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I recently bought a pair of minimalistic running shoes. As I did some "research" beforehand, I came to the conclusion that whether barefoot running is considered "good" or "healthy" is mainly based on opinion.

I decided for myself that I really want to try barefoot running. Many articles I read pointed out that it is really important to start slow (and I take that seriously), and to learn the correct form for running barefoot (forefoot / midfoot running).

So my question is: How can I learn the correct form for barefoot running?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I'm also going to disagree with Kneel-Before-ZOD. There's nothing wrong with running completely barefoot outdoors. You just need to look where you're running, stay relaxed, and run properly.

Regardless of whether you're running actually barefoot or with minimal shoes, the keys to remember are:

  • Shorten your stride. Traditional running shoes make it easy to feel like you should stretch out such that your foot lands heel-first well ahead of your center of gravity. This produces a braking force with every step, and has been shown to create a high impact transient which really does increase the impact on your joints. The reason traditional shoes are so thick and cushy is so this doesn't hurt.
  • Don't lean forward from the waist. Stand up straight with head up and shoulders back. A slight lean forward from the ankles is probably ok but don't overdo it.
  • Bend your knees. When you first start running barefoot, a lot of the time there's a tendency to soak up all the impact with your calves. This greatly increases the tendency among first-time barefoot runners toward overtraining injury. Use your whole leg, especially when running downhill.
  • This will seem obvious, but a fore-or-midfoot landing will allow your natural architecture (the arch of your foot, achilles tendon, calves, quads etc) to absorb the impact and return it to forward motion.
  • It's ok if your heel touches the ground. Try to keep it light, you don't want to go clomping down such that you feel an actual impact on your heel. But allowing your heel to lightly touch down reduces the tendency to overuse injury.

A good way to practice good form is to run in place. Start with about 5 minutes max of just running in place 3 or 4 times per week. Even less if your feet start to feel tired. Focus on lifting your foot about 4-6" off the floor and keeping your knees bent to keep the impact of your heel light. This helps get the hang of a relaxed, easy landing and helps you get used to standing up straight to run. Add about 1 minute every week, but not until 5 minutes doesn't result in your feet feeling tired or sore muscles in your feet/calves the next day.

You've already noticed the warnings about overdoing it, but I'll add this: a major factor in learning to run comfortably/properly (mostly interchangeable IMO) barefoot is to pay attention to how your feet feel. If your feet start to feel tired, numb, or sore your form will suffer and you're cruising straight for an injury.

Most of all, have fun. It took me almost a year to return to the running volume I was doing before I switched to minimalist shoes and just plain barefoot running. But the result is truly enjoyable.

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I found that running minimalist/barefoot corrected my running form pretty quickly and naturally without any special effort on my part.

You body just won't let you slam your heel into the ground like you can when you're wearing regular shoes. If you do, you'll feel the bone-jolt all the way up your body and it will shake your fillings loose!

Also, running minimalist/barefoot makes you land your foot softer almost intuitively. You frequently read about 'running soft' as a form goal and minimalist/barefoot running seems to help with that.

It takes a bit of time before all the sissy-weak-shoe-atrophied-muscles (yes, that's a real word!) strengthen, but once they do you'll be amazed at how many muscles you weren't using before when your feet were trapped in laced-up foot coffins.

Although not directly related to your question on running form, I would suggest that the next step after minimalist running shoes is some kind of ultra-minimalist footwear. Two of my favorites are a $6 pair of water socks from Walmart and huarache sandals with a 4mm sole. It feels fantastic when the wind blows across your bare foot. In the winter I usually run in the water socks with an additional pair of cotton socks on my feet.

After all the muscles in your feet and legs have strengthened, then you'll be in better shape for the final push to barefoot, where all you'll have to worry about is toughening up the bottoms of your feet.

To do that, pop the footwear off near the end of a run and run the rest barefoot. Or pop the footwear off after the run and walk barefoot during your cooldown walk. Just take it easy because asphalt/concrete can blister you up pretty quickly until your feet toughen up.

