It just might be time to leave behind your favorite pair of running shoes. While shoes offer protection from cuts, bruises, and the weather, our bodies are designed for running barefoot. Running shoes are a relatively new invention – for most of human history, barefoot running was the natural way to run.
Can’t imagine running without the added comfort of your athletic shoes? Well it turns out that chronic injuries, such as stress injuries, are more likely to occur with running shoes because shoes encourage the runner to land heel first. Also, with the added support of running shoes, the foot is unable to strengthen and support itself.
The Benefits of Barefoot
Barefoot running is essentially running using the ball of your foot. With barefoot running, the runner lands on the forefront of the foot and is able to adjust the impact of the landing due to increased sensitivity to the landing surface.
Running shoes provide too much support, reduce proprioception (the body’s awareness of itself to its surroundings), and add weight that slows the runner down. By encouraging the runner to land heel first, shoes also cause more hamstring injuries, knee pain, shin splints, stress fractures, ankle sprains, tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis.
The Proper Stride
Here are some tips on the proper stride for a happy landing:
- Bring one knee forward and the opposite elbow back, keeping the back straight
- As you move forward, imagine stepping over a large item, like a log
- The ankle should never extend further out than the knee
- Bring knees forward using the glutes and hips. The rest of the leg stays relaxed
- Position foot for landing so that the forefront will hit the ground first
- The heel comes down gently after the ball of the foot
If you’re interested in running using the ball of the foot, but you want a gradual transition, try minimalist running shoes. They are made of minimal fabric and mimic barefoot running while still providing protection from rocks and the weather. Also, start your barefoot journey by walking sans shoes first to condition of soles of the feet and gather a feel for exercising without footwear.
Watch Out for Overtraining
While running is a great way to stay in shape, overtraining the cardiovascular system can negatively affect your metabolism. Thanks to your body’s built-in protective mechanisms, when you push your body to the limits with overtraining, your body will do everything it can to save energy – which means less calorie expenditure and a slower metabolism. This can create a weight loss plateau or even weight gain.
Overtraining has also been found to cause increases in cell-free DNA, also called cfDNA. Cell-free DNA is commonly found in people with chronic diseases. Chronic resistance training, just like chronic disease, can cause acute bodily stress and induce chronic inflammation. Inflammation is never good for proper digestion! Avoid overtraining by taking it easy and giving the muscles a rest when needed.
As long as you evade overtraining, barefoot running may be right for you! You will strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the feet and develop a natural running gait prone to less injury.
How to Tell if You Are Overtraining?
- Purchase a heart rate monitor like the HRT-FIT by New Balance to adjust your training load.
- Take a peek at Mark Sisson’s 8 Signs
- Read this post of heart rate and overtraining