Say, are you normal? run like that? doesn’t it hurt you? What is up?
If you’ve heard this before, it means you’ve already tried running barefoot. If you haven’t heard, I promise you will soon.
Go ahead, learn and apply and maybe you will be saved from any sports injury!
– Complete Beginner’s Guide to Barefoot Running –
For a runner, my starting data were not encouraging at all: I’m over 40, with 2 metal rods platinums in the right leg, relatively low natural fitness and a long history of injuries due to running (walking fractures, inflammations and spurs) – in short, not exactly “the stuff champions are made of”.
And yet I run.
At first it was because of the army (formation, officers’ course, etc.). That’s where it always ends with spurs and heel infections and walking fractures after three months from the start of the course. This, more or less, made me abandon the world of running at a relatively young age and believe that running is not for me. Twenty years later, I progressed from completing a POM course to a half marathon with the help of a completely routine training program. In practice, I successfully completed the race, but two weeks later I still heard “clicks” coming from my knee… So I raised my hands and said “Enough! You can’t keep up with running like that. We need to understand what is happening here and, above all, how to get out of it.”
I found out I’m not alone. The story repeats itself over and over again with men in their third and fourth decades of life, who start running as part of the “40-year-old crisis”, do a marathon and abandon running after a few cycles of running-injury-recovery or who continue with this cycle forever.
Someone told me about running barefoot.
I got turned on.
I read “We were born to run” and other books on barefoot running, I plowed through the website of Prof. Daniel Lieberman from Harvard University and read every piece of material I could find in Hebrew and English on the subject, I made a decision: I’m going for it! (Or rather, I run for it!)
Nothing you’ve done so far, including races and marathons, prepares you for the day you start running barefoot. The soft tissues and muscles in the foot are degenerated and very weak after decades of wearing shoes. Anyone who has ever broken an arm or leg knows the moment when the cast is taken off and you discover a bony, thin and weak arm/leg after a few weeks of immobilization. Now think about how the muscles look and how the soft tissues in the foot look after years of wearing shoes and why all the training programs you know are probably not relevant to this situation.
The new effort scale you need to adopt is several times slower than the professional training programs you find in books or online. About a third of the people who tried to switch to minimalist shoes failed completely exactly here: they replaced one type of injury with another type of injury (overloading the soft tissues in the foot) because they thought that changing the shoes was the whole Torah and that, with the help of the flat and thin shoes, you could continue the same training routine that was before the change . Barefoot or minimalist running exerts a very large load on the calf muscle and foot tissues and without a gradual and moderate change – the road to a sure overload injury.
My training plan in the transition to barefoot running
Although, as mentioned, I successfully completed a half marathon, I dropped to the “volume” of only a three-minute workout of slow, barefoot running in a run-day-rest format. Every two days I added only one minute to the duration of the run and at each round stop (5, 10, 15, 20 minutes…) I delayed for about a week until the body adapted to the running style, the soft tissues in the foot strengthened and the muscles that support barefoot running thickened.
Only three minutes!
Even if you are an old running enthusiast and run dozens of kilometers a week, don’t regret the fitness that is “losing” (it will come back in a big way, only with a several times improved running style) and don’t try to “complete the mileage” with shoes. Just take your time.
The change is already noticeable in the first workout: from the moment you took off your shoes and started running barefoot (yes, absolutely, not with Vibram or with other minimalist shoes), landing on the heel naturally disappears and with it the shocks that cause sports injuries. After just a few weeks the foot gets stronger, the twin muscles thicken considerably and the running style becomes very quiet, light and energetically efficient (simply spend less energy on running compared to other runners who land on the heel and waste a lot of energy on braking on the heel, accelerating and braking again every time step almost a thousand times every kilometer).
After you settle on half an hour of light running once every two days,
you can choose how to continue:
- Continue to run for fun at the same weekly volume and at the same speed (you’ve already achieved most of the health benefits from running at this point. If you run twice as much, you won’t necessarily get twice the health).
- Continue to increase up to an hour of running in a running-day-rest format by adding an extra minute of running every other day.
