The Highs and Lows of Barefoot Running

a runner

Barefoot running had its heyday a few years ago — but the practice is still strong in the US, New Zealand, Singapore, and Thailand. Practitioners will espouse the many benefits of barefoot running but sometimes fail to talk about the risks.

The Good

1. Proper Form

Running barefoot forces your body to run using the natural form on a subconscious level. Without shoes to cushion your feet, your body adapts by striking the ground with your forefoot instead of your heels when you run. This shortens your gait while also increasing your cadence. Your body will seem lighter because of the shorter gait. The increased cadence directs more of your force forward instead of vertical. While the effect is almost instant once you try to run barefoot, you can consciously adopt this running form even when wearing shoes.

2. Stronger Feet and Calf Muscles

Running barefoot utilizes different muscles compared to running with a heel strike. The bones and muscles in your feet and calves will grow stronger with repeated stress. You might even get greater dexterity on the use of your toes as the muscles in your feet develop to a greater extent. If you’ve ever experienced the pain of twisting your ankle and spraining it, you’ll be glad to know that a couple of months of running barefoot will strengthen your ankle muscles and tendons to the point that twisting them would be close to impossible.

3. No Need to Buy Shoes

Shoes can be expensive — so why not ditch them altogether? If you can get away with running barefoot and your peers don’t mind, then it’s less of an expense. Going unshod also cuts your transition periods, especially when participating in triathlons.

The Bad

1. Higher Risk of Getting Injured on the Road

Running barefoot exposes your unprotected foot to pebbles, wood splinters, even nails. Shoes not only provide cushioning, they also provide a modicum of protection against running injuries. While keeping your eye on the road can mitigate your chances of stepping on something dangerous or icky, you probably won’t be able to maintain vigilance for the whole run. Rain can also increase your chances of getting hurt or injured. Water not only conceals what’s underneath it – it also dislodges smaller pebbles away from the ground and lifts them to the surface.

2. Plantar Fasciitis

Tearing your plantar fascia can be extremely painful and plantar fasciitis treatment can last for months. Barefoot running constantly puts pressure on the ligaments connecting your heel to your forefoot. It stretches with your every step and if you’re a new runner, you can tear this part easily. Running with shoes limits the length of your plantar fascia’s stretch, reducing your chances of injury.

3. You Still Need to Bring Shoes

Shoes

Going barefoot on the road might be fine, but expect a few stares once you enter certain establishments — if they even let you enter. If you’re running in an indoor track, you’ll need a place to store the shoes you came in when you get there.

Running barefoot has its advantages but the disadvantages can sometimes outweigh them. If you’re new to the practice, run barefoot for only 10 minutes at a time. Build some strength over time or better yet, learn the form and then run with shoes.

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