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There seems to be some good info in Experiences with 'barefoot' running for this. I'm going to disagree with Kneel Before Zod, at least partially. I am agreed that running actually barefooted can be dangerous unless you've put some time into conditioning your feet. That said, the use of minimalist running shoes means the only thing you're losing from the experience is a minor amount of tactile feedback and some toughening of the skin of your feet.

My personal experience with running barefoot is a) your stride will be different. Traditional running has your foot extending out further in front of you, usually landing on your heel. Barefoot running, try to land your foot closer to your body and absorb the shock more from front to back than back to front, b) Start slow, and listen to your feet if they start hurting, particularly if you're doing actual barefoot versus minimalist shoes, c) when wearing minimalist shoes, don't assume that they'll remove all risks of blistering, etc. Minimalist shoes are still shoes and you'll still have rub points, especially at first.

Updating with responses on stride length:

  • It's going to be shorter, more of a rapid series of pumping pushes than more separated bounds
  • You want your foot to land under your body, or only slightly in front.
  • The running should not feel like you're "pulling", using the friction of your feet against the ground to pull yourself forward on your front foot. Instead, you should feel like you're always pushing off of your feet to provide the motion.

There's a fairly good (if mildly vague) set of tips here.

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Can you provide some additional information about the different stride under point a)? What should I bear in mind concerning technique? –  dummkind Apr 4 at 16:34
    
I'll modify my answer, but basically, when running in shoes, the tendency is to cover as long of a stride as possible, with the front foot stretching out a foot or two at least in front of you. Long bounding steps. When barefoot, it's easier on your feet if you're landing with your foot under you, or only slightly forward. It's a smaller stride-length but done for often. –  Sean Duggan Apr 4 at 17:09
    
Actually, it's not much different for barefoot running. The main difference is how you land, not where you land (Assuming you are not overstriding). In any running stride, what matters is where your foot is in relation to the body when the majority of your weight is on it. –  JohnP Apr 6 at 13:47

If you're going to run outdoors, please, don't run barefoot.

  • Your joints will thank you (less impact on the joints).
  • You've avoid dangerous objects on the ground (broken bottles, glasses, etc.) wearing minimalist shoes can reduce/solve this problem.
  • Without safety worries on your mind, you can focus on doing what you love to do: running.
  • And other reasons I cannot currently think of.

If you're running indoors, it's still safer to run with some shoes.

That being said, this source details how to improve your running, barefooted or not. The highlights are simply:

  • Your Stride: Covering more distance with each stride is optimal.
  • Your Footstrike: Landing on your forefoot is better for your performance, but it might be hard on your calves.
  • Your Posture: Looking ahead of you and not on the ground is optimal.
  • Your Arm Posture: Less arms swing is optimal.
  • Your Bounce: Reduce your bounce between each stride to reduce the energy expended and to conserve your energy.

Update

This, this, and this are just three resources out of many that are showing that barefooted running can indeed cause injuries. And frankly, anyone who has run with and without shoes knows that there's a difference on the pressure on joints (especially on hard surfaces). The trick to reducing the pressure on joints take time and practise to master.

Hopefully, these tips help.

Keep running :).

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Can you provide a source for the "outdoor barefoot running is bad", because there seem to be a lot of people with a different opinion on this matter –  dummkind Apr 4 at 16:31
    
@dummkind I've explained the reasons in the answer. Joints impact and broken bottles/stones worries are my biggest concern though. –  Kneel-Before-ZOD Apr 4 at 16:36
    
@dummkind Also, check the link in Sean's answer. While the guy does barefoot running , he wore minimalist shoes to protect his soles from dangerous objects and he advised against running on asphalt. –  Kneel-Before-ZOD Apr 4 at 16:48
    
Lots of issues with this answer. Long strides aren't optimal unless you're running fast enough to lengthen your stride while still landing with your foot underneath you. No solid research has shown running in shoes creates less impact on your joints anywhere, let alone outdoors. If you have sources to such resources, please share. –  alesplin Apr 4 at 22:16
    
@alesplin Check the articles posted in my updated answer and conduct your own research. Or better yet, run for 10 minutes outdoors without shoes and do so with shoes and see if there isn't a difference. –  Kneel-Before-ZOD Apr 4 at 22:56

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