Running? While BAREFOOT? Who would do such a thing, right? Well, it has become a popular trend in the running world. Running barefoot gets us back to our roots as human beings, and back to the time before footwear was invented. Centuries ago, human beings ran barefoot. In fact, our bodies were designed to do so.
Many cultures that have not accepted modern civilization still do so today, such as the tribes in Africa or the famous Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, known to be some of the best distance runners in the world. Together, these cultures and our history that have inspired thousands to kick off their fancy, high-tech tennis shoes and go back to nature.
Modern running shoes, which began to be produced in the 1970s, drastically change a runner’s gait. They cause the impact to be absorbed by the heel. This is called “heel striking”. When running with bare feet, the ball of the foot is the part of the foot that strikes the ground. By striking with the ball of the foot instead of the heel, the runner is using his body as it was designed, which is thought to prevent injuries that plague many runners today. Runners who have switched to barefoot running have experienced improved speed, less injuries, and have found that running requires less effort than it had when running in clunky, modern running shoes.
Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, stated in his paper appearing in the journal Nature, “By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most shod runners generate when they heel-strike.”
So, how do you get started? The key, like any exercise program, is to take it slowly. Start going around barefoot as much as possible, even if it is something as simple as going to the garage to get something out of your car. The more often you go barefoot, the better. The skin on your feet will have time to build up calluses and your feet muscles will start to strengthen. Read books like ChiRunning, which describes the techniques involved with being aware and running injury free, then you can wean yourself off your sneakers. I recommend checking out shoes like Nike Free Run + shoes. They have a lot of the flexibility of a thin soled shoe and are designed to be much closer to barefoot than the average heavy soled running shoe. You can then work your way down to running slippers or moccasins, and then BARE FEET!
If you’re a runner who has been forced to take breaks from your running due to injuries or if you are just someone who is looking for eco-friendly and a natural living based form of exercise, then check out barefoot running. It really will change your life.
I say this in all honesty. I have never been much of an athletic person, but I wanted to do something to help improve my cardiac health after my dad discovered that he had heart issues. I now am able to run without it making my knees hurt and my asthma act up. It truly has changed my life for the better.
For more info on the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, check out the book Born to Run