Top Ten Barefoot Running Mistakes
By Rick Morris
Barefoot running is a more extreme style of exercise than shod running. The more extreme conditions associated with barefoot running magnifies the effects of errors in training or mechanics. That means you really need to focus on avoiding mistakes when running barefoot. Here are our top ten barefoot running mistakes and how to avoid them.
The number one barefoot running mistake is doing too much, too soon. After years of running in over supportive running shoes, your lower leg muscles and the soles of your feet have become weak. Placing too much unaccustomed stress on your feet and muscles are sure way to shred the soles of your feet and end up with sore, if not injured lower leg muscles. Start out slow and gradually toughen those tender feet and under trained muscles.
Yep, you can also do to little barefoot running. You do need to increase your barefoot running very gradually, but that being said, you still need to stay consistent and keep increasing the duration and intensity of your barefoot running. Training for barefoot running is the same as shod running, you must challenge your body to improve your fitness.
Many new barefoot runners tend to keep their socks on when training barefoot. Not only is that not technically barefoot running, but running in socks also prevents the soles of your feet from developing the toughness necessary for successful barefoot running. So toss the socks and go for true barefoot running.
When trying barefoot running for the first time, there is often a tendency to run on your toes, with a plantar flexed foot, much like a ballerina. That type of running is very inefficient and places way too much stress on your Achilles tendon and calf muscles. Try to run with a flat footed or slightly ball first foot strike to maintain proper running mechanics.
Barefoot running encourages a highly efficient, flat footed foot strike, directly under your center of gravity. Most runners naturally fall into that proper style of running when they switch to barefoot running because there are no over supportive running shoes that tend to force a less efficient heel strike. Some barefoot runners have problems in falling back into that heel first, over striding style of running when they put their shoes back on. When you go back to running in shoes, and you will need to at certain times, focus strongly on maintaining the efficient flat footed or ball first style you developed with barefoot running.
Rough – Not Ready
Running on soft grass or smooth surfaces will do a good job of building up the toughness of your feet and strengthening your lower leg muscles. How about those rougher natural trails? The soles of your feet have gotten tougher, but they probably aren’t tough enough to withstand extended runs over rocks, roots, stones and thorns. For your first barefoot runs on natural trails, take your shoes with you. When your feet tell you they’ve had enough, throw on your shoes. Gradually build up the toughness of your feet and you will avoid some really nasty foot injuries.
Ready – Not Rough
OK – you’ve toughened up your feet with some natural trail running. Don’t stop. If you stop doing any running on rough surfaces, your feet will begin to lose that toughness. Your skin is similar to your muscles. If you quit placing stress on them they will weaken. To maintain the toughness of the soles of your feet, try to do some barefoot trail running at least a few times per month.
Winter Waste Land
The old saying, use it or lose it, is so true when it comes to barefoot running. If you quit barefoot running for an extended period of time you will lose some lower leg strength and foot toughness. The barefoot running wasteland of a cold and snowy winter season places you at risk of that barefoot de-training. Try to do some barefoot running at least once or twice per week during the winter. If weather conditions in your area won’t safely permit that, then do some barefoot running on the treadmill. Barefoot treadmill running isn’t ideal, but it will keep you in decent barefoot condition until the weather warms up.
You’ve been doing nothing but barefoot running for months. Now some cold weather has moved in and you need to go back to the shoes. Most running shoes provide excessive support and also have a moderate to high heel drop. Both of those characteristics of typical running shoes could easily throw of your running stride and cause inefficiency or even injury. They will certainly cause some barefoot de-training. There is an easy answer to this one. Thanks to the surge in barefoot running popularity, there are a number of minimalist shoes available that mimic the mechanics of barefoot running. It’s not quite the same as barefoot running, but is a great alternative when conditions demand some foot protection.
The over striding, heel striking running style encouraged by running shoes tends to force you to land with a heavy foot plant and you then must generate your forward momentum with a push off. That is a highly inefficient way to run that not only wastes energy but also causes many running injuries. In contrast, barefoot running encourages a lighter, quicker, flat footed style of running that utilizes the stored energy of your leg muscles to spring you forward with no required push off. You need to unlearn that tendency to push off and allow your leg muscle springs to do the work for you. Focus on very light, quick and compact strides with a flat footed or ball first foot strike. Soon your running will feel natural and effortless.