A few years back, the argument against barefoot running was that there was simply no concrete evidence that barefoot running is good. Since recent research by Daniel Liberman and other evolutionary biologists, it’s becoming clearer that humans are evolved to run. There will probably be a lot more research in the coming years.
The fact is that there has never been a single study that has shown that running shoes have any positive impact on reducing injury rates.
Since there is positive research emerging regarding barefoot running, now the discussion has shifted to how not everyone is biomechanically advantaged as runners and those that are unfortunate enough need shoes if they ever want to run injury free. Biomechanically disadvantaged runners don’t need shoes and orthotics. They just need to become biomechanically advantaged. Barefoot running greatly assists in this.
Avoiding Barefoot Injuries
If you approach any type of running, barefoot or shod, with self-destructive personality traits, you will probably get injured. When starting out with barefoot running, taking a long term view is one of the most important aspects that is often overlooked. Running too far, too soon will only result in injury. If you imagine back to your first days of running in terms of distance, starting out barefoot will probably be similar.
Simply going barefoot is not going to do any good without making an effort to change your running form. If you are not prepared to improve your form over a period of months then you would be better off to continue running with shoes. When learning to run barefoot, it’s not a good idea to have any races planned in the short to medium term.
When improving your form, it’s often helpful to get lessons. There is often a big difference in what you think you are doing, and what you are actually doing with your body, even in elite athletes. The biggest improvements you will make when improving your running form is by filming yourself or getting running lessons where they film you and give advice on how to improve your running form. There are many options, such as ChiRunning and the POSE method. Both have slight differences but are basically just teaching a more natural way of running.
Barefoot runners are accused of blaming shoes for injuries, then blaming the runner for any injury suffered when running barefoot. This is somewhat true. Most runners are not prepared to sacrifice races they have planned, trying to cram barefoot running in between marathons. Others expect to switch to barefoot running and continue training at the same distances. Others have a false sense of security by wearing minimalist running shoes.
Common Barefoot Injuries
The most common injuries runners tend to experience when first starting out with barefoot running is Achilles tendon strains, calf muscle injuries and plantar fasciitis. If you’ve been wearing elevated heels for most of your life, you will be at increased risk. Work boots, high heels, men’s dress shoes and even most running shoes have elevated heels.
Because of this, most of us have a decreased range of motion in the ankle, a shortened Achilles tendon and weakness of muscles in the foot and ankle. The best way increase range of motion, lengthen and thicken your Achilles tendon, and increase the strength of muscles in your foot and ankle is to actually walk around and run barefoot. It’s only when you do too much, too soon you will experience these injuries.
If you really want to prevent injuries with running, don’t just focus on barefoot running. It is just one piece of the puzzle. Don’t make the mistake of arrogantly switching to barefoot running without doing anything other than buying some shoes.
If you take things slow with barefoot running by listening to your body, eliminate self-destructive tendencies in your training, avoid any shoe with an elevated heel, strengthen your foot muscles, work on running in a more natural way, improve your core strength, fix pelvic alignment and eliminate muscle balances, you will be at a greatly decreased risk of suffering an injury.
Keeping an open mind is the most important step you can take. Read information from as many different sources as possible, ask people about their experiences and try different things for yourself.
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Jim has been running since he represented his local running club aged 13. Thirty years later he is still finding new ways to stay ahead of the pack in from 5k races through to Ultra Marathons. He started Running Unlimited to share his knowledge of the sport and to keep a record of what’s worked and what hasn’t.