If you’re reading this, you probably enjoy running, but have never tried running barefoot. Maybe you’ve seen your neighbor run by sans Nikes or have heard a friend gush about Born to Run (the book that popularized the movement). But before you dip your (bare) toes into barefoot running, here’s what you need to know about it. Knowing the benefits of barefoot running as well as its disadvantages will help you decide if sprinting shoeless is right for you.
Barefoot running is also called natural running because it allows our feet to strike the ground with natural landing form. Running shoes have altered this natural motion by prompting runners to land on their heel, causing a jolt of force to travel up through the ankles and into the spine. Our natural landing form is such that the forefoot hits the ground, which is a much less impactful striking motion. Proponents of barefoot running say that forefoot striking can result in fewer running injuries. Besides being a preventative measure, barefoot running can improve your balance as well as strengthen muscles in your feet, ankles and legs.
The main problem people see with barefoot running is the lack of protection. The shoes we wear every day aren’t just for fashion purposes — they also protect us from getting cuts, scrapes and infections as well as insulate feet from the cold. If you’re running outdoors you risk stepping on thorns, rocks, glass and other dangerous debris. If you’re not used to barefoot running, you may be more susceptible to injuries like plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis.
If you don’t think you’re ready to run barefoot quite yet, you can check out minimalist running shoes and practice landing on your forefoot instead of your heel. Harvard University has some excellent diagrams that illustrate the difference between the two landing forms, which can be viewed here.