Pros and Cons of Barefoot Running

Barefoot running has become very popular over the last few years.  But why?  Why is running without protection on your feet becoming popular?  Why would anyone want to stop wearing shoes – aren’t they supposed to provide support and protect your feet? 

pros and cons of barefoot running, is barefoot running good for you, sports therapy lake forestWhile there is a lot of debate around whether barefoot running is good for you or not, the theory behind running barefoot is sound.  Proponents of barefoot running believe that the shoes we wear are like a braces on our feet.  They don’t let our muscles and joints fully do the job they were designed to do.  Because of this, our feet become weak which can create an entirely new set of problems and injuries.  By running barefoot, it allows our feet work harder and become stronger. 

In theory, this is a good idea. It helps our feet become stronger and helps our muscles, joints and bones do the job they are supposed to do. 

Unfortunately, in practice, it can create a lot of problems.  People have been wearing shoes for years.  Because of this, our feet have adapted to the shoes and thus are no longer accustomed to life without them.  If you take the shoes away, you can’t just expect them to work great.  It’s like getting your arm out of a sling for months and expecting to throw a 100 mph fastball.  It’s not going to go well. 

This is where most people go wrong.  They go from wearing shoes and then go run 3 miles barefoot and are surprised when they injure themselves.  These injuries could be to their muscles, joints, bones or simply just getting cut by a sharp object on the ground.  Shoes aren’t just there for support, they help protect our feet as well. 

If you are interested in running barefoot, you need to transition out of your shoes.  Most running shoes have a lift to them.  So the first step should be buying shoes that are neutral and feel more like running barefoot.  Even doing this will take a long time to get used to – don’t rush it. 

From there, you can transition to running in more minimalistic shoes, depending on what you are hoping to accomplish.  Running in shoes with less ‘stuff’ in them makes your feet do more work.  The goal is to build up and strengthen your feet.  Doing this doesn’t mean ditching your shoes altogether.  Maybe after you complete your run with shoes, you take off your shoes and run on grass for five minutes.  You have to take your time and build up your strength.  Don’t expect to be able to run 10 miles barefoot if you can run 10 miles in shoes.  That is a recipe for injury. 

Instead, try doing some easy, short-term drills barefoot.  Run 5-10 minutes on a soft surface or find a good stretch and do some tempo repeats.  Use barefoot running as a training tool to mix into your training plan, not as your new way of running. 

If you really want to get your feet stronger start doing your resistance training barefoot.  Better yet, do as many of your exercises as possible barefoot and on one leg.  This will really train your feet muscles and also the proprioceptors, nerve signals, in the feet which are responsible for your foot’s response to altered terrain. 

Ultimately, while running barefoot does have some benefits, there are also a lot of risks associated with running barefoot.  If you are concerned about the strength of your feet, find a shoe that fits well and doesn’t have a lot of stuff built into it.  And add some barefoot strength training (which you should be doing anyways!)  Your feet will figure it out from there. 

If you are interested in learning more about the pros and cons of running barefoot, please contact us at 949-916-9742.  We can help you put together a training plan to help you accomplish your goals. 

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