• Abby Heffern

Should I Run Barefoot? No...and Yes

Barefoot running was popularized years ago when "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall hit the shelves. While I highly recommend the book, I criticize it for naming barefoot running as THE solution to running injuries. Pain and injury is complicated, in any sport, and one should generally be questionable of anyone who claims one singular aspect to be a cause or solution. I am a big believer in NO ABSOLUTES.

The argument is that our hyper-cushioned shoes obstruct our ability to run with a proper gait and that they also weaken our feet. While there is some truth to these statements, there is definitely a middle road to be traveled when figuring out how to solve those issues- i.e- buying a more minimalist shoe, making sure you have a shoe that fits your mechanics and movement, incorporating strength training into your routine.

So, should you run barefoot?

No...and yes.

To run barefoot for long distances successfully and consistently requires perfect biomechanics which most people do not have. Most of us are not perfectly balanced- we are born with natural imperfections in our skeletal and muscular make-up that are generally harmless- so long as you KEEP YOUR SHOES ON. Most of us have also been in shoes since we could walk, so our bodies have learned running and walking with the support of a shoe- taking that away is often a shock to the muscles and bones and creates more problems than it solves.

Even further, running barefoot is not necessarily the solution to your injury woes. While it can encourage a shorter and lighter stride, it does not guarantee perfect running form. There are many common issues with gait that can cause chronic pain and will NOT be fixed by taking off your shoes- like bouncing, weaving, and contralateral hip drop- just to name a few. As well as other issues with gait, injuries can be caused by a multitude of other factors that don't even have anything to do with running- lack of sleep, poor diet, and stress.

So no, you should not kick off your shoes and go for a 5 mile run. What you SHOULD do if you still want to reap the balance, proprioception, stride improvement, and strength that are real benefits of barefoot running - is run barefoot in SMALL doses. You could apply it to your warm-up, cool down, strength day, or rest day as 5-8x 20-50m strides. That will be enough to do you some good, while avoiding the risks. I also have my athletes strength train barefoot as much as possible, which allows them get the same benefits they would get from running barefoot- again, without the risk.

The takeaway is that running barefoot is a tool to be applied, not the end all be all. The best thing you can do for injury prevention is get a coach who knows how to analyze your gait, injury history, strength imbalances, and lifestyle to create a well rounded program that not only allows you to hit your goals- but keeps you healthy and happy for a lifetime of miles.

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