Owner of Playmakers, Okemos, MI
Shoes are a practical reality for most runners. Almost all consider shoes a necessity. We believe that learning to run the right way is just as, if not more important than the shoes themselves, and that the idea of running barefoot has inspired people to look at running much differently. It has created a heightened awareness of how we run naturally, which is often different than how we run in shoes. Moving into a more natural stride is the main benefit of running barefoot. Other benefits include increased strength in the lower extremities, less breaking and over-striding, and greater proprioception.
There are risks involved in adopting this style of running, especially doing too much barefoot running too soon. Lower extremity injuries may result due to the sudden increase of stress to improperly conditioned muscles and tendons. Stress fractures, tendonitis, bruising, and lacerations are all possibilities if a barefoot runner is not careful in their approach.
Many of us have found it beneficial to occasionally run barefoot or in a Vibram Five Fingers as a supplemental tool to gradually improve lower extremity strength, and to improve running efficiency. Barefoot running promotes a higher cadence, better posture, and a midfoot strike that renders heel striking obsolete. All types of runners can benefit; however, all should proceed with caution. We were built to run barefoot, but the number of years away from barefoot running, and a person’s current strength and flexibility may determine how quickly they adapt to safely running barefoot.
We don’t see a large percent of runners doing their training barefoot. People enjoy the comfort of shoes and will for the foreseeable future, but shoes should come with an instruction manual. To this end, at Playmakers, we have been teaching a gravity-based barefoot style running class for three years. The feedback we have received has been phenomenal. Runners of all abilities have been very receptive to this concept. A large majority report improved efficiency, less injuries, and that their running has become more enjoyable. As a runner’s technique changes, most would prefer to run in shoes that are still stable, but lighter and have a lower profile. We also believe there will be an even greater amount of attention paid to running form or technique.