The Benefits of Barefoot Running
Our feet are a design masterpiece. This efficient, weight-bearing design is able to provide endurance and flexibility of movement, regardless of the footwear we choose. Going barefoot whenever possible however, also offers an additional way of strengthening our muscles and reducing impact overload. Running barefoot also increases running efficiency and helps strengthen ligaments, tendons and muscles, so may be worth considering if you want to improve your all-round sporting performance.
Natural MovementWhen running on a hard surface bare feet will naturally adopt a self-defence mode, which means your feet will gently roll from the little toe outer edge towards the big toe. This natural, shock-absorbing, twisted movement is known as pronation. Encasing your feet in running or training shoes does provide a supportive structure, but this will make your muscles and tendons stiffen because your sports shoes are doing all the work.
Running barefoot alters the way you would normally run in trainers. When you wear training shoes you will normally land on the heel of your foot. From this position your foot will rock forwards before it stretches and propels forward, as your foot pivots over the toes.
Barefoot running encourages landing on the forefoot. Controlled by the calf muscle, the heel then drops back downwards, before pushing off and lifting forwards. This movement is aided by the contraction of the calf muscle and natural momentum.
Barefoot ToleranceIf you regularly cram your feet into shoes and trainers, without allowing them sufficient time to experience bare movement, suddenly switching to barefoot training, or running, would be a very unwise decision. Your sensitive feet may be easily injured because you need to build up tissue tolerance gradually. The vibrations that are caused by impact loading will affect the tissues of the foot, so your barefoot running style should be assessed before you decide to pound hard surfaces during your fitness regime.
Developing Natural StyleBarefoot running not only strengthens ligaments, muscles and tendons but also helps develop a natural running gait. By altering the way your foot moves during running, by not wearing padded trainers, your calf muscle and Achilles tendon will be able to stretch, lengthen and strengthen, which will mean you may experience less risk of injury.
Additional BenefitsBesides improving running gait barefoot running may improve balance. The smaller muscles in the foot, ankle and leg will be activated, and with help from the hips will provide better balance and co-ordination.
Because you are in direct contact with the ground you will also feel more grounded and connected to the environment. The natural, unrestricted, spreading of your toes will also encourage more effective balance and support of movement.
Potential RisksIt is essential that you have your barefoot running style assessed before embarking on a barefoot running programme. Trainers offer a great deal of support and protection so you must ensure you are fully aware of the potential risk of injury regarding running barefoot. No foot protection means you have to be alert to any debris on the surfaces you are running on. A small thorn, for instance, can result in a big injury.
You may also be more susceptible to plantar pain, blisters and calf strain so being prepared for possible injury may help reduce the risks.