Runners have a wide choice of supportive running shoes, but what if the way youíre meant to run involves a lot less rubber and foam? Barefoot and minimal footwear runners will tell you they relish the freedom this original style of running offers, and many find old aches and pains caused by running go away when they shed their shoes.
Running without shoes may have some advantages. Robert Gotlin, D.O., Sports Medicine Specialist with Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, says runners who wear shoes have a different style than those who run barefoot. Shoe wearers first contact the ground with the heel first, followed by the forefoot. They then push off with the toes. This motion puts almost four times the body weight onto the heel and increases the risk for plantar fasciitis.
Barefoot runners land on the balls of their feet, putting about one-fourth of the body weight on the toes. Thus, there is less stress on the foot. Barefoot running also builds strength in the foot muscles, further reducing the risk of injury. There is also some evidence that people who run barefoot tend to have slightly faster running times than shoe-wearers.
Barefoot running is not an entirely novel concept Ė humans ran that way long before the development of shoes. Some people like the natural feeling associated with shoeless running. Gotlin says while barefoot running may be slightly more efficient, itís not for everyone.
People who are prone to skin breakdown, infections, ingrown toenails or other foot problems should probably wear shoes for foot protection. People must also consider the surface on which they are running. Stones, debris or glass can cause a foot injury. Foot covers keep the feet clean, but only provide minimal protection.
Gotlin says people who are considering barefoot running take into account where they will run and make sure there are no surface hazards that could cause injury. Those who want to make the change from a running shoe to barefoot running need to start slowly because it takes awhile to adapt to different style of running and different muscles are used.
He suggests making the transition over two to three months, first wearing a flat soled shoe, the switching over to barefoot running. Pay close attention to the environment so you donít get hurt. He recommends starting barefoot running on safe surfaces, such as an indoor track or sandy beach.
Many people who run without shoes actually wear some kind of "minimal footwear" product. These include running socks and other foot coverings that provide some protection for the feet, yet still maintain the feel of barefoot running.