Running Out of Your Shoes

Runners sometimes like to obsess about our running shoes. We track the latest technologies, trends and fashions that may put an extra lift in our step. So it may be natural that one of the most recent developments in the sport is running with no shoes at all.

Barefoot running may seem like the anti-shoe movement, a backlash to high-priced sneaker companies. But advocates argue that barefoot running has been around since the dawn of man – far longer than the invention of shoes, let alone athletic shoes. “It was good enough for our ancestors, so it’s good enough for me.” But is it?

Proposed Benefits of Barefoot Running

Running shoeless requires a lot more than simply leaving your sneakers at home. It demands an entirely different style of running. Instead of landing heel first and rolling onto the toe, runners land on the ball of the foot first. Instead of long strides, it relies on short, quick strides. Instead of fully extending the leg, you keep the knee slightly bent.

Some advocates say there are clear benefits to barefoot running, especially for your chiropractic health. First, they say the form minimizes the force of a hard footstrike, which radiates into the legs and the rest of the body. Also, practitioners say, without artificial support, the arch of the foot can maintain its natural shape and even grow stronger.

Some chiropractors actually advocate the switch to barefoot running as treatment for their patients. They report patients feeling relief from back pain and knee problems. What better endorsement could there be?

The Form

No doubt, if you’ve ever seen an athlete running shoeless you’re not going to forget it. The barefoot running form looks completely different. You can check out video of Zola Budd and Tegla Loroupe, world-class athletes who competed and won this way.

One advocate of barefoot running suggests three things to keep in mind to adopt the style.

  • Align your posture: stand tall, lean forward slightly at the ankles and bend the knees a tad.
  • Balanced foot strike: make sure the feet land under the hips.
  • Cadence: shoot for 180 steps per minute to ensure the foot strike remains balanced. 

Most importantly, runners seeking to make the transition need to do so gradually. Don’t expect to complete as many miles as you do now. The muscles in your legs and feet will need weeks, if not months, to begin learning the new step. Oh, and did we mention it’s barefoot? The soles of your feet are probably not used to padding three miles on concrete. That can hurt!

Is It Right for Me?

By now you may be thinking one of two things. “I’m so doing this.” Or: “That is utterly ridiculous.” Both answers may be right. For every individual who reports major benefits in their physical health, you can find another person who found himself in agony after months of barefoot running.

The science is still out on barefoot running. It may be the oldest form of running, but researchers are just now getting around to performing studies. Some scholars have found that barefoot runners experience less structural impact on their bodies and greater efficiency in their stride. Another study claimed the switch to barefoot exposed runners to higher risk of foot problems, including stress fractures. Individuals in that study wound up running less because of pain, after switching to barefoot running.

So which is right? Only you can answer that. The correct answer may be whichever style gets you out running the most.

In either case, proper form is key. The pain and injury we see in runners often are a result of flaws in their running style. With some help, many of these can be addressed. Call us for an appointment if you have any doubts about your running form, or especially if you have nagging pains. Our friends at iRun in Miami are also good at analyzing a runner’s gait.

Anyone out there have any experience with barefoot running? Let us know how it went and if you’re still doing it.

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