heel-striking. In other words, what I say will be less important than what you learn on your own.

That said, here’s some thoughts about getting started with running bare footed.

  • Realize that the best coach you have is YOU and your sensations and whatever you can learn from watching video of yourself (especially slow motion video). In fact, you MUST become your own best coach, because no external coach will be there for every situation you’ll encounter as a runner. If you can’t listen to yourself, make adjustments in what you’re doing, and know when to STOP… no other coach will be helpful anyway.
  • Start SLOWLY and build up. Check out my post about getting started with barefoot running. There’s no rush in making the transition to barefoot running. And there’s no way to predict how long it will take YOU.
  • Remember that this is a never-ending process that you can always improve.

To be slightly more specific and technical, and tell you some of what you would discover on your own with enough time and attention:

  • Hard, smooth surfaces are the best for learning. They give you the most feedback.
  • You want to land mid-foot or fore-foot. Do NOT reach out with your foot to do this; that’s the opposite of what you want to do.
  • You don’t need to stay on the balls of your feet and put extra strain on your calves and Achilles tendons. Once you land on the ball/midfoot, you can let your heel drop if it feels better to do that, and it will feel better/worse depending on whether you’re going uphill or downhill or on a flat, and depending on what speed you’re running.
  • Don’t PULL your foot toward you, or PUSH it behind you… that’ll cause blisters as well as put extra strain on your hamstrings (pulling) and calves (pushing). Think, instead, about PLACING your foot on the ground and LIFTING it off. And lift by using your hip flexor. That is, think about lifting your foot off the ground by lifting up your knee, not by pushing off the ground.
  • Aim for having your feet land more “under your body” than you’re probably used to. Landing with your foot out in front of you too much is “overstriding” and it’s one of the habits that most of us need to work to overcome. You may need to even exaggerate this to get the feel of it — put your feet “behind you” when you land. You won’t actually be able to do this, but if you try it will highlight what overstriding feels like… and the correct place to put your feet is probably somewhere in between.
  • Un-Plop your feet. This is hard to describe, but many of us slam our feet into the ground, or wait for the ground to hit our feet. We plop them onto the ground instead of meeting the ground lightly. There are a lot of “cues” coaches use to teach this: Pretend you’re running on hot coals, or on thin ice, or trying to sneak up on a deer, or that your feet are wheels and you want them to touch where the wheel meets the ground, or that the ground is moving below you like a treadmill and you want to move your feet at the same speed as the treadmill. You will need to find your own way to feel this.
  • Core tight… when you run, your body is a spring. If you collapse in your midsection, you’re weakening the spring and making it less efficient and, therefore, making it harder to run.
  • Pick up your cadence. Most people think 180 steps-per-minute is some magic number. It’s not. Some successful runners do more, some do less. The point of moving your feet faster than you’re probably used to is that it gives you less time to keep your feet on the ground… and that’ll help you learn to place/lift, “un-plop” and not overstride.
  • LISTEN… if you’re running loudly, if you make a lot of noise when your feet hit the ground, you’re doing one of the above incorrectly. This is true if you’re barefoot, in Invisible Shoes, or any other footwear. You can run quietly (not silently), and quiet running is usually a sign of good form.
  • WONDER! When I run, I keep a question in my mind, “How can I make this lighter, easier, and more fun… and, sometimes, faster?” Then, I experiment and see what I can find.

Then, most importantly:

  • REST. Bodies get stronger when you let them rest. There are no bonus points for not taking a day off.
  • HAVE FUN! If it’s not fun, do something different. Try a different surface, a different speed, a different reason for running (compete if you haven’t before, do an obstacle course if you’re usually all about putting in mile after mile).

I’m sure others of you have other simple pointers. Can’t wait to hear them.

Oh, and did I mention, barefoot running can be, should be, and IS (once you get it) FUN… don’t forget that!

  • http://Runningmy.com Gilly

    Great post! I’ve tried barefoot running and find my posture improve…I gotta look into some invisible shoe gear!

  • Shoe Jones

    I felt the World and it hurt. This is ridiculous.

    • Steven

      Maybe you need to work up to it more slowly ;-)

    • don

      this is funny lol

    • iyah

      hahaha!
      but i wanna try to run on barefoot and try to feel the earth too underneath my feet! :)

  • Chris

    I have been suffering from calf pulls and achillies tendon pain for years. It seems like every time I start to see results, I get hurt. This Jan I really hurt my Achilles, so about a month ago I took off my shoes and started running barefoot.

    On a whim, last week I did an 11 mile “Tough Mudder” trail run without shoes–yes my feet became sore after about 8 miles, but I finished without any achillies pain. All my soreness was due to their softness, and by Wed. this week it was mostly gone.

