During the last several years, the running industry has seen an explosion of interest in barefoot running and minimalist running shoes. The bestseller Born to Run by Christopher McDougall helped propel the topic of running without shoes to the national stage.
As average runners, what are we to do with all this information on barefoot running? Should we throw away our shoes forever? Maybe wear those funny "toe shoes" instead?
While there are distinct, clear benefits to running without shoes (more on that later), there's a more balanced approach you can take that can help you stay healthy without the risk of a repetitive stress injury from being barefoot.
Why Run Barefoot?
Barefoot running can help many runners strengthen their feet and lower legs, improve running efficiency, and promote good form. The research confirms that if done properly, it can be very beneficial for the majority of runners.
Harvard professor Dan Lieberman has shown that running barefoot causes fewer impact forces in the lower legs. Changing your foot strike from heel to mid-foot reduces the impact shock at the knee, and can prevent common knee injuries in running.
Leaving your shoes at home also alters your gait pattern in two major ways. You'll naturally increase your cadence, which is the real "secret" to how barefoot running helps prevent injuries. A higher cadence closer to 180 steps per minute not only reduces impact forces, but it's also much more efficient. You run just as fast with less effort.
Striking the ground with your feet closer to your body, instead of reaching out with your legs and over-striding, also improves your running form. Running without shoes helps facilitate this change.
So, ready to dive in to barefoot running? Not so fast!