- Increase the pace and add uphill and interval training without adding volume to the training.
- Turn, in a gradual and moderate way, some of the rest days into training days.
- To combine several continuation routes, just remember: everything must be done in a very moderate way and you should try to adopt traditional running programs from the net or even special programs tailored for you by personal running instructors.
I chose to increase to an hour of running in the running day-rest day software and only after I reached an hour of continuous running did I dare to increase the pace and add interval training.
A year after I removed my shoes completely, I decided to put my running ability to the test and signed up for my first 10 km race. In the race I wore minimalist shoes and achieved, without specific preparation for this race, a result of 45 minutes (4.5 minutes per kilometer for the entire race!). Certainly not bad for something over 40 years old and it’s the first time he’s raced this distance.
Look again at my opening data and you will understand how significant and good this achievement is, but certainly not unusual among other people in the world who have adopted the same program of transitioning from normal running, where you land on your heels, to barefoot or minimalist running.
My ten tips for running barefoot, efficiently and quickly:
- Run completely relaxed without unnecessary tension in the muscles – the complete relaxation of the muscles is the key to the correct movement of the foot: first the pads land on the floor, then the nerve endings in the foot pads transmit to the brain that there is contact and the brain allows the toes to land on the ground. Once the nerve endings in the toes have touched the floor, the brain commands the heel to land on the ground. All this happens at lightning speed 180 times a minute and completely naturally. Try doing it with running shoes…
Only when you run completely relaxed will the muscles be able to slow down the action of running and of course store energy upon landing (energy that will be released in the next step, thus saving you about 50% of the effort in running. Everyone praises barefoot running for preventing sports injuries. This important advantage of energy efficiency unusual, less known and less mentioned in the media, but very important especially in long runs!).
- Place the leg under the center of gravity of the body and push back with it – do not stretch the leg forward! The movement should be like riding a scooter: try to reach forward on the scooter and place the heel on the floor and you will see that the scooter will brake hard. In exactly the same way, running where you land on your heels, when the leg is extended forward, slows you down. If you run correctly, you will see that you invest much less energy in running and get less tired.
- Pay attention to your run – run without headphones, without music and listen to an aspect of your steps. Proper and efficient running should be very soft and quiet and if you run next to others who are wearing shoes, you should hear their steps and not yours.
A good measure of a quiet run – you manage to surprise people walking/running in your route (if you hear calls from behind like “Yo.. where did this runner come from, I didn’t hear him…”, you are on the right path). An excellent measure for quiet running – you surprise even dogs…
- Shorten the stride length and take 180 steps per minute – this tip is repeated in every running guide and if you follow sections 1-3, you are guaranteed to run at a pace of 180 steps per minute even without measuring and counting. To be sure, you can simply count steps in 20 seconds and multiply by 3. After several attempts I saw that it always comes out, with reasonable accuracy, 180 steps per minute and since then I stopped counting. Really, a pedometer is not mandatory equipment and in general, except for pants, a shirt and a Casio digital watch, I simply do not use any additional equipment (no shoes, no socks…)
- Do not look down at the floor – for fear that you will step on a tiny stone during running, you may look for obstacles near the point of your stepping and this has a negative effect on the whole posture and bending of the back. Look forward and keep your back straight.
- The heels must touch the floor – running barefoot is not running on the tips of the toes and the heels do not stay high in the air throughout the run, but simply land last (after the pads and toes have touched the floor). You won’t be able to run otherwise and it’s a shame if you try.
- Ignore all the comments thrown at you on the street.
- Do not listen to the advice of anyone who has not run barefoot themselves – none of them fully understand what you are doing. It’s like learning to swim from someone who has never gotten wet, it just doesn’t work.
- Barefoot running is not everything – continue to maintain a proper diet, drink a lot, sleep well and of course balance the aerobic activity with the other components of physical fitness (strength, flexibility, strengthening the upper body, etc.). I personally use TRX-style straps, kettlebells and various body-weight exercises , and of course each of you is free to choose the combination that suits you.
