5 steps to get started with barefoot running

Lately, barefoot running has become a new craze in what I like to ‘The Minimalist Circle’ 🙂 It sounded so interesting, that I decided to give it a try a couple of weeks ago and have been doing it regularly ever since.

what is barefoot running?

Barefoot running is what it says on the tin. It’s running without expensive trainers because that’s how humans have run for thousands of years. It’s getting back to nature by ditching shoes (a modern invention) that have changed how we step as we run. Originally, humans ran by stepping with the ball of the foot first and then the heel would follow. Nowadays, the design of shoes mean that we all tend to step heel to toe (the opposite way around). When you’re running, if your heel touches the ground first, your entire weight is impacted upwards into your knees with every step.

Try running around at home barefooted for a few minutes. Notice how quickly you revert back to the ‘natural’ way of running (ball of foot first).

If you tried that exercise, and found it to be true, your body is aching to go barefoot running!

When I first tried it, I was living in a city, and there was no way I wanted to have broken glass jammed up my feet, so I decided to mix it up a bit.  I would run in trainers to the park and then run wearing socks on the grass. The park is huge, and kept very clean, so there was little chance I would step on something unpleasant.

Fortunately, at home, I live by a beach. From experience, I’ve found that running on sand is a completely different kind of running, because the ground is so soft. So I had always run in trainers on the concrete pavement parallel to the sea. But, having grown up by the ocean, I know that for a certain time after the tide has gone out, the sand is solid from the moisture and is more suitable for running, so I run barefoot there often too.

the benefits

According to Wikipedia (take that as you like) there is some research evidence that found that:

barefoot running is healthier for feet and reduces risk of chronic injuries, notably repetitive stress injuries due to the impact of heel striking in padded running shoes, in addition to other purported benefits.

However, I should give a word of warning. Although there are a few medical authorities advocating barefoot running, it may not be for everyone. It depends on a number of factors, such as where you live and what your own body is like. Personally, I’ve experienced a lot of benefits from running barefoot, and have heard other positive accounts, but that doesn’t mean that it will be the same for everyone.

The best thing to do is to just try it out a couple of times and see for yourself. I’m not saying you have to make a complete switch and do it all the time, maybe you can just sprinkle it between your normal runs.

5 beginner’s tips for barefoot running

1. You don’t have to go barefoot all the way. Actually, you don’t have to be barefoot at all! If you feel uncomfortable, try running in socks on grass. I’ve found it to be just as effective as running barefooted anyway.

2. Keep in mind, you don’t look as silly as you think. To be honest, at first I did feel a bit silly, and I was really concious of people ‘looking’ at me as I ran in the park. But after a while, I got used to it and realised that nobody was really ‘looking’ at all – it was just in my head. And anyway, so what if they look? It’s not illegal, and who knows, they could really be thinking ‘that looks fun!’ and want to try it themselves!

3. It doesn’t just feel different, it feels better. I couldn’t believe it at first, but it really does feel more natural. By just taking off those (expensive yet) encumbering shoes, I felt really free, just like a kid again. Although I’m not quite ready to throw away my running shoes, I definitely use them a lot less now.

4. Realize you don’t need expensive running gear. Apart from regular running shoes, I also found that I don’t need expensive barefoot running shoes. There are a few options available, such as the Vibram brand, but in my opinion, that’s just buying more running shoes! I know that for a lot of people, the shoes are great because it means they can run barefoot on concrete/roads etc. but I think it’s much better for people to just try out barefoot running with socks on grass than using the shoes as an ‘I-don’t-want-to-commit-because-it’s-expensive‘ excuse not to do it.

5. It’s hard at first, but don’t give up, because it’s worth it. It may not be as cushioned and lovely to run on grass, soil and twigs but then again, why not try something different? If everything was easy, it wouldn’t be exciting now would it? For me, doing things differently and outside my comfort zone gives me a rush, and is much more fun than doing the same things the same way over and over again.

