Want to take your movement practice to the next level? Looking for the best ways to increase your running economy? Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need fancy gear to hone your running skills. Actually, barefoot running can do wonders for your health and sports performance. It not only makes you a better athlete but also reduces injury risk.
This barefoot movement has been around since the ’60s. It has recently made a comeback and got quite some attention after the book ‘Born to run’ by Christopher McDougall was published. Nothing new here, because after all, people have been running like this for thousands of years. Our bodies are meant to run barefoot and not with shoes.
Need more proof? Let’s take a quick look at the surprising benefits of barefoot running!
Barefoot Running at a Glance
In 1960, Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia won the Olympic gold medal and broke a world record. Surprisingly, he was the only runner without shoes. Since then, barefoot running became known in the west.
Science supports the benefits of barefoot running. This training style increases knee flexion at ground contact, boosts stride frequency, and causes less collision force to the feet, heels and ankles. It also results in a shorter stride length and consequently decreased injury risk.
Some experts say that our feet are not designed to be in shoes which makes sense if you compare the form of a natural foot with modern shoes. Others claim that footwear prevents injuries and boosts sports performance. Since most people spend their lives sitting down, then starting out barefoot or on minimal footwear can definitely be a challenge.
Today with growing popularity ‘barefoot-style’ footwear brands are entering the market. It’s an opportunity for more and more people to go minimal. Barefoot runners are now found all over the world. Some of them wear minimalist shoes and call it barefoot running. But a true barefoot runner gives up footwear completely.
What Are the Benefits of Barefoot Running?
Research shows that running form, not footwear, is what matters. Despite the advancements in footwear technology, running injuries are just as common today as they were decades ago. In the best case scenario, sports shoes can decrease injury risk only by about 10 percent at the most. Studies have found that barefoot running has several advantages over shod running, such as:
- Higher pre-activation of calf muscles
- Higher pushing and braking impulses
- Higher stride frequency
- Lower contact time
- Smaller collision force
- Improved running economy
Plus, running barefoot improves your balance and proprioception. Over time, it helps stretch and strengthen the calf muscles and the Achilles tendon. This leads to a reduced risk of injury, tendinitis, and calf strains. On top of that, you’ll develop a more natural gait.
Compared to shod running, this training style activates the small muscles in the hips, legs, and ankles to a greater extent. You’ll get faster and more agile while keeping injuries at bay.
What if you’re not ready to go barefoot? Well, you can always opt for minimalist shoes. Choose a model with minimal heel-to-toe drop, wide toe box, and flexible soles. Beware that building up the muscles that got weaker as a result of wearing running shoes takes time.
You may experience aches and fatigue in the first few days. As your body adjusts to barefoot running, you’ll get stronger and cover longer distances. Not to mention the cost savings!
So, what are you waiting for? Start learning the basics of running barefoot today.
Your future self will thank you.
More reading: Top Reasons to Start Your Barefoot Running Practice