Recent years have seen a surge in runners shunning fancy shoes in favor of running barefoot. While that may seem hazardous, especially in harsher climes, some experts believe that barefoot jogging may have advantages.
After all, humans thrived as all-terrain endurance hunters for thousands of years before the advent of the shoe. And specialized running shoes are a very recent invention (in the grand timeline of utilitarian footwear). Modern hyper-engineered shoes boast space-age materials that offer support, comfort, and protection. But some studies show that modern soles change a runner’s stride, specifically altering how each footfall impacts the ground.
Heel or Toe?
It seems that modern shoes have trained runners to land heel-first with each stride; a natural evolution, giving the fantastic cushion provided by current padded soles. However, these altered ergonomics send a greater shock to the knees and could result in injury. A human's natural barefoot stride lands on the forefoot's pad, allowing the foot's natural flexibility to cushion the blow. The runner's calf muscles and tendons have time to absorb some of the shock before it travels up the leg.
Slow and Steady
Does that mean you should toss out your kicks and head out on the trail barefoot? Not at all. Like any other physical activity, you should ease into barefoot running. Years of running with modern shoes have trained your body to land on your heel. In doing so, it has removed the burden from your calves and tendons. If you jump whole hog into barefoot running, you risk ankle and lower leg injury. So take it easy at first. Give your feet and legs a chance to become reconditioned. As always, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor (rather than some internet rando) before drastically changing your exercise routine.
Best of Both Worlds?
But I can hear you asking, especially my friends here in Texas: “You expect us to run barefoot when it’s 105º outside?” I hear you. Overheated concrete or asphalt can cause serious burns (for your four-legged friends, too, so always keep that in mind).
“Barefooting Running Shoes” offer a possible solution. These minimalistic shoes have almost no padding, but do offer contact protection against temperature, abrasion, and debris. Some popular varieties actually have five toes built into the design. I think barefoot shoes are worth checking out if you’re considering dipping a toe into the world of barefoot running. Check them out online or at your local sporting goods store.