Top Ten Tips For Transitioning to Barefoot Running

By Rick Morris

Making the transition from shod to barefoot running can be a literal shock to your feet and lower legs. After many years of wearing over supportive running shoes your lower legs and feet have become a bit weak. To avoid unnecessary pain and injury, you really should gradually train those underdeveloped leg muscles and tender feet. Here are our top ten tips to transition to barefoot running.

Walk, Don’t Run

The first step for transitioning to barefoot running is starting slowly. I know you aren’t going to go out for a 25 miler for your first barefoot running session, but should you do any running at all on your initial barefoot effort? I don’t think so. Before you begin running barefoot try some walking. Let your legs and feet get a taste of what’s in store before you shock them with the real thing.

Layer Down

Transitioning to barefoot running is a gradual process. For winter running you layer up. You gradually add more functional layers of running gear depending upon the weather conditions. For switching to barefoot running you should layer down. If you’ve been running in highly supportive and cushioned running shoes, consider doing some workouts in lightweight trainers and then transition to racing flats, before going with naked feet. This will allow your legs and feet to adapt at a gradual and safe pace.

Smooth and Easy

Transitioning to barefoot running also requires a gradual movement through running surfaces. For your initial barefoot runs, choose a grassy surface before moving onto a road or trail that is as smooth and debris free as possible. The soles of your feet just aren’t ready for anything rough yet.

Get Shorty

Keep your first barefoot runs fairly short. Allow your stride to naturally adjust to barefoot running before you challenge them with any medium or long runs.

Stride it Out

Once your stride has adjusted to your new, more efficient and natural barefoot running stride, it’s time for some faster strides. I like to hit the soft infield of my local track for some barefoot strides. Just kick off the shoes and run some fast strides diagonally across the infield. For your first efforts do around 4 strides and build up to 12 or more. Not only do these barefoot strides do a good job of lower leg conditioning but they also feel great.

Pump it Up

Wearing those pesky shoes have made your lower leg muscles, the ones that control your feet, weak and underdeveloped. While barefoot running will do wonders for building up those muscles you can accelerate the process by doing some lower leg and foot strength training.

Core Power

The switch from shod to barefoot running places stress on different areas of your body. One of those areas is your core. Your more efficient, barefoot running style includes a more proper and upright posture with slightly more whole body forward lean. That uses your core muscles a bit more, so add in some core strength exercises, such as the plank exercise, to improve your core strength.

Hit the Yoga Mat

Barefoot running will also improve your proprioceptive and balance abilities. A great way to help train both of those systems is by doing yoga a couple times per week. Yoga is also an excellent way to improve your functional range of motion.

Hit the Gas

Now that your barefoot running mechanics are in full stride and you’ve strengthened those lower legs, it’s time to hit the gas. Start doing at least part of each of your training paces without shoes. Do some barefoot tempo runs, interval training and speed work so your body adapts to barefoot running at race pace.

Rough it Up

Probably the hardest part of your body to train for full time barefoot running are the soles of your feet. That is a tender area on anyone, especially those used to wearing shoes full time. The best way to get those soles of your feet tough enough for full time barefoot training is to do some running over rough surfaces. After your initial foot conditioning on grass and other smooth surfaces start to include some short jaunts on rough surfaces and gradually increase your mileage on those rough trails as your feet toughen up.