The Beginners Guide to Barefoot Running
If you are interested in spicing up your workout routine, this article explains how to start barefoot running. Sure, you could just take off your shoes and start running, but trust me, there is more to it than that.
First, understand why you want to ditch the shoes. There are benefits of barefoot running such as a reduced heel strike, a better connection with the earth and cost savings; however, there are also a number of dangers and risks associated with barefoot running to think through before starting.
Tip #1 - Start SLOW
Ignore this tip at your own risk! I did, because I did not know how to start barefoot running, and spent a week limping around with strained calves. Running without shoes usually results in a different gait--one that shifts from a heel strike to a forefoot strike. As a result, you will rely on different muscles to pull the weight. If you go overboard, you'll pay for it in the morning.
I recommend limiting your first few outings to 15 minutes max, or 1/4 of your typical running time, whichever is less. Run 2-3 times per week if your body feels up to it. Each week, you can ramp up your time and distance by 5-10%.
Tip #1 is the most important tip. According to Dr. Fredericson at Stanford University, running injuries are often due to overly aggressive increases in training volume or intensity. He recommends any changes, including barefoot running, to be introduced gradually and slowly to allow tissue, muscle and bones to adapt properly.
Tip #2 - Keep Your Feet in Good Shape
If you develop blisters or cuts from running barefoot, allow your feet to heal before venturing back out without shoes. If you are running 100% barefoot, your feet will eventually develop thicker skin and padding (see image below).
Tip #3 - Choose a Foot Friendly Terrain
I recommend starting out on grass or a packed trail without a lot of dangerous debris. Others like to start on smooth concrete. Wherever your begin your barefoot adventure, be diligent to look out for nails, glass, thorns, etc. If you want the barefoot experience, without being completely barefoot, there a number of minimalist shoe options, like gorilla shoes. I think the best barefoot running shoes are Vibram Five Fingers, shown below.
Tip #4 - Take Out the Earphones
Running while listening to music is a great idea, but for your first few barefoot runs, I think it is a good idea to listen to your feet instead. For one thing, barefoot running provides a cool connection with the earth. The absence of music will allow you to tune in to your surroundings better. The other reason to listen is to pay attention to the sound your feet make. If you are running efficiently, the thumping sound of your feet should disappear. When you hear a softer sound with each step, you'll know you are making progress.
Tip #5 - Ignore Your Speed and Focus on Your Form
Your transition to barefoot running is all about achieving better form, not breaking world records. Focus on your gait until you feel comfortable, and then you can think about improving your speed performance.
Good Luck! If you happen to use an iPhone when you run, be sure to read about my pick for the best iPhone running app. I hope this article has helped explain how to start barefoot running.