For some it's a lifestyle thing about getting back to nature, for others it is all about efficiency; regardless of the reasons, barefoot running is taking off. When teaching Pilates, I often preached the merits of strong feet and walking barefoot. Every time your foot hits the ground when taking a step, the contact initiates a chain of muscular events that create dynamic support from your heel all the way to your lower back. Shoes damped the effectiveness of the natural muscular pattern, and confused muscles can lead to those dreaded overuse injuries. Prior to having my gait analyzed by running coach Lee Saxby, he explained that when we encase our feet in puffy sneakers they interfere with correct body mechanics, allowing us to jog, striking our heels heavily into the ground with each step. Saxby said running is more efficient bio mechanically than jogging, which blends the motions of walking with running. But running also uses up more calories than jogging, and the body likes to conserve calories — remember as we evolved, food (aka calories and energy) was pretty scarce. So we allow ourselves to jog, and the shoes, in his opinion, aid this disastrous technique.
Learn what I thought about running with no sneakers and check out a video of how my gait changed without them when you read more.
After reviewing tape of me running in sneakers, I hopped on the treadmill sans shoes. The first issue to address is posture; our desk time has really interfered with our ability to stand up straight. Lucky for me, years of dance training reinforced by years of Pilates helped get my posture in line. But I needed help with my rhythm and to increase my cadence, or turnover. The longer your foot is on the ground the longer time your ankles and knees have to veer off course, eventually creating chronic injuries. After having me hop in place on the treadmill (this is no easy feat), Lee set a metronome to 180 beats per minute and had me run to the beat. It was a challenging pace but felt great. Next issue to address was the tension in my upper body; it's a "passenger" along for a ride so it's important to keep it loose and relaxed.
I ran, with Lee coaching me, on the treadmill for 10 minutes barefoot. It felt great. I really thought my feet were going to hurt, or my knees ache, but none of that happened. Then I tried the Evo, a minimalist running shoe by Terra Plana, that felt like rubber ballet shoes except with plenty of room for my toes to wiggle. I really like being able to feel my foot make contact with the ground, or rather the belt of the treadmill, but I am not sure when I will venture out into the world in them. I would like to think something as simple as chucking my sneakers would ensure that I could run injury free, but I don't think it's likely. And honestly it's not a gamble I am willing to try. I did learn to let go of all that padding though, and I think I will run occasionally without shoes. But only on a treadmill.
Here's a little video of the experience. You can totally see how my gait changed without shoes.
Have you tried a minimalist running shoe or gone completely barefoot for a run?
Source: Flickr User Taina Linda