Barefoot Running – An Alternative Fitness Idea

Remember the times as a child when you’d run all over the place barefoot, much to the dismay of your mother? As we grew up, footwear became increasing important to us – such that we hardly ever leave the house barefoot anymore.

Similarly, for those of us who go for regular runs as part of our fitness programme, a good pair of running shoes is a must. However, initial studies in recent years have suggested potential benefits in returning to our carefree childhood habits of barefoot running.

If you ever pay attention to the way you run, you’ll notice that you will usually land heel first, before placing the entire foot on the ground and pushing off with your toes again. While it seems perfectly natural – as if you aren’t wearing any shoes – when wearing a comfortably cushioned pair of shoes, try that barefoot and you’ll find it hurts. This is because the impact of landing is transferred directly from the ground to your heel and up to your knees with minimal shock absorption.

This is also why running is considered a high impact sport with much potential for knee injuries. Wearing shoes does not negate the effect of the hard landing impact, but merely reduces the perceived pain from it. Over time, the potential for some form of injury is still present.

However, studies comparing barefoot running to running with shoes show that we run very differently without shoes, landing more on the middle and front of the foot, greatly reducing the impact of running caused by landing on the heels. Without our comfortable shoes to take away the pain, our body adjusts to the most comfortable way of running, which incidentally is how we ran before shoes were invented.

Running barefoot thus has possible benefits of reducing running-related injuries, and is worth considering for those of us experiencing such conditions.

Given that most of us have not ran barefoot before, it is important to take it slow when starting a new regime. Barefoot running employs different sets of muscles in the foot and calf from what we are used to, and it will take time to build up those sets of muscles.

For starters, consider running at the beach to get yourself accustomed to the change in gait when barefoot. The softer surface of the beach will give you time to adjust the way you land your foot, while being forgiving enough not to cause injury should you land incorrectly.

Also, start with shorter distances first. Do not expect to reach the same distance and timing you had when running with shoes. Just be forewarned that even for a seasoned runner, the first few sessions can still give you sores all over! It is important not to rush and take time to learn the proper landing technique while strengthening your leg muscles before graduating to harder surfaces like pavements and roads.

Most importantly, listen to your body. If it feels awkward, it might be just something your body needs time to get used to. But if it feels painful, then it is likely that something is wrong, be it technique, muscle strength, or an existing injury.

Once you feel sufficiently confident with your barefoot running technique and wish to embark on more ambitious challenges such as trail running, there are also shoes on the market that mimic the experience of running barefoot, while protecting your feet from potential hazards on the road at the same time. A word of caution though, incorrect running techniques with these shoes can still cause injury, so ease into it gradually.

While it might feel odd to imagine yourself running barefoot down the streets and getting weird stares along the way, you will never know till you try it. You might find the freedom to wiggle your toes at others while running an experience a little more liberating than it seems!

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