Running is one of the most popular ways to get fit. It’s minimalistic, social, and empowering but few realise how personalised running can be.
As a podiatrist, I have seen a recent increase in the number of patients asking the question “Should I take up barefoot running?” Unfortunately there is no one answer to suit everyone. Each person is unique and so are their feet.
Barefoot running is basically just that. Running barefoot with no or minimalist shoes over long distances. In my research on the subject, I found some advertisers for minimalist running shoes have claimed their product:
- reduces injury
- is more energy efficient
- increases foot muscle strength
Claiming barefoot running reduces injury is only true for some and not others. Anecdotal evidence provided by runners with a history of injury claim they are symptom-free when running barefoot. They feel unlimited. While others report increased injuries, metatarsal stress fractures and heel pain in particular.
The next two claims made seem to contradict one another. Firstly, to strengthen your foot muscles you must first make them work harder, to make them work harder requires more energy, this means barefoot running is less energy efficient not more.
Ultimately there is no right or wrong way to run, only your way. Even amongst elite runners there are differing running variations. Some strike the ground with their forefoot, some with their mid foot and others with their rear-foot. All these professionals are still fast and can still be at risk of injury unless strategical choices are made regarding their foot mechanics and posture using the right footwear and various technical training techniques.
Long story short, if your feet can tolerate it then there is no reason why you shouldn’t participate in barefoot running.
I strongly suggest starting slow by walking bare foot around the house or down to the shops to build up your foot and lower leg muscles and toughen the skin on the bottom of your feet with various different textures. When you commence training take it slowly and gradually. This isn’t a race so never over do it in the beginning stages. Listen to your body and be aware of your limitations. If you feel barefoot running tends to stress previous running injuries, you may need supportive shoes and orthotics to help reduce the strain on your injured tissues. Approach your local podiatrist if there are any major concerns.
By listening to your body and taking things gradually, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of barefoot running everyday.