Barefoot Running: Beneficial or Harmful?

Robin Reichert By Robin Reichert, 13th May 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>Exercise & Fitness

In recent years, the barefoot running movement has received quite a bit of debate. If you are a runner, surely you have seen someone haul past you wearing those wacky looking "toe shoes" and it has piqued your interest in one form or another. Many people fear this barefoot running trend, however, but this article clarifies its origination and why it can be beneficial to beginners and advanced runners alike.

Barefoot Running: Beneficial or Harmful?

In recent years, this fitness movement has received quite a bit of debate. If you are a runner, surely you have seen someone haul past you wearing those wacky looking "toe shoes" and it has piqued your interest in one form or another. But why would anyone run without "proper" shoes? The debatable answer is relatively simple: because it's the natural way to run. Skeptical as you might be about this, the argument does make an interesting point. For thousands of years, many cultures have practiced barefoot running, such as the Tarahumara people in Mexico and various tribes in Africa. The fact is, humans evolved from minimalist running and there are many historical documents to attest to this. But is it really the best way to run?

The theory is that when a foot is minimally protected (barefoot), it is in its most natural and neutral position, and the body is able to align itself and therefore protect itself best from injury. Each footfall allows for the entire body to better receive what is called a proprioceptor response and therefore, proper force is being applied to the foot for a minimal amount of time. When a foot is encased in a shoe, the body and foot change from their natural alignment and pressure to an unnaturally exertion on certain parts of the foot that are not designed to withstand such force. Simply put, running shoes encourage the heel to strike the ground before the rest of the foot. Studies have shown that a heel strike has a much greater impact on joints than a forefoot strike (landing on the ball of the foot). A forefoot strike is the foot's natural method of running when in its naked state.

Since the 1970's, when jogging began to increase in popularity, there has been an increased suspicion that the continuous increase in running injuries has been due to the improper foot form created by running shoes. People have turned to minimalist running as a potential solution to this growing problem. But is running completely barefoot the only answer? Not necessarily.

If running barefoot appeals to you, by all means go for it! But before quitting running shoes cold turkey, it might be a good idea to learn to run better first. Running shoes don't necessarily force you to run with a heel strike, they simply encourage that. If you are conscious of this, it can be very easy to change your running form and focus on your strides with a forefoot strike. Many people misinterpret a forefoot strike to mean that the heel never touches the ground, but this is not the case and can make for additional injury! Make sure your heel still hits the ground, just not before the ball of your foot does. This may take a bit of an adjustment, but once you have this down, you are much better equipped to run with a minimalist shoe or even barefoot if you are so inclined. Once you have a good grip on the proper foot strike, running barefoot on grass is a great way to ease into this practice.

If you are going to dive into minimalist or barefoot running, making the switch from running shoes should be a gradual progression. Your feet need time to get used to having less padding, so they are given the chance to strengthen and hold their own to the pavement. A gradual transition will also allow for your bone density to increase and for your joints and ligaments to adapt to less support. As long as you keep a proper foot strike in mind, whether you choose to keep your running shoes or phase them out, your feet (and body) will definitely thank you in the long run.

Tags

Barefoot Running, Barefoot Running Trend, Benefits Of Barefoot Running

Meet the author

author avatar Robin Reichert
I'm an AFPA certified nutrition consultant, AFPA certified personal trainer, NASM certified youth exercise specialist, as well as an online fitness coach and a professional freelance writer.

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