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 Barefoot Running

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home » barefoot running

Barefoot running has benefits, but as with any new activity it must be undertaken with moderation. The theory supporting barefoot running is that run shoe technology allows our lower legs to be ‘lazy’ with too much support, heavy padding, and elevated heels. This is true to some degree, but full run shoes also provide protection and a way to correct the bio-mechanical issues many runners were born with.

It’s easy to feel the difference by running in shoes, then barefoot. With a typical run shoe we have much padding, so coming down heavy on the heel gives some shock absorbtion. But heel-strike is a form flaw to some degree; part of what coaches describe as over-striding. More about that later. If we use the same heel-strike form barefoot, our heel hits hard and it hurts. The only way for a shoeless foot to absorb shock is foot-strike with our forefoot or midfoot.

Over-striding is essentially trying to cover too much distance with each stride. It involves reaching too far ahead with each stride: the foot hits the ground too far ahead of our center of gravity, ‘putting on the brakes’ for a split-second, then we begin the drive phase of stride, pulling back with hamstrings, then pushing-off with calf. Over-striders typically have a slow stride rate.

Optimal form without over-striding places our foot-strike more under our body - not ahead - with light heelstrike or mid to forefoot, immediately beginning the drive phase with a snappy motion. This run form is the main goal of barefoot running. Some describe the correct sensation as having out foot on the ground for the least possible amount of time; quick steps.

Foot-strike on forefoot or midfoot not only absorbs shock, it preloads the calf muscle like a spring for a more explosive push-off. All pure sprinters run this way; it gives maximum force for each stride. Few distance runners have this form because the calf muscles can’t maintain the force over long distances.

Using your lower legs gives slightly more speed potential, but also more risk as the majority of run injuries involve lower legs.

The downside of barefoot running is increased injury potential with problems such as: nerve damage; stress fractures of the metatarsal bones; damage to lower legs for runners with mechanical issues that can only be corrected with medial support and/or orthotics.

A certain brand of run shoes combine a full padded shoe with ramping under ball of foot attempting to force forefoot run form. I know of several athletes whose seasons ended early using this brand of run shoe.

If you have a history of calf injuries I recommend you stick with a typical padded run shoe where the heel is slightly raised above ball of foot.

In my case a significant leg length difference must be corrected; I have nerve damage to bottom of left foot, and I have Hallux rigidus of right MTP joint. Without a traditional run shoe I can’t add height to compensate for my leg length difference; my nerve issues are irritated, and my toe joint that doesn’t bend is painful.

Form that minimalist shoes force can be accomplished with awareness of how you move. For many runners it’s as simple as increasing your stride rate. Shorter, quicker steps is how elite athletes run. I creates momentum with less stress on the body. For most a stride rate within the 90-97 range is optimal.

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