Watch this excellent and detailed barefoot running video:
Some common questions about natural running without shoes, which you will surely want to ask, here are the answers in advance:
Question: Isn’t it dangerous? There are broken glass in the street! There are junkie syringes on the floor!
Answer: No, it is not dangerous. Walking fractures are dangerous, heel infections are dangerous, we will deal with everything else successfully. Take a good look at your neighborhood walking path, are there broken bottles on the floor?
In the winter it is sometimes too cold to run barefoot, so for a few months you switch to VFF or other minimalist shoes and as soon as the temperatures rise, you go back to running barefoot.
Once, about two years ago, I discovered after the shower that a thorn had entered my foot. I removed it easily and went about my daily routine. It didn’t stop me from finishing the workout that day and certainly didn’t stop me from running after 48 hours as planned. How does this “damage” compare to walking fractures that disable you for several months and cause you terrible suffering?
Question: Is it true that you develop thick skin (“natural sole”) on your foot from running barefoot?
Answer: Absolutely not! The skin on my foot is delicate and soft. After the run I clean my feet thoroughly with scotch tape and soap and there is no trace of the barefoot run. Of course there should be no warts, abrasions, thick and rough skin or other damages.
Question: Isn’t it better to run barefoot on the beach?
Answer: No! The harder the running surface is and the less buffer (sole) there is between the foot and the running surface, the softer the landing and the less shock to the skeleton. Running on the beach does not encourage landing on the pads of the feet and allows you to continue running incorrectly on your heels.
Question: I have custom-made insoles that cost a fortune. How can I run barefoot without them?
Answer: The arch in the foot has an important role in carrying running loads and their natural cushioning (this is how we were born to run!). A muscular and elastic bow performs a contraction and relaxation movement at each step (those who have tried archery in the past know the property of energy stored in the elasticity of the bow). Rather, supporting this arch from below with the help of insoles blocks its movement and prevents damping.
There are very few people with severe orthopedic deformities in the foot, who require such insoles for the sake of a balanced distribution of their body weight in the routine. All other runners simply stick to any commercial solution that promises a balm for their pain.
Insole manufacturers don’t like to hear this very much (it hurts their livelihood…), but when they are asked how it is possible to run fast, year after year, without injuries, without insoles of any kind and without shoes, they are left without an adequate answer.
Question: Can I run barefoot if I have flatfeet ?
Answer: A study carried out in India among an advanced urban population, which routinely wears shoes, and a less advanced rural population, which routinely moves barefoot, found that among those who wear shoes there are 4 times more cases of flatfoot!
A flatfoot is a degenerated and weak arch in the foot that almost touches or actually touches the floor. Flatfoot is not 100% hereditary: those who walked barefoot in childhood strengthened the arch and those who wore shoes from the age of zero degenerated the arch, but this process is definitely reversible.
There are countless testimonies on the Internet about people with platforms who started running barefoot and suddenly the arch got stronger, lifted and the platform disappeared. Those who suffer from flatfoot should impose an even more moderate effort bar than the one described above because without a strong arch, there is no effective cushioning of running shocks.
Think about it the next time you rush to buy your children “adult-like” shoes with a thick sole. Hence the source of the doctors’ recommendation that children should move barefoot as much as possible and if not barefoot, then with socks with tiny rubber dots to increase friction.
Question: People who see you running barefoot in the street don’t think you’ve gone off the rails?
Answer: Yes, some think I’ve gone off the rails. I see them overweight, thick tires around their waists and a cigarette in their mouth and I’m sure they’re the ones who went off the rails. I don’t stop to explain to them what I’m doing because I’m wasting my time.
Question: How can I see a demonstration of barefoot running in a natural and correct way?
Answer: Do you have a small child under the age of 5 at home? Beautiful! Take off his shoes, let him run barefoot in the house and see how he or she applies exactly all the highlights I listed above: landing on the pillows, straight back, looking forward and more.
This is how we were born to run naturally and this is how we have been running for millions of years. Everything else is breakdowns and deviations from the path.
Question: After I’m completely used to the barefoot running style, can I switch to minimalist shoes?
