When considering the best ways to pursue an active lifestyle, it’s often helpful to consider both tradition and innovation. With some dilemmas, it may not be wise to try reinventing the wheel. On the other hand, it would be foolish to dismiss the groundbreaking discoveries in health and wellness simply because an idea is new. Among the many benefits wrought by the industrial revolution is the shift in footwear design, from local cobblers to multi-million-dollar businesses.
While shoe stores in malls across the country are lined with expensive sneakers and the popularity of recreational jogging has skyrocketed around the world over the past century, many exercise gurus have started to speculate in recent years that runners of old were actually better off without a protective cushion beneath their feet.
Earlier this year, running expert Jason Fitzgerald tackled the question in an article on his website, Strength Running. Fitzgerald lays out some helpful reminders for those interested in giving the ironic trend a try.
Barefoot running is as safe as a deadlift or a long run: the poison is in the dose, not the activity itself.
You wouldn’t attempt a challenging deadlift workout if you’ve never spent time in the gym. Nor would you run 20 miles without first running close to 20 miles.
Barefoot running is the same: you must start with a small dose, progress gradually, and recognize that more does not mean better.
Running without shoes places more stress on the muscles and connective tissues of the foot, lower leg, and ankle. But it also reduces impact forces on the knee.
He then offers the following three suggestions for getting started:
Step 1: Barefoot strides
It’s ideal to build up to 4-6 strides, 2-3 times per week after easy runs. And you can do some of those strides barefoot!
By running at a faster pace barefoot, you’re using more of the foot musculature and with higher loads. The effect is stronger foot and lower leg muscles.
Step 2: Easy Running
Rather than do a lot of volume barefoot, adding just a few minutes of it at the end of your run can dramatically reduce the injury risk but still give you a lot of the advantages.
Step 3: Barefoot drills
Beyond just feeling good, barefoot drills can help you better reinforce efficient mechanics.
For example, if you’re practicing a skipping drill that prioritizes landing on the midfoot then that’s going to be easier if you’re not wearing bulky trainers.
As is often the case, because of the many factors involved, the answer to whether or not an individual should ditch shoes and socks is not as simple as “yes” or “no.” There are benefits to both and legitimate safety concerns to keep in mind. Today’s generation has the luxury of choice, and consequently the responsibility of considering all the nuance that goes into the decision.
To read Fitzgerald’s full writeup, click here.