Remember the good old days of running barefoot, the tickle of grass and the feeling of warm cement under your little feet? You might have been on to something when you left your shoes in the house! But, if you’ve been thinking about ditching your sneakers and trying the barefoot or minimalist shoe running trend, there are a few things you need to know first.
According to Irene S. Davis, PhD, physical therapist, Director of the Spaulding National Running Center and faculty member of Harvard Medical School’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, “Barefoot running or running in minimal shoes encourages a more natural foot strike pattern that does not involve landing on the heel.
“Davis herself is a barefoot runner. Why? “It feels great, helps to strengthen my feet, encourages a softer landing and provides all the sensory input I am designed to have,” she tells HealthySELF.
Davis says that barefoot or minimalist shoe running can be healthier for you than wearing running shoes. “Overall health benefits include strengthening of the foot and softer landings with less impacts,” Davis explains. “Reduced impacts can lessen your risk for injury.”
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According to a study by Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, published in the journal Nature in January 2010, barefoot runners are more likely to land toward the front or middle of their feet, while traditional running shoes tend to promote a heel foot strike, generating a greater collision force, or impact.
However, that doesn’t mean you should just toss your running shoes in the garbage and take to the streets with your freshly pedicured toes! If going totally barefoot is a little much for you (we’re not about to try it in the middle of New York City!), minimalist shoes may be the perfect compromise. As SELF reported last year, not only will you be more agile when running in minimalist shoes, you’ll burn more calories. Without the support of traditional running shoes, tiny muscles in your feet will be called into action.
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Whether you’re going barefoot or almost barefoot, here’s what you need to know before you give the trend a try:
1. Know it’s safe for you. If you have any sensory loss in your feet, Davis says you should not attempt barefoot running — it’s too dangerous. In fact, if you have any foot-related injuries, it’s best to consult a medical professional before you try the trend.