Answer: Yes. This is exactly what all the professional Kenyan runners do for a living. After running from their home village to school in the big city barefoot or almost barefoot 10 km there and 10 km back every day for years, they receive generous sponsorship from a shoe manufacturer and go on to win cash prizes in marathons all over the world.
On a biomechanical level, they can continue to run barefoot (just as Abba Bacilla did at the Rome Olympics in 1960, when he won a gold medal and broke the world marathon record), but they don’t because the shoe manufacturers, who generously sponsor them, won’t see That’s fine…
A white person, who grew up in an urban-western environment, would do well to maintain a dose of about 25% training completely barefoot after completing the change process (for the benefit of maintaining the perfect running style, strengthening the soft tissues in the foot and preventing future injuries).
Question: Is it possible to skip the barefoot running phase and go straight to minimalist shoes?
Answer: It is definitely possible, but you will never be 100% sure that your running style is perfect. There is always a danger that you will continue to land partially on the heel because of the sole that whispers the nerve endings in the foot and slightly disrupts the timings of the natural control system. The thinner the sole, the smaller the chance of disrupting the running style and therefore, in this aspect, in my opinion, VFF shoes are superior to other minimalist shoes.
Question: As an avid runner, what watch do runners need? Polar? Garmin? Sunto?
Answer: The only clock runners need is a large alarm clock with a loud ring that will pull you out of bed on a cold winter morning…
People believe that the magic lies in a modern watch that is connected to GPS, that receives data from the pod in the shoe that counts steps, that feeds the running data into the app, that uploads everything to Facebook automatically… No. A clock showing the time is enough.
Question: Is it possible to run barefoot on a treadmill?
Answer: If the treadmill is in your house and you are allowed to run on it without restrictions, you can run completely barefoot or with socks only. If the treadmill is in a gym, they probably won’t let you run completely barefoot on it and quite rightly so.
For treadmills in gyms I personally use VFF. Yesterday morning I got on such a treadmill, entered an incline of 1 uphill, a constant speed of 13 km/h and did not slow down until the display showed that 5 km had passed (just to clear the ear, this is a pace of 4:36 minutes per km for routine training and not for competition. At my age, it is possible to reach the podium in some races in Israel with such a pace).
Question: What surface do you run on?
Answer: The answer is simple: on the sidewalk. In the usual route where the whole neighborhood does the fitness walk or run in the morning/evening.
Question: Could you give a brief description of the dangers and damages of running with regular or high-heeled sports shoes?
Answer: It is recommended to see the videos, photos and text on the website of Professor Daniel Lieberman from Harvard (click on Google Barefoot Harvard and go to the first link). There is a clear explanation accompanied by many pictures and videos that explain the damage in sports shoes, how the shocks develop in normal running compared to barefoot running and more.
Although Prof. Lieberman’s articles have been published in the most prestigious journals in the world (Nature) and are based on very comprehensive and in-depth biomechanical research at the world level, the text on his website is accessible and friendly even to those who are not science, engineering or medicine people.
Question: I tried a little of barefoot running, but I felt pain from the foot comb, what do you think?
Answer: The comb of the foot is not active in the daily routine of Western people who wear shoes or run with shoes and indeed it is one of the degenerated soft tissues I wrote about (it is the tissues that are in the place where the laces are in the shoes. When these muscles exert themselves too much, you feel “caught” on the side the top of the foot and this is a sports injury for all intents and purposes).
Just like I wrote, nothing you’ve done prepares you for the day you take off your shoes and run completely barefoot, not even years of racing and marathons. In my humble understanding, you made a big jump from zero to 2 km (about 10-12 minutes of running) and then to 5 km (25-30 minutes of running).
Calculate, according to the effort bar I listed in the post, how long it takes to reach these times in a light run and you will see that you tried to shorten processes quite aggressively and also to increase the pace before the legs got stronger and this, in my understanding, is the source of the failure.
Question: Is it possible to run barefoot also on rock surfaces or dirt paths?