Please don’t just read this post and think ‘that sounds nice‘ and leave it at that, why not try it today?

And if you’ve already tried it, how did it go? I would love to hear what you think about barefoot running in the comments!

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  • Aberinkulas

    That does sound nice. Unfortunately, we don’t have any nice parks to run in, so I have to make do with gravel roads, which hurt. So I bike instead, which at least lets me clear my head.

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  • Chikitulfo

    I have been walking and running barefoot everytime I can since i was eleven. And it’s just great and really enjoyable, if you do it completely barefoot (no socks) you can feel everything under you, the sand, grass, it’s really amazing.

    When I first heard of that new movement of barefoot running it was like: Are you serious!? How is it such a great discovery? It just comes naturally!! But, later I realized that it’s not so easy to think about it, though everyone should do it.

    Oh, and by the way, in all the years i’ve been running and walking barefoot (mostly in the country) i got hurt just once, when i pricked my foot with a lemon tree prick.

  • gilberto

    I spent a week in the Bahamas a short while ago, and decided to start jogging on the beach during the day. Off all things that I thought would tire me, it was my feet that caved in first. I realized how weak they were, and I really came to believe it when I experienced the soreness afterwards. Luckily, I got over the achiness in about 2 days and jogged daily until I left.

    I really miss it.

  • I have suffered from Plantar Fascitiis in the past, and I often wonder how I would fare with barefoot walking and running? Just as we slump into a chair’s support, could I be causing a bit of injury with shoes? Maybe My foot muscles and connective tissue are not strong enough due to “babying” them with various cushioned shoes? It is food for thought and worth an experiment.

  • I agree with what you say about expensive running gear; that you don’t need it. Though I actually find myself having great benefits from the fivefingers I have. Since I live in a city (Warabi), I don’t have much grass or soft ground to run on, so I think the fivefingers are a great alternative! I even made first place in a 100m sprint in a competition here with them 😀

    First it was really hard, and my legs were very sore and tired afterwords, but now I barely feel nothing more than being out of breath after having a run.

    A good way to start strengthening your feet before going all out barefoot is to just practice the technique with a normal pair of shoes to see if it works and how it feels. At first it will feel really strange, but as you put in the blogpost, it’s way worth it!

  • I love running barefoot. There’s such a cathartic feeling of freedom when you go places without shoes. It’s like you’re starting a mini rebellion. Unfortunately, I cut my foot on glass a few months ago, and now I’m a little wary of running on the street.

    I picked up a pair of the terra plana vivo barefoot shoes, and they are excellent alternatives to the five fingers. I can even use them as both my casual and running shoes. Nothing compares to a naked foot, though.

  • Rose

    Ha! I don’t know why, but I never considered using socks. I have thought about barefoot running and tried it a little (although I am not really a runner) but was put off by running barefoot on the pavement around my neighborhood. I don’t have a lot of grass to use, but running in socks just blew my mind. I could totally run in socks and still get the barefoot effect. Thanks!

  • Tom

    Run regularly in Merrell Vapor Gloves but shied away from naked feet until just last week when on a whim I ran four miles in the rain barefooted. I was a child at play!

  • Hi, thanks!
    I love barefoot running… but…
    Complete barefoot doesn’t work well for me on sidewalks. VFF don’t work well.
    Any running socks you recommend for running on sidewalks?
    many thanks 🙂

    • Hi Sally! I would recommend running on grass first, as sidewalks that are made of concrete are hard and can be especially tiring for the ankles/leg muscles without proper training. Just make sure the grass is free from sharp objects and dog poop! I would recommend any sort of thick-ish socks, or socks with a rubber or plastic sole, no brand in particular (a very minimalist answer) as everyone’s foot anatomy and running styles are different. Good luck!

      • thanks a lot!
        in the meanwhile i’m trying “xero shoes” – a kind of sandals.