Seven-time champion of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and two-time champion of the Badwater Ultramarathon, Running Coach, and Physical Therapist
Barefoot and minimal footwear running is neither new nor trendy. Like many top runners since the beginning of competitive running, I have incorporated barefoot running into my training as a way to do drills for efficiency, strengthening, and body awareness. Running in performance running shoes and running barefoot each has its place in both a novice and elite runner’s running program. Sound rationale is needed when including barefoot running into a running program. Both pros and cons to running barefoot exist.
- Encourages efficient running form by promoting body awareness and tactile sensation.
- Increases running economy by having less weight on foot.
- Strengthens the foot-ankle complex and the rest of the kinetic chain (knee, hip, core and even upper body).
- Cross-trains running muscles (running on grass, sand) by breaking up the repetitive environment of running on hard surfaces.
- Prevents injuries due to all of the above.
- Requires a big transition due to a dominant shoe-wearing culture.
- Requires proper implementation into training to avoid injury (i.e. too much, too soon mistake).
- Decreased efficiency and speed on trails and pavement, because the skin and protective structures of the foot are exposed to a greater load and sharp objects.
Personally, I have used barefoot running before and/or after a speed workout by warming up and cooling down in 10- to 15-minute sessions on grass or artificial turf for technique training. I have also used it to prevent injury or rehab a foot-ankle injury, such as plantar fasciitis, by running on grass or sand for one to four miles. As a running coach, I have recommended running barefoot for the same reasons I have used it in my own training program. The key is proper progression and integration (i.e. avoiding too much, too soon) to allow the athlete’s body to adapt appropriately.
Overall, I feel that all runners can benefit from barefoot or minimal footwear training if implemented properly. Like any tool or training technique, it can encourage positive change and benefit the runner whether it is for performance or injury prevention. This in turn can enhance the running experience. Barefoot running does not have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Performance footwear has allowed the human body to reach new levels of performance on the track, road, and trail. Barefoot running can be used in training for all runners and can assist shoe manufacturers in developing footwear that complements the human body to continue exceeding all runners’ performance goals!