How to Run Barefoot: Techniques to Get Started
“How do I start barefoot running?”
“What’s the best book/course/coach for learning to run barefoot?”
“Can you show me what the best barefoot running form looks like?”
I get these questions a lot. And it’s a bit tricky to answer them for a few reasons:
- 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 feel light, easy and fun (which is the way running with natural form should feel), you would learn more than I, or anyone else, could tell you.
- Those of us who’ve observed barefoot runners and coached barefoot running are starting to notice the obvious: different runners have slightly different form. That is, when you look at the BEST runners, they have many things in common, but they’re not all doing the exact same thing. So, I don’t want to say something that isn’t going to be relevant for YOU.
- 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 your barefoot running form.
- 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.
However, what I CAN do is offer some thoughts about getting started with barefoot running.
Tips on How to Run Barefoot
Here are my best tips on how to get started running barefoot, refining your running technique, and enjoying the benefits and fun of barefoot running
How to Getting Started
- 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. There’s no rush in making the transition to barefoot running. And there’s no way to predict how long it will take YOU.
- Run barefoot on a hard, smooth surface. These surfaces are best for learning because they give you the most feedback.
- Remember that barefoot running is a never-ending process. You can always improve.
Refining Your Barefoot Running Form
To be slightly more specific and technical, and tell you some of what you would discover on your own with enough time and attention:
- Aim for having your feet land “under your body” – more so 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.
- You want to land forefoot or midfoot. Do NOT reach out with your foot to do this; that’s the opposite of what you want to do. By the way, If you land with your foot underneath your body it’s almost impossible not to land on your forefoot or midfoot.
- 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 surface, 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.
- 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.
- Keep your 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 to the sound your feet are making… 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 our barefoot 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.
Finally, and 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 other barefoot runners have additional 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!
Want to learn more about learning how to barefoot running? Watch this video below
The content of this post does not constitute and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have about your health or a medical condition.