The Pros And Cons Of Barefoot Running

A woman wears Vibram "Five Fingers" ...
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Barefoot running seems to be going through a bit of a renaissance at the moment. There is so much information on the internet about it and books like ‘Born To Run’ by Christopher McDougall have helped to popularize the form of running throughout the western world. You can buy special protective shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers to protect you feet but still give you that barefoot experience. Even Nike has jumped on the bandwagon with their running shoe the Nike Free which claims to simulate barefoot running while running in a shoe. You’ve got to give the guys at Nike credit for that one; they’ve managed to sell a shoe that gives you benefits of running barefoot. Anyone else thinking of selling ice to Eskimos?

I’m not a barefoot running convert, so don’t think I’m going to spend the next 500 words rambling on about how great barefoot running is. Instead, I aim to discuss the benefits and draw backs of barefoot running. It’s a subject I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently as one of my friends has just started to work barefoot runs in to her workout and she won’t shut about how great it is. For those of you who are interested, read on. For those of you who are not, bail out now.

To start with I do believe that we, as humans, have evolved to run barefoot. I think that’s just logical. We weren’t even running in cushioned running shoes until Nike brought out the Nike Cortez in 1972, before then we all ran in thin soled plimsolls. There’s no doubt the Nike Cortez has gone on to become a bit of a classic but they certainly are not considered a running shoe anymore. One of the world’s leading physical therapists, Dr. Gerald Hartman, believes that running shoes have the same effect as putting your foot in a plaster cast and that muscles will suffer 40% to 60% atrophy within 6 weeks.

So going with what Dr. Hartman says, running barefoot will strengthen your feet. As a result your arches will arch up further and you will have better elasticity in the muscles and tendons of the foot. Other advocates of barefoot running cite that running without shoes forces you to adopt a forefoot strike which research has shown to be a more efficient foot strike. Running with a heel strike is akin to putting the brakes on, you are placing resistance on your forward momentum, the most efficient runners land on the mid or forefoot and keep their technique smooth and flowing, much like a barefoot runner.

Of course there are many people who would not advise you to run barefoot. If you visit a podiatrist regularly you probably know that barefoot running is not one of their recommended cures for foot pain. Instead the orthotics option is still the go to solutions for treating pain in the foot. There’s also compelling evidence that running shoes provide a certain amount of protection from the elements and hazards on the road such as glass, rocks and thorns. To add to this the bottom of the foot, the plantar surface, is not used to barefoot action and as a result is soft and tender. People running barefoot for the first time may experience plantar pain on the soles of their feet. Last of all there is no avoiding the fact that you will look a bit odd running around without any shoes on.

Like I said, I’m not a barefoot advocate, but I do run in a thin soled racing flat and I do employ many of the same running techniques that barefoot running promotes such as a forefoot strike and a light and smooth stride. So who knows what I’ll be running in this time next year.  Whether you decide to lace up your pronation correction, super cushioned shoes or opt for something a bit more minimal, remember to enjoy you runs and not get too caught up in the heated discussions surrounding this topic.

Ryan is an internet marketer working for a company dealing with car hire and if you want, you can find him on Twitter @ryanogs.

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