As summer heats up I wanted to touch on a topic that always seems to stir up equally heated conversation and debate. Of course, I'm talking about barefoot running. In fact I'd say the one question I'm most frequently asked is, “So, what do you think about barefoot running?”.
Gees, talk about a tough question! What do I think about it? Do you mean, “do I recommend it”?
There's simply no way for me to answer that question as intelligently as possible unless you have some time to spare. It truly is an individual thing. So I usually just respond by saying, “it depends”, which is an unsatisfactory answer, I'm sure!
Since the topic of barefoot running is so broad, I'm going to focus on how I determine if someone needs a major form overhaul. Meaning, do they need to scrap everything they've been doing, start over from scratch and become a COMPLETE beginner again? This type of recommendation is usually reserved for the desperate runner who is sick and tired of being injured (with primarily knee pain) no matter what they try.
Keep in mind, many runners will benefit from small doses of barefoot running during their warm-up, for example. So I'm not saying the only type of runner who will benefit are the injury prone. Rather, nearly everyone would probably benefit from some time moving around without shoes.
Finally, just to be clear, when I say barefoot running I also mean “natural running” as well. That means your running form is the same whether you're wearing shoes or not. Natural running is WAY more practical most of the time- especially for those of us in urban areas!
Here are some questions I consider before recommending a complete form overhaul.
What are your goals?
-If you just HAVE to run a marathon in 6 months, we may tweak something, but not everything.
Have you had frequent bouts with injuries?
-Do you get hurt every year? More? Less?
Where have you been injured?
-If you've had problems with your achilles' tendon or calf, now is NOT the time to switch.
Do you sit for extended periods of time all day?
-Often this process leads to lifestyle changes. It's NOT just your running form we need to address.
Are you patient?
-If you expect results tomorrow, forget it. This process can take over a year in some cases.
Do you like (or are you willing to try) cross-training concurrently?
-This will help you maintain and build your fitness as you adapt to a new way of running.
Are you willing to wear flat (I mean pancake) soled shoes during the rest of your day?
-Walking around in raised heeled shoes (even regular running shoes) is not natural and subtly alters your posture. This is the first step toward becoming a barefoot/natural runner. You must adapt to walking (and just standing) before running!
Are you at your ideal running bodyweight?
-If you're overweight, you going to land with more force. Period. If you're going to be asking your foot to absorb the impact instead of your shoe, then address the weight issue first.
Do you have good mobility in your hips, ankles, and big toe?
Do you have good stability in your hips, knee, and feet?
-As I've said before, if you don't possess good fundamental movement traits, you just can't expect to run very long without getting hurt.
If you want to read up on barefoot running check out what the Sports Scientists have to say. They put out a fantastic, in depth post the other day on this vast topic. And even they admit that they could go on and on. Seriously, check it out.
The bottom line is that your running form is unique. It is shaped by your life experiences, habits, postures, activities, and injury history. I'm sure this won't be the last post I write regarding this topic, but I thought I'd just get the ball rolling.
What has been your experience? Have you tried it and if so, why?