Answer: A slightly complex answer and please take it with a dash of healthy humor…
Those that run barefoot are divided into two main categories:
The first category of barefooters is nature types, who connect to the earth and simplicity, moshavniks or kibbutzniks at heart. Some of those who belong to this category wear sleeves and most of them prefer to wander along the beach than to go shopping in the nearest mall. In their posts about barefoot running you find that one of the benefits of barefoot running in their eyes is “grounding the body” (like we are a 220 volt toaster).
If you feel that you belong to this group and want to run barefoot in the open spaces of nature, then I recommend that you start barefoot on normal pavement and after a few months happily switch to VFF shoes in the field. I find it hard to believe that a random stone or thorn will puncture 2.5mm rubber of a Vibram sole and penetrate your foot and I’m sure you will enjoy the open view, the air and the spaces.
Obviously in natural terrain with stones and obstacles it is even more important to run completely relaxed because if you step on a stone when you are all tense and jumpy then it will hurt you and if you step on the same stone when you are very relaxed, the foot will feel the obstacle and distribute the load accordingly so that less body weight will be On the stone and more on the rest of the foot (it really works!).
The second category of “sneakers”, which I belong to, is basically quite rational and not “spiritual” and our main motivation is to harness the wonderful structure of the human body (biomechanics, nervous system, the soft tissues of the foot, etc.) for the benefit of cushioning the shocks of running And running week after week and month after month without injuries.
At the end of the day, persistence in an injury-free training routine leads to improved maximum oxygen consumption, improved speed, better cardiopulmonary endurance and all the other benefits of running.
If you feel that you belong to this group, you don’t have to run in the field because you can get all the benefits of barefoot running right from your doorstep. Because I wrote in the post, the harder the surface and the less buffer there is between the foot and the surface, the lower the shock because you cushion the landing with the help of the muscles in the foot and leg itself and not with the help of the skeleton.
Question: What about walking barefoot, is it worth it? And long trips with weight on your back?
Answer: It is important to know that the bio-mechanics in walking are completely different from running. When walking, stretch the leg forward and first step on the heel without feeling pain (even without shoes). In proper running, the heel is placed under the body’s center of gravity and the body naturally avoids hitting the heel on the floor with force (unless you wear a modern running shoe that softens the area).
In running, the natural damping of the shocks is very important, while in walking there are no shocks in the first place and the whole natural mechanism of damping is not active nor is it required to be active (the body is smart!).
If you want to walk in nature – protect your habits in one way or another and enjoy nature. You will not suffer from overloads and slowness during a routine walk in nature and I see no point in looking for solutions to a problem that does not exist.
In contrast to walking, in running there is a risk of high loads when the foot lands on the ground and then there is a clear advantage to a natural/barefoot/minimalist running style and the longer the running distances, the more significant the advantage (otherwise the poor running style will lead to a sports injury with a very high probability). In a natural and correct run, the foot lands below the center of gravity and then the muscles naturally stretch and relax to cushion the impact of the foot on the ground.
In order for this to happen properly, in the perfect natural timing, the nerve endings at the bottom of the foot need to feel the contact with the ground with a minimum of interference (minimum sole) and this is how the natural damping is obtained, a correct weight distribution of the body, a correct position of the foot on the floor and excellent balance (this The reason ballet dancers dance barefoot or with thin and soft shoes).
In brief: When you run – choose a surface free of sharp objects and take off your shoes for the sake of improving style, strengthening the soft tissues in the foot and preventing injuries. After you’ve perfected the perfect style for months, hit the ground running and protect your feet with minimalist shoes. When you walk – the running style and shock absorption are not important, so all that remains is to protect the feet.
So what did we have here?
Curiosity – to know and understand what really causes running injuries so often and how they can be avoided. Investigate the large amount of information that exists in literature, academia and the web and read the testimonies of people who have experienced barefoot and minimalist running.
Skepticism – to exercise judicial criticism on all the existing myths and of course on all the marketing statements of the shoe manufacturers and insole builders.
Persistence – after everything is clear as day and all the pieces of the puzzle fit well in your head, just stick to the plan.
Fun – because if you don’t enjoy the process and the results, why make an effort?
Now that we’ve done much of the groundwork and research for you, your personal way of running the way your body wants should be much easier. It’s within your reach! Successfully!