    So tonight I am starting from the ground up with my new invisible shoes; I’ll try to post back on a monthly basis with my progress.

  • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

    The blister and the noise are the same problem and have the same solution — don’t overstride.

    The big suggestion is: knowing what I just said, and knowing that it’s possible to run quietly and pain-free, take SHORT runs and experiment with your gait. Wonder, “What can I do differently that makes this quieter, easier, lighter?”

    And check out http://www.xeroshoes.com/blister

  • tim rodgers

    I have tried running completely barefoot a few times over the last few months, never going more than 1/2 a mile, and ALWAYS getting blisters between my 1st (or big) toe and the 2nd. On a whim, maybe even after reading up on the subject some more, I tried it again, picking up my cadence and my feet and went a full 3 miles without a scratch. I then ran 1.5 miles a few days later and a couple of days after that (today) ran 3 miles in some huaraches I made myself out of carpet scraps ;)

    My question is: if I’m not hurting AT ALL and in fact feel GREAT about barefoot running, can I transition too quickly?? I’m already taking a day or two between BF or minimalist runs if there’s any lagging soreness, but other than that I prefer BF to shod already.

    Thanks and God bless.

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      If everything feels good, then simply add a BIT of distance the next time and see how you feel. If you feel good, stick with that distance or try a bit more on your next run. Use what your body tells you as a guide.

      The joke of course is that the only way to know you did too much… is by doing too much. ;-)

      You want to avoid that if you can, but most of us overdo it at some point.

      • tim rodgers

        Thanks Steven.

        You guys made the right decision on Shark Tank btw. Those guys are more actors than investors from the looks of it anyway… ;D

  • Nick Microutsicos

    I assembled my huaraches, but I think the flopping sound is from the shoe hitting the ground, not the shoe slapping my foot… Should I tighten them? Or just try to run quieter? I feel great when I go out with xero shoes or without shoes at all, just came in from a one mile county road run. Love this site!

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Hey, Nick.

      Check out http://www.xeroshoes.com/slap — and, yes, it’s the way your foot is hitting the ground. ;-)

  • Nate

    I’ve read research that suggests wearing shoes your entire life will lead to hallux valgus, or your big toe pointing at an unnatural inward angle. If I start running regularly in Xero Shoes, will my big toe straighten out?

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Not surprisingly, I’m not a doctor and I can’t make medical claims. And not having seen your feet, I can’t even give an opinion based on my experience. Similarly, I’d have to see you run to get a sense of whether you may be doing something helpful or not.

      I do know that some people who’ve reported changes in hallux valgus both from being barefoot and in our shoes as well as using toe straighteners (which are hard to use IN shoes, and which we’ll soon be selling). But, again, I can’t extrapolate from their experience to yours with such limited information.

      • http://www.45healthychoices.com/ Art Konstantino

        I never knew they had a stupid name for this ugly look. I used to wear Florsheim Wingtip Imperials and other pointy boots that were “tight and cool.” I made a middle toenail thick because it was cramped in the shoes and socks. Now, minimal feet covering/protection has softened the nail. This is after 57 years of living. I am now 58! Pressure, lack of air flow and friction are our worst enemies, IMO based on experience. I was going to develop my own toe straightener, but, you have it all under control Steven, so, I will wait on you. Bill is GREAT! We chatted today. He is very enthusiastic about the company. Talk to you soon. Art K

  • Mick Williams

    Ive just had my xero shoes and started to use them on the treadmill ie 10 min before and 10 after my run with shoes on. When I decide to venture out I think i would be better to start off in shoes and change when I get off road what would be the best way to carry shoes without them bouncing on my back ?

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Wow, that’s a question nobody has asked before… ;-)

      If your shoes are light enough, I’d use them as “hand weights” and just carry them. The advantage to doing this is that it’ll be easier if you keep your hands “high” (bend your elbows so your hands are near your arm pits). This is an efficient way to carry your arms, so it could be good training.

      Otherwise, the only place they wouldn’t bounce is if you tie them on your head like a hat ;-)

    • Alex

      Tie the shoes together with one lacing from each shoe. Than use the other lacings to close the loops out like a belt around your hip. This will allow you to keep the shoes on your body at a tightness you can control while also minimizing bouncing.

  • Jack

    Question for you, Steven. I’m a college student in Saint Paul, MN, and it gets real cold up here. I ran all last winter in xeros, and my feet got used to it, to a point haha. It wasn’t the cold that hurt (running kept my body warm enough past mile 1), but the dryness at -45F just cracked the bottoms of my feet from heel to toe. Any suggestions for making a cold-weather huarache to lessen that?

    God Bless, brother.

