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!
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
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!
A new study by Michael Rathleff and his colleagues offer a new approach for treating plantar fasciitis: strength training. More specifically working on foot and calf strength.Click here to read about the research.
I can’t say I’m surprised by this.It’s often the case that gaining strength cures many movement-related problems.But what’s most interesting to me is that this research suggests why many barefoot runners report an elimination of plantar fasciitis.Specifically, when you look at the report about the research and read the recommendations for the type of strength training to do, you’ll see that the movements are very similar to what you do when you run with a forefoot or midfoot landing.Running this way “pre-loads” your plantar fascia, positioning your foot in a strong position when it contacts the ground, rather than being in the pre-streteched and weak position that you’re in when you heel strike, especially in a highly padded shoe.
Here’s another Barefoot Running Q&A video, where I take an email I’ve received and give an answer on video.
In this video we look at the relationship between barefoot and minimalist shoes, foot and calf pain during the transition to barefoot, how minimalist shoes fit in with the transition to bare feet, and how to handle the cold.
Many of our readers heard about Chia from the book, Born To Run, which described it as one of the superfoods that the Tarahumara use to fuel themselves for epic runs. And you’ll often find barefoot runners with a handful of seeds, or a gloopy-looking beverage full of chia.
The Consumerist blog reported that many people are unaware of the recall of chia seeds, caused by the fact that certain chia brands are contaminated with salmonella and have sickened at least 65 people so far.
So, barefoot runners, and everyone else who eats chia, please check your supplies, and not just the seeds that are still stuck in your teeth from last week’s smoothie
Thanks to Frédérik Sisa, for asking me to answer a few questions about barefoot running on his site, The Front Page Online.
I want to highlight a point that I make in the interview, because I think it’s under-appreciated and under-discussed in the barefoot community.
If you haven’t been barefoot in a while – especially if you want to explore barefoot running – you probably are not used to using your muscles in the way that barefooting will demand.
Sometimes this means that the transition to barefoot may require strengthening. More often it means simply paying attention to your body, finding the comfortable way to move that doesn’t require extra effort (that is, I would focus on moving with less effort before trying to get stronger).
The key point I want to emphasize is use less effort.
Most people think that calf or Achilles pain is simply part of the transition process from running in shoes to running barefoot, that the cause is previous underuse, and that the solution is to get stronger.
More often than not, calf or Achilles pain is from using those muscles/tendons more than necessary, not that they’ve been weakened by wearing shoes for some amount of time.
If, when you land, you reach out with your foot (overstriding), you use your calf and Achilles to decelerate. Sure, getting freakishly strong may make that easier to do, but the correct solution is to “stop putting on the brakes” when you land by stopping your overstriding and, instead, placing your foot more “underneath your body.”
Similarly, if you remove your foot from the ground by pushing off with your toes, you’re essentially doing bodyweight calf raises every time you take a stride… and even a short run would be more than your body can handle. Again, the solution isn’t to hit the weight room and improve your calf raise strength. It’s to LIFT your foot off the ground (instead of pushing) by flexing at the hip. If you imagine what happens if a bee would sting your foot… you wouldn’t try to push away from the ground, you would reflexively (faster and easier) pull your foot from the ground with a hip flex.
In order to use less effort, you’ll probably have to start with less running. That’s fine. By the time you figure out how to make things easier, you probably will have gained any extra strength that you may need, if any.
Remember my barefoot running mantra: “How can I make this lighter, easier, and MORE FUN?”
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"
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