Run like the Wind
It's Spring. If there is anything cliché about spring it would have to be that of barefooted kids running everywhere. (That, and the daffodils).
I grew up in the country, where we practiced walking across the gravel in our bare feet in the early spring – while frost lingered on the ground. Like any disciplined athlete, we kids were preparing for the heated summer races through the alfalfa fields and down the red dirt roads.
Time moved on and I moved into the city where I traded in my dirty, barefooted ways, for sneakers and a college workload. However, I have become more convinced that running barefoot ( and just being barefoot, for that matter) is an extremely healthy addition to ones life.
Over a couple of articles I want to explore the benefits of running barefoot, as well my experience with running barefoot in shoes. (I know. What's the point of barefoot running shoes?)
Hopefully, I can encourage you to join me in kicking off our shoes and running barefoot with the kids in the fresh spring air.
We are weak. Let's face it, not many of us would take on the country boy's challenge to take off running barefoot down gravel-strewn asphalt (not to mention a dirt road). Our skin is tender. We are overweight. Our ankles cry in pain just getting our bodies out of bed in the morning.
Frankly, our bodies are so weak, that before even thinking about barefooted running, you really need to spend a significant amount of time living barefooted, allowing your body time to acclimate.
As a barefooted farm boy, I spent way more time just walking barefooted than I did running. As adults we are inclined to take off running barefoot, when we are much better off going slowly and standing barefooted in the kitchen and going for long evening walks with nothing but the ground under our feet. (I learned this the hard way, and nearly killed my barefooted rebirth in its infancy)
Of course, right now, your arch is weak. (Mine was!) And it needs strengthening. Go slow. Live barefooted as much as possible over several months, perhaps investing in a pair of Vibram Five-fingers to allow you more protection for those around-town trips that aren't easily conducive to barefootedness. (Vibram Five-fingers actually allowed me to live barefooted at a retail job I had. Talk about strengthening! I worked eight hours a day, barefooted, serving customers. Quite the experience.)
You can begin strengthen your feet by performing a few basic foot exercises each day. Make it a part of your morning routine. Start by sitting or standing and making circles with your feet. (It's harder then you think). From there you can move forward into standing on your toes for a few seconds at a time. Spend some time each day bouncing lightly on your toes, allowing the arch to absorb the shock. And to make sure that the little, supporting toe muscles aren't neglected, place a few small objects (like quarters) on the ground and practice picking them up.
These exercises can seem trivial and boring, but as the spring weather continues to warm and you begin running barefoot out-of-doors, you will be rewarded with fewer injuries and a more success in reaching your fitness goals
And, of course, don't forget to reward your now-tired arches with the artificial supports they are used to on a regular basis while your body acclimates.
Currently our shoes are designed to make us run by striking our heel first. In reality, our body prefers to run more on the balls of our feet.
One of the core benefits of running barefooted, is that it retrains our minds to work with our bodies. Sit on the ground with your bare feet in front of you. Look at the natural arch on the bottom, lifting the middle of your foot off the ground. Over the years of misuse, those arches begin to fall, forcing our legs and shins to do more supporting work. We then add more cushioning around them through arch supports, further exacerbating the problem as our minds learn to “limp” on these artificial supports.
A simple test that runners and shoe stores have used for years to asses foot damage, is the “wet foot test”. Basically, wet the bottoms your feet, and then stand on cardboard, or concrete – someplace where you can leave a footprint.
Then look at it. A normal arch will leave a nice heel impression with a medium line running up from the heel to the toes. A supinator – or high arched footprint - will have both a heel and toe print, but may only show a thin line on the outer edge. And then those of us with low, pronated or flat feet will show more extreme damage with the entire footprint – including the arch, appearing in the wet footprint.
These last feet types will likely require more patience to heal and correct through toe exercises and barefoot living.
By switching our bodies to running barefooted, our minds learn to land more on the balls of our feet, instead of our heels. This allows the arch to perform its job most effectively, and relieves our shins, arches, Illiotibial-band, and Plantar Fascia of the abuse we normally subject them to.
Basically, running barefoot trains your mind to stop destroying your body.
There are 19 muscles in your foot. Half of them are just there to move your toes, but the other ten have important roles supporting our body. And let's face it, our feet are our foundation. Everyone works out their legs. Ever see a foot press? Didn't think so. Strengthening your feet by running barefoot is one of the best things you can do to increase your stability and your body's ability to stay upright.
Recruiting those muscles when running barefoot then allows your body to protect itself, using those now-strengthened muscles to stabilize itself in critical situations, preventing falls and sprains.
Building that muscle memory and brain patterns while we are young(er) can also mean that we maintain our health longer into our older age.
This is an entirely anecdotal benefit. Living in the concrete jungle, I have become increasingly disconnected from God's natural world. In doing so, I become disconnected from myself. When walking barefoot I have personally found that my mind is able to to slow down and concentrate on the world around me; The soft grass. The bright sky. The bird's song...
After an especially stressful day, or if I am having a hard time making a decision, I find that running barefoot allows my mind and body to find the clarity and harmony they need.
And who doesn't need more harmony in their life?
Despite our modern advances, perhaps our crazy, aboriginal fore-fathers had some intense physical advantages over us. Regardless, carefully exploring the benefits of running barefoot can directly yield amazing results in your life.