Barefoot Running as Strength Training
Lets look at a couple studies and discuss how to apply them to training.
The first is a five month study titled Effect Of Increased Mechanical Stimuli On Foot Muscles Functional Capacity was done to look at how muscles adapted to wearing minimal shoes compared to more traditional footwear.
The intervention was putting an experimental group of 25 athletes into minimal shoes for their warm up training, while the 25 members of the control group wore traditional training shoes.
In this experimental group, strength of multiple foot muscles increased. The control group’s strength scores increase only a quarter as much. There were also significant increases found in the anatomical cross sectional area of some of the foot muscles in the experimental group.
The conclusions of the researchers were that the use of minimal footwear caused changes in the strength and morphology in muscles that were more intensively used by the wearers of these shoes as opposed to the wearers of traditional shoes.
The second study, titled Metabolic Cost of Running Barefoot versus Shod found that wearing light and flexible minimal shoes required less energy than running barefoot. The researchers believe that without the cushioning, leg muscles had to use metabolic energy to absorb some of the impact forces.
Lets think about these two studies from a training and racing perspective.
1. Running barefoot is less economic than wearing lightweight cushioned shoes.
2. Warming up in minimalist instead of tradition shoes leads to increases in strength.
Now lets step back for a second. If warming up and doing strength training in minimalist shoes offers benefits to traditional shoes, could performing those routines barefoot offer some advantage over doing them in minimalist shoes? Unshod running may be less efficient. But that also can mean it forces the body to work slightly harder, which can result in more training stimulus.
A swimmer’s drag suit can be used as an analogy. It is worn during training to create drag and force the athlete to work harder. Running barefoot appears to make body work harder as well. If we occasionally use barefoot running like a swimmer uses a drag suit, it can do a number of things;
Increase the stimulus from training while barefoot
Cause a feeling of increased efficiency while shod
Barefoot training can be used as a strength training tool, like a drag suit. But when it comes time for a key workout or a race, where speed matters, wearing a pair of cushioned shoes may have its place due to the potential increase in efficiency.
The methods of implementing these ideas into your training could be to do as the first study did, use less shoe (or no shoe) during your warm up than you do while training. This can also be done for any strength training and the cool down at the end of a run. Second, short and easy recovery runs can be done barefoot as well. Doing so will not slow recovery, but can still lead to benefits from the barefoot training.
What are your thoughts? Can barefoot running be used as a strength training tool?