What Athletes Need to Know About Barefoot Running

October 12, 2012 | Tyler Lacoma

barefoot-running

It looks like the barefoot running craze is here to stay. Carving out a niche in pop culture, minimalist running has won the hearts and minds of runners across the globe in a very short period of time. With a staggering 75% of runners proclaiming their intrigue with the minimalist shoe approach, it is important to take a step back and research the facts behind the shoes.

Do minimalist shoes have podiatric benefits? Here are a couple of key facts, from recent scientific studies, that explain why the shoes do your body good:

Barefoot Running Is Paleo

According to anthropologists—and common sense!—early humans ran and walked barefoot, or wore moccasins or thin sandals. Paleo athletes should have an affinity for minimalist shoes, since they would seem to be compatible with the Paleo diet of early homo sapiens.

(New to the concept? Read STACK's Minimalist Shoes: A Beginner's Guide.)

Barefoot Running Reduces Injuries

People in cultures that run without shoes tend to suffer fewer running-related injuries than people in the cushiony running shoe culture of the U.S. At first glance, this seems counterintuitive; however, it's a fact. Without shoes, you run on the balls of your feet instead of your heels—easing the foot into each step, causing less shock, promoting better running posture and engendering  fewer joint problems.

(Read a review of Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, about the Tarahumara Indians, a hidden tribe of super barefoot athletes "and the greatest race the world has ever seen."

If You're Interested, Start Slow

It would be a mistake to strap on a pair of minimalist shoes and expect instant results. In fact, people who rush into minimalist shoes without caution tend to injure themselves. It's important to allow your body time to transition from a traditional running style to a minimalist barefoot style. In order to eventually experience the benefits of a minimalist running approach, you need to start slow with short walks. From there, you can progress to slow jogs. Once you strengthen your muscles, you can wear the minimalist shoes on longer runs.

If you're interested in the minimalist approach, but aren't quite ready for the toe shoes, there are plenty of alternatives. Here's one to get you started: Lace Up the New Balance Minimus 1010 Trail for a Barefoot Running Experience.

Photo: James Rohal

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