Barefoot Running


Wearing a minimalist shoe causes certain modifications of the body that allow the exerciser to do more work with less demand on the body, such as more efficient stride lengths and frequency. And, it’s less fatiguing than running in traditional shoes because it leads to lower energy consumption, thereby delaying the onset of fatigue. Another benefit is that it helps to improve proprioception (the body’s ability to sense stimuli). When a runner isn’t encased in all that running shoe technology, the little sensors in his/her feet can actually feel the surface beneath and then allow the foot to react appropriately-thereby reducing injury and improving balance. And, it helps strengthen all those muscles in the feet and ankles because they are recruited more for support. Finally, most traditional running shoes have a heel lift. By removing this, it helps the Achilles tendon and calves stretch and lengthen, thereby reducing injuries such as calf pulls caused by short, tight tissues.

Now that you have decided to make the switch, transition slowly to running in this footwear because so much more ankle and footwork is required, and those muscles and tendons are not accustomed to the stress. Begin by doing various activities of daily life in these shoes, such as gardening or cleaning the house. Then, begin to adopt a progressive overload approach. For example, wear them for 10 minutes at the beginning of exercise and another 10 minutes at the end. Slowly, add in another 10-minute bout. For the first 2 weeks, keep the total training time to no more than 30 minutes per session. Be mindful of how your feet and ankles feel after wearing the shoes, and slowly progress the amount of time exercising in them as long as you are pain-free.

Beware, however, that there are cons associated with this type of running. As I stated earlier, minimalist shoes don’t offer a lot of sole-support, so one has to be very mindful of the surface upon which they run and be on the lookout for glass, rocks and other sharp objects. And, because one’s calves and Achilles tendons are accustomed to a more supportive shoe, minimalist running may over-stress them in the beginning. So, follow the progressive overload protocol I outlined above. Finally, this type of running may be contraindicated for those with diabetes because peripheral neuropathy (a common complication of diabetes) can lead to a loss of protective sensations in the feet.