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      I’m not sure that we can do anything about dryness. See http://www.xeroshoes.com/cold for some cold-weather info. I haven’t used any skin conditioning oils for cracking (because I haven’t had that problem), but I hear that it works.

  • Sunr

    Just shut up and run!

    Pain, stop, rest. Then Re-start.

  • BT

    I ran barefoot when i was a kid. “Civilisation” entered a bit late in life, so have been wearing shoes all these years. I have started barefoot running a year ago. Now i can run 10Ks.
    I have just ordered Xeros. I am running a trail race in a month’s time. The course is pretty harsh. I tried walking barefoot and it is very difficult at this stage. Hoping Xero gives just enough protection and no more!

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Good luck in the race. Can’t wait to hear how it goes.

  • Waymond

    I’ve been suffering from chronic shin splints for more than a year. About two and a half months ago, after trying everything else, I started really trying barefoot running. I started very slow, from walking the first few weeks to running a quarter mile, to now running for miles. My stride, foot landing, and cadence is totally changed and my feet and the rest of me feels great, but I’m still getting shin splints when I get to about three miles. Any suggestions or tips? I’m at the end of my rope.

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Hard to say anything specific without seeing videos of you running, but my 2 thoughts are:

      1) Do less. Stop WELL in advance of the point where you start getting pain. Build up your distance more slowly.

      2) As you’re running, ask yourself, “How could I do this with LESS effort and more relaxation?” Then experiment and see what you find. For example, think about (and try to) lift your foot off the ground rather than pushing off the ground with your foot.

      Keep me posted

  • Jussi

    I used to play occasionally ice hockey with without skates using normal shoes. Now I have noticed there is something similar in striding barefoot. I might even try to run on ice again just refresh.

    The thing is that on the slippery surface the contact on the surface needs to be directing the movement mostly forward, otherwise you just start to slide.

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Actually, you want to build up speed when it’s not slippery, and then on the slippery surface have most of the force going DOWN. Paradoxical as that may sound, that’s what keeps you moving forward at the speed you were already at, without causing more slipping.

      There used to be a video showing a guy sprinting across an ice rink as proof that, at full speed, most of the force you apply to the ground is in the vertical direction.

  • Noah

    I just started barefoot and have been having some ankle pain. What should i do?

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Noah,

      I’d need WAY more information than that to give you a meaningful suggestion.

      I’d need to see how you’re landing, know how much distance you’re doing, find out what kinds of surfaces you’re on, and a bunch more.

      If you’re only having pain on one side, though, read http://www.xeroshoes.com/blister. While that article is about blisters, it’s more about one-sided problems and how to fix them.

      Otherwise, REST until the pain is gone, and cut down the amount of running you’re doing to an amount that you can do pain-free. Then build up distance/frequency SLOWLY.

      You may learn quite a bit if you have someone video tape you’re running, too. (And we’d be happy to look at those vids.)

  • Kehau

    My other comment seems to have disappeared. I went for my third barefoot run the other day. Yes, I went farther than 200 yards but it seemed okay. At the end I was tired but nothing hurt. The next day I went for a shod 2 mi run bc I wanted to keep up my mileage while transitioning from shod to barefoot/xero. I had previously tried doing my barefoot run for a short distance and then putting my shoes on but that didnt work at all. I only tried it once but I was so sore. Everything hurt from the knees down once I put my shoes on. I had to stop and walk a lot during my short 2.5mi run. I felt stuck bc I couldn’t go farther barefoot but then couldn’t run shod either.
    So then I thought, I’ll do my shod run on opposite days from my barefoot. So I did my barefoot and weights. Then the next day went for a 2 mi shod run and it seemed okay. I was a little sore but nothing crazy. Except then the day after that HOLY WOW. SO SORE. My calves were knots and my heels feel bruised. So now I’m stuck taking a few days off and I’m confused. How can I keep up any sort of mileage while transitioning?
    And do my legs and feet hurt bc of my barefoot run? Or bc of the shod run? I know during my shod run I was heel striking with a long stride but I was having a hardtime doing barefoot form w my shoes on so I basically just did what I could. I felt like my barefoot form had improved a bit though I’m sure I’m still over stridingwhen barefoot.
    I’m just not sure how I can keep up any sort of mileage w all this happening. Thoughts?
    Thank you!

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Your comments are “disappearing.” After you post a comment, there was a message that said your comment was awaiting moderation. And since I’m the moderator, and you posted your comment when I was sound asleep, it’s only now that I was able to approve it.

      Sometimes soreness takes 48 hours to kick in. So, I’m not clear if you’re saying that the barefoot running made you sore, or the shod running made you sore.

      Either way, though, the answer is basically the same: RELAX and experiment with doing less. See this post: http://xeroshoes.com/barefoot-running-tips/barefoot-calf-pain/

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