Barefoot Fitness

A recent fitness trend is to use no support running shoes transitioning into barefoot running for training. Here we answer a few common questions about no support running shoes and barefoot running so you can decide if it’s the right training for you.A recent fitness trend is to use no support running shoes transitioning into barefoot running for training. Here we answer a few common questions about no support running shoes and barefoot running so you can decide if it’s the right training for you.

If I experience discomfort or pain while running, should I continue using them?

Some initial discomfort is not uncommon for some people, depending on their foot type and running style, but one should consider discontinuing use if their pain continues. A wise approach may be to transition slowly to build proper strength. This slow methodical approach is imperative when beginning to run in no support shoes or especially barefoot.

If in the past I have always used traditional or motion control running shoes. Should I consider using a mid-range shoe before jumping into a pair of no support running shoes?

While some people have transitioned successfully using this method, many have found that it is not the most effective way to make the transition. More minimal running shoes tend to continue enabling a heel-strike running technique, whereas running barefoot or in no support running shoes means learning to run on one’s forefoot. Some experts recommend running first completely barefoot on a hard flat surface. This will serve two purposes. One, it naturally forces one to run with a very lightly on the balls of the feet (a.k.a. forefoot strike). Two, it allows your skin to be your guide, so that you are not likely to push yourself too hard too soon. As you develop a solid forefoot running form you then can transition to no support running shoes. Slowly building your distance and time is critical as your body needs time to build the appropriate lower leg strength for forefoot running.

No support running shoes are lacking cushioned heel pad. What will that mean to my biomechanics?

In a typical running shoe, the heel is set higher than the forefoot. In most no support running shoes both the heel and forefoot lie at the same level or the same plane, so there is no cushioned heel. If you are a traditional heavy heel-strike runner, you might have to make a biomechanical change, however this change is most likely a positive one. People are not meant to heel strike heavily, especially when running. Attempt to run without shoes on; you will see what we mean. Running barefoot with a strong heel strike will feel uncomfortable even painful and jarring. One of the goals of no support running shoes is to encourage forefoot striking, meaning the balls of your foot will contact the ground first then initiate muscles in your feet and lower legs as your heel comes down. This style of running may ultimately be safer and lead to less injuries, as well as being biomechanically more sound from an energy and force distribution standpoint.

Am I able to still run in my regular running shoes and use my no support shoes for training?

Yes. Training in a no support type shoe will enhance your proprioception, foot strength and still help you run better, especially if you utilize the technique adaptations you learned above. That said, if you do continue to use running shoes in rotation with your no support shoes, it is recommended that you seek out flatter, thinner-soled running shoes that allow you to maintain the good technique mentioned above.

How long before I see results in my running training

A change in your running style (to a more natural forefoot strike) should occur almost immediately, with lasting adaptations within a few weeks. As your form and foot strength improve you will become more adept at forefoot running and therefore be able to increase your speed and mileage. Maintaining a patient outlook is critical in transitioning to a no support running shoe. Remember, you are learning to use a new athletic skill. Many runners will feel driven to regain the mileage they were used to doing in traditional running shoes in a short period of time. This can lead to overuse injuries, because muscles and tendons need sufficient time to build the strength required for running with a forefoot strike. Sticking to a slow, but steady transition will build a strength base for long-term success.

Some transitioning tips provided by Vibram FiveFingers:

  • Tips on correct forefoot running form can be found here
  • Run no more than 10% of your typical running distance for the first 2-3 weeks
  • After 2-3 weeks, gradually increase mileage by 10%-20% every couple of weeks
  • If you ever start to feel pain during a run, stop! You can always try again in a couple of days
  • Never run 2 days in a row for the first month
  • Stretch before and after each run, focusing on calves and feet, because no support running shoes stimulate these muscles
  • If, after several weeks of training, you are consistently very sore, you need to rest and back-off on your mileage

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