Running: Go Barefoot!
Eastbay Running Copywriter, J. Sisko
Date Updated on: 2-16-12
If you think you can't get more out of your run, hikes or walks, think again. Going barefoot will tune up your stride and turn on the adventure!
Each foot on your body is made up of 28 bones, 33 muscles, 19 ligaments and 200,000 nerve endings that work together to help your body assess its physical environment and create natural patterns of movement. Despite being perfectly designed for this task, feet have had to suffer the abuse of modern shoes, which wrap them in materials meant to provide support, warmth, height and muscle mass in a number of unnatural ways. While the intentions of these technologies may be good, the results are not. These methods often cause discomfort and injury. As a result we add appliances, like orthotics and arch supports, treating the symptoms instead of the underlying problem. The real solution is actually incredibly simple: go barefoot.
The body's ability to move naturally depends on how much it is able to interact with the physical world. Because your feet come into contact with your environment the most, it is especially important to stimulate them as much as possible. Traditional shoes put layers of rubber, padding and leather between your feet and the ground you walk on, greatly diminishing the amount of information your body has to work with. However, when barefoot, your body has full access to every surface you touch.
Unfortunately, in today's world, going barefoot is often impossible. That's why companies like VIVOBAREFOOT and Merrell are embracing a less-is-more attitude when it comes to their shoes. While the technologies they use may differ slightly, the goal is the same: provide a thin, lightweight shoe that protects feet from the elements and debris while still allowing them as much access to the ground as possible.
So far, this approach has been a huge success, not only for walkers and runners but also for all other athletes and even casual wearers. This is because barefoot technology does more for your body than simply prevent injury.
Walking and running barefoot realigns the body's posture, moving it into a more natural stance. Positioning your head, shoulders and hips directly over the midfoot not only opens the chest and makes breathing easier but also places more emphasis on the muscles of your core, strengthening them over time.
The cause of most running injuries lies in the foot landing. Traditional shoes have the most padding in the heel, forcing it to hit the ground first. This concentrates the impact on a very small area and sends a shockwave up your legs, putting unnecessary stress on your knees and hips. Barefoot shoes have extremely thin soles and zero drop, meaning that your feet will land flat, spreading out the force of impact and using the ligaments in your feet to naturally propel you forward into your next stride.
When wearing traditional shoes, runners tend to take large steps, extending the leg far in front of the body. This usually results in poor running posture, with either the head or pelvis extended over the hips. However, the proper posture and landing of barefoot running keep all of your body segments in a straight line and allow you to take smaller, faster steps, ideally 180 per minute. Taking these smaller steps uses less of your body's energy, eventually enabling you to run further and longer.
The minimalist shoes of barefoot running may offer many health and comfort benefits, but it is important to remember that altering your walking/running posture, landing and stride are huge transitions for your body. Here are some things to keep in mind when starting your barefoot regimen:
- Start at the beginning. Whether you're a seasoned athlete or a weekend warrior, barefoot training should start with the fundamentals. Build on them step by step to get the most out of your barefoot experience.
- Practice good form. Proper foot strike, and other factors can optimize barefoot performance.
- Build endurance gradually. Barefoot works muscles in your feet and legs that you may not be accustomed to using. If you usually wear socks, your feet may also be tender in the first days of training. Take it slow and easy for better results.
- Pay attention to your body's signals. With any new training regimen, some soreness is to be expected. However, if soreness persists or worsens, take a break.
- Choose familiar terrain at first. Different types of terrain can affect your training. Steep ups and downs and areas filled with obstacles, like roots or rocks, should be avoided until you've built up greater endurance and strength.
- Set achievable goals. If you're struggling with soreness, blisters or other limitations, don't hesitate to shorten your training times or modify your activities.
- Raise your game. The more you put into barefoot training, the more you can get out of it. Barefoot helps develop greater strength in your feet and legs and may increase your agility and balance—benefits you can put into play for your favorite sport or adventure.
- Be smart. Barefoot frees your feet to develop natural strengths and a closer connection to your environment. It can be an awesome feeling. In the beginning of your training, you should avoid the temptation to push too hard, for too long by sticking to a set training regimen.
- Find the right shoe. Try a low-profile design. We think you'll agree that 0 mm heel drops, flexible designs and mapped cushioning make for a great ride.
- Have fun! Most importantly, enjoy your new interactive relationship with the world beneath your feet!
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