Home » PPP 005: Barefoot Running: Good idea or Bad idea??

PPP 005: Barefoot Running: Good idea or Bad idea??

The information you are about to hear is for education purposes only.  Please consult your doctor before attempting to implement anything covered in the following episode.

In this podcast you will learn

  1. What are the advantages of barefoot running
  2. What are the potential dangers of barefoot running
  3. Useful applications of barefoot running concepts for ALL runners

As a general concept, barefoot running makes complete sense for a number of reasons.

  1. We didn’t come out of the womb wearing running shoes
  2. We have survived 2 million years on this planet the majority of time as hunter gather where we would forage for food at a causal pace and then occasionally sprint to take down game or avoid danger, again all done without running shoes
  3. Under normal circumstances, runner barefoot is a much more efficient way to run. What makes it more efficient?

Three major factors that improve a barefoot runner’s efficiency:
1) They  have a Shorter stride length in order to NOT land on heels
2) They contact the ground at either their mid foot/forefoot
3) They run more linearly meaning less vertical displacement or Much less bounce/bounding action which wastes precious energy

A simple exercise that demonstrates the benefits of barefoot running is: The Parking lot jog
Again, as a concept sure, makes sense, now the Trouble lies with the attempted application of this information. Most of us have lived for DECADES wearing heavily cushioned shoes, the majority of which have the most cushioning built into the heel.  Most typical running shoes have 12mm of such extra cushion built into the heal of our shoes

Now These Shoes have their OWN Problems!  (This added heel height, originally designed to help propel you forward, actually ends up encouraging runners to heel strike.

By having additional cushion to protect the heel, most people will then try to increase speed by INCREASING their stride length, as that is typically EASIER to do compared to trying to INCREASE turnover now this only FURTHER accentuates the  heel strike) If you video tape a runner that heel strikes and review the tape frame by frame you will notice that when the foot contacts the ground, their foot is ahead of their body, therefore they are actually breaking at the initial point of ground contact, when in reality, their body should be above foot as it contacts the ground.

This breaking action drives significantly more force through the entire ankle, knee, hip, pelvis and spine with each step (well OVER 7X our body weight ) and greatly reduces forward momentum, thus requiring much more force during the toe push off phase.  This explains the significant increase in ankle, knee, hip and spine injuries that have been occurring ever since the launch of the modern running shoe, years ago

For the majority of runners who have been using these standard shoes for years, these non-efficient movement patterns that coincide with heel striking are HARD wired and can takes MONTHS of training to reverse.

Nevertheless too many people have try to jump right in to either barefoot running or switching from their usual highly cushioned shoes to minimalistic shoes with little to now break-in or transition period.  Here in lies the BIG problem and  explains the significant rise in stress fractures that have been seen since the barefoot running craze has taken off.  While these runners may begin each run a bit more efficient, it does not take much fatigue before their run form breaks down and the old movement patterns return.  Before they know it, they are running more like they would if they were still in their heavily cushioned shoes WITHOUT ANY Protective Cushioning.

Other common injuries that are being seen in the barefoot running community are Achilles tendonitis and calf strains.

Achilles tendonitis is commonly a result of the bowstring effect:  90% of us are excessive pronators/flat feet.  Pronation creates lateral to medial stress forces in the Achilles.  These forces can be mitigated with the use of orthotics or the correct motion control shoes, however when running without any such support, if the intrinsic foot musculature is not properly built up to handle this strain Achilles tendonitis can set in.

Calve strains are the by product of switching from 12mm drop down shoe down to a lower drop or no drop in the case of barefoot running too quickly.  With each mm of drop removed from your shoe, there is an increased amount of stretch applied to the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles (the muscles of the calf).  It takes time to slowly stretch these muscles and their associated tendons to the point where they can handle the added stress of lower drop or barefoot running.

You CAN strengthen the intrinsic musculature of the foot which can help many people transition to a more minimal type of foot wear but it takes TIME and CONSISTANT work.  Weight training barefoot with a knowledgeable coach/trainer who can make sure you are properly activating the muscles of your feet is one step you can take to help speed that process.

SO, ARE there any Practical Applications for the typical runner in regards to barefoot running??

Absolutely.  Here are some General Recommendations:

As part of your Dynamic Warm up, find a level grass/turf surface such as the infield of a HS/College track and do the following;  perform 3-5 50m strides BAREFOOT where you work on landing light and on your mid/foot, focus on gliding forward without any bouncing or bounding.  Then, get back into your shoes AND run as if you are STILL barefoot. This can help you gain some of the efficiencies of running barefoot yet keeping the protection to your feet/knees/hips/spine

Other general tips that all runners should try to work on regardless of if you are wearing minimalistic shoes or not;

When possible work towards an ideal run cadence 170-180 step/min, doing so will allow shorter ground contact time per foot strike which is how you lessen the overall force be transmitted into the body and over time acclimating to a lower drop shoe, yet maintaining the degree of cushion that protects the individual’s body. A running metronome can be a useful tool in making sure you are doing this correctly.

If you are absolutely dead set on barefoot running or on using minimalistic shoes, carve out no less than 6 months to SLOWLY build up the time needed to build up the integrity of your intrinsic foot muscles and related soft tissues to be able to handle the increased forces that you previously relied on the shoe cushioning to absorb.

So there you have it folks, the overview on barefoot running.  I hope you found this information useful.   You can find the highlights of this talk on our show notes page at www.peakperformancepodcast.com.  Please take a moment to subscribe to this podcast, please share it with anyone you feel it may benefit and finally:  Thank you for listening and have a Great DAY!





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