What’s The Fastest Way To More Athleticism? Barefoot Running
The Case For Barefoot Running
We’ve watched elite athletes in every sport get bigger, stronger and faster. Unfortunately, we’ve also watched elite athletes continue to be hobbled by injury.
Virtually every athlete can improve their game by adding one thing to their training regimen: Barefoot Running.
This is a major blind spot in sports. And the reality is, its a marketing problem.
As noted in Chris McDougal’s classic book Born To Run, shoe companies have sold athlete-consumers around the globe the idea that we were born imperfect — and only their shoes can save us.
Guess What? Shoes Probably Caused Your Injury
Shoe marketing conveniently ignores the millions of years humans evolved without shoes.
Truth is, most athletes think the lowest muscle in the leg is the calf muscle. But in reality, the most import leg muscles are the ones below the calf.
Fact: Adult feet have 26 bones, 33 joints, and 100+ small muscles, ligaments, and tendons — in each foot!
All those miniscule foot muscles and tendons create the miraculous propulsion system that is the human foot.
But sadly, when feet are trapped inside shoes, over time they become weak from lack of use to the point of atrophy. That atrophy results in lack of strength which leads to injury.
The Problem With Shoes
The problem with shoes is precisely what most shoe companies market as features and benefits.
The padding and the support in shoes limit/ negate natural ground-feel, biofeedback, and proprioception, which results in limited bodily awareness and under-utilized athleticism.
The feet are the forgotten, neglected and under-trained body part — and considered by many to be nothing more than the stinky accessories of the shoe game.
Unsurprisingly, many athletes have to tape their ankles, because under-trained feet lead to weak ankles, which leads to injury.
Anyone who spends the majority of their time wedging their feet into narrow, ill-fitting shoes is at risk to damaged, under-trained feet
Under-developed feet sap explosion and greatly limit top-end athletic potential.
An internet search will lead you to websites and YouTube videos on biomechanics, proprioception and barefoot running. Take a dive into all that.
Then there are also the holistic aspects of the feet.
Reflexology is the study of the interaction between the feet and health of other body parts.
Grounding or Earthing is the belief that our bodies are maximally healthy, (reduced stress, inflammation, greater balance) when we connect regularly to the subtle electrical charge of the Earth — through barefoot interaction.
I believe in training barefoot. My anecdote is that after about 6 weeks of running barefoot 2–3 times per week, I could dunk a basketball again. It had been over a decade.
Also, despite being a distance runner, my top-end sprint speed was noticeably faster than it had ever been. I could suddenly jump significantly higher and run significantly faster from home to first. I only changed one thing.
The springs were not just back, they were better than ever.
I didn’t and don’t run barefoot every time. But I did utilize my newfound proprioception to adjust my running-gait over time from heal-strike to mid-foot strike.
Increased running efficiency equals economy, and economy equals speed.
With barefoot running in my training mix, I improved my marathon time from 3:46 to 2:58.
How you test your foot strength
Here’s the simple test — Can you splay your toes?
If you can’t splay your toes, your feet are weak and under-trained.
The Best Way To Enjoy a Barefoot Run.
Wait for a big summer rainstorm.
Then go the nearest school with a lot of green space. Run the perimeter of the grounds in your bare feet.
Running in the rain or soon thereafter is great for several reasons:
- The ground will be softened nicely underfoot giving you amazing feedback. Meanwhile, you’ve worn shoes so long your feet need time to adapt to barefoot running, so soft earth is a great first step.
- It will be the opposite of every other time you trained in the rain. No heavy shoes. No soggy socks. No blisters. The water just runs off your legs, and you are light.
- Aim for every puddle. Splashing though puddles in bare feet is legit fun. Remember when running was fun?
Believe me, this will be one of the most joyous runs you’ve had as a runner.
Another great place to run barefoot is the infield of your local track.
Run fast, run slow. Run on your midfoot, run on your toes. Sprint, Stride, Fartlek, Karaoke. Enjoy all the people looking shocked at your bare, stark naked, feet.
The first few weeks, your lower legs and feet will feel the pump. They’ll get sore. Those muscles need time to wake up. Take care of that with RICE, don’t over-do it too soon.
As you incorporate barefoot running into your routine, and as you develop that spring in your step, don’t be surprised when your new gams become your favorite body part.
Don’t be surprised when you become a better athlete.
Don’t be surprised when you feel faster, lighter, stronger — or even more grounded, balanced and happy.
Who knows the upper limits of your potential? Go get it.