5 Benefits of Barefoot Running

Jun 8, 2017

Would you hit the streets without your beloved running shoes? Sounds unthinkable to many, but how about if running unshod (without sneakers) was better for your health and fitness than running shod? Many fitness enthusiasts are coming to understand and appreciate the benefits of barefoot running. Here are a few of those advantages to convince you to try going unshod too.

But before we get into the benefits, perhaps it would do you some good to understand why barefoot running is the alternative to running in shoes.

The difference is how your foot hits the ground. Quick question: when you run, what strikes the ground first – the heel or the ball of your foot? See, people who wear sneakers tend to strike the ground with the heel of the foot, which causes a force that is up to 3 times the body’s weight to move through the Achilles tendon. Ultimately, this can lead to Achilles tendinitis and stress fractures in the shin.

When you run barefoot, your take on a more natural gait. The ball of your foot hits the ground first, so there is less of a jarring impact.

1. Get stronger feet

Because the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the feet need to be fully utilized, the runner can develop a more natural gait and stronger, more responsive feet. Stronger feet come in handy when you have a standing job or move around a lot. Dancers and fitness instructors, too, will note a change in how their feet aid them better through movements.

2. Avoid calf strains and Achilles tendinitis

As mentioned earlier, the striking zone of the foot between barefoot runners and those wearing sneakers is different. There have been kinematic and kinetic analyses that show how barefoot runners generate smaller collision forces as they move than those wearing sneakers. This holds true for even hard surfaces. This protects the feet and lower limbs from impact-related injuries.

Read also – 7 Walking Tips for Healthy Feet

3. Run more with the core

Because you hit the ground with the ball of your foot when unshod, you actually have better running posture. In turn, you need to engage the core muscles to keep you upright and move with the abdominals and back for momentum. Running becomes a complete exercise.

4. Balance and proprioception

As you run barefoot, you can stretch out your toes, dig into the earth, and use that instant contact to gain a more solid and connected base of support, even as you move. Because even the smallest muscles are activated, the body learns how to balance better, and your movements become more coordinated.

If you are wondering where this need to hit the ground ball first comes from, blame our hunter and gatherer ancestors. Humans, when we were first coming into this world, did not have shoes.

Since we are still rather young in the evolutionary process, our feet have not adapted to super cushioned sneakers. Therefore, mid- and fore-foot strike running gaits are the healthiest for humans rather than heel strikes.

5. Less effort

There was a study about unshod running that looked at 35 barefoot runners and compared them to shod runners during two tests done over four minutes at 3.33 meters per second on a treadmill dynamometer.

The barefoot runners had far less contact and flight time, higher pushing and braking impulses, decreased passive peak force, and an increased preactivation of calf muscles. What does that mean in plain English? They worked less but still got as far as those in sneakers.

So who wouldn’t benefit from running without shoes or trying minimalist or barefoot running shoes? Those who are not properly conditioned for running or those who have diabetes. If you are apt to losing feeling in your feet, you should always wear protection.

Lastly, if you are recovering from an ankle or foot injury or have soft arches, barefoot running could exacerbate that tenderness if you are not yet comfortable with running unshod.

Read also – 10 Exercises You Can Do Almost Anywhere

Keep in mind there is an adaptation period between switching from running shoes to barefoot. During this time, your feet may actually hurt more, since the muscles are not developed completely yet.

That said, barefoot running has been a trend for a while now. It probably is not going anywhere, especially when there are benefits like a stronger, safer gait and less wear on the knees. If you love running, give barefoot running a try. And if you have tried it, what did you think?

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