Tips for Beginning Barefoot

I touched briefly last week on the barefoot run when I talked about listening to your body when it comes to your training. I wanted to expand on that a bit, since I think a lot of people like the idea of barefoot running, but don’t know how to start or what to expect, so here is some food for thought on the effort.

Running shoes have given us all this extra thickness to land on, causing us to land harder with every stride because our bodies are seeking a hard, stable surface. So, even though it sounds counter-intuitive, barefoot running on pavement, despite the roughness to the soles, is still what we need and is a great place to start.

An interesting example of this need for a tougher surface comes from the world of gymnastics. Several years ago the Olympic gymnastics’ community toyed with increasing the softness and thickness of the landing mats for gymnasts. Following the increase in thickness and softness, injuries spiked dramatically. Why? Our bodies and our feet need stable, solid surface. By increasing that mat’s softness, it caused the body to push through that mat even harder to find that hard surface, causing more injuries.

As far as the roughness of the harder surfaces goes, you’ll eventually build up a callus, just like anyone who works daily with their hands eventually builds up that same protective thickness. Keep this in mind on your first several runs, don’t expect to go out to do a 60 minute perfect barefoot style run, even if you are perfect mid-foot, fore-foot runner. Your soles will be too tender, and the skin is very thin and you may have calluses from your shoes. And trust me, with the calluses and the rough surfaces, your feet wind up looking better. The rough surfaces act as a sort of exfoliant.

But back to the transition. You have to remember that your body has two very independent transition speeds: what you want to do and what your body can actually do when you start barefoot. Training barefoot strengthens entirely new groups of muscles than running with shoes; your arches, your calves, your knees, ligaments, different muscles in your hips. If you go purely barefoot, your body may need a completely different timeline and it will be the one dictating the schedule of how the soles of your feet toughen. Your body may crave a thirty minute run, but the soles may be good only for 5 minutes and that’s where the disconnect happens. It is important to understand that the soles always win over muscle.

If you want to be the purist barefoot runner, you have to follow the schedule your body dictates to you and you alone, based on your soles. If instead you wanna be a barefoot-style runner, you can probably forget about the soles, and focus on how your body feels—the muscular components.

But I would recommend sprinkling a barefoot run once in a while but one has to be aware that you revert to the other schedule which could go back to the other 3 minutes or 5 minutes of the soles not based on the strength and the gait performance of your body.

I hope these tips are helpful.