In the second article in this series we delve into the specific actions and tasks to help make the transition to barefoot running simple and safe. Be clear this will require patience and commitment, but will be worth the effort.
Once you’ve accepted a mindset that will allow you to commit to changing to barefoot running the transition can be started with a number of simple steps. If you’ve spent most of your life in over-protective shoes you will have weakened the feet and they need to be strengthened before barefoot running is simple and easy. You have also likely had your feet changed from their natural state by being crushed over time by the shoes.
You’ll be most successful transitioning to barefoot running if you also transition to a barefoot lifestyle. Now that you’ve changed your mindset this shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
Before you begin your transition take a photo of your bare feet, through your barefoot transition feet will change their appearance and this photo will give you a reminder of where you’ve been and are now going.
It’s now time to release your reliance on shoes, in particular heavy, over-protective shoes that hinder the foot from moving in its natural state. Spend time barefoot, when you are at home take off your shoes and walk around both inside and more importantly outside without shoes. By walking around outside you will start to awaken the proprioceptive sensors within the body.
The time taken to transition to barefoot running will vary between individuals. If you have run for a long time in a heavy trainer or used orthotics it will take more time. If you’ve run without injury for long periods in a lighter racing style shoe than the transition will be shorter. In the infancy of the transition these types of runners should be equally careful and patient.
From the start of your transition you can include some simple strength exercises. Start with a 5-10 minutes of simple exercises designed to strengthen the calves and Achilles tendons. Both double and single leg calf raises are great exercises to start doing regularly at the beginning of your transition. These can be done multiple times every day, as they will help strengthen the areas you are about to stress more when you begin running.
The next step is to start running either barefoot or in minimal footwear.
If you choose to run completely barefoot be mindful that your skin will need some time to begin to toughen. It is advisable to choose a soft surface such as a grass sporting field.
By minimal footwear we mean a shoe or sandal with a zero heel to toe differential, wide toe box area and minimal cushioning. Almost all running footwear that fits these requirements will be flexible and give the foot the ability to move naturally.
As each individual is different, so will be the transition to running barefoot. To begin with start with a few minutes of running at a time and be mindful of any pain in the feet, calves and achilles. While a little pain is to be expected if you are still experiencing pain the following day you’ve run too far too soon.
The two most common strategies to incorporate barefoot running into your training are;
- Run in conventional shoes and take off the shoes near the end of the run.
Eg. 30 minute run with last 5 minutes barefoot
- Go barefoot and walk/run
Eg. 30 minute exercise with both walk and run periods. Start with 5 minute increments of 4 min walk, 1 min run.
As you progress slowly increase the time you are spending running in either strategy until running barefoot becomes the major part of the exercise. Be prepared for this to take a number of months before you are conditioned to running barefoot for a 30 min period comfortably.
When running barefoot focus on having a quick leg turnover and being light on your feet. This will most likely result in you adopting a forefoot landing. Foot strike is a result of running with a barefoot process. We will focus more on the specifics of barefoot running technique in the third and final article in this series.
If you have any questions regarding your transition to barefoot running in the past or want further advise for your future transition reach out to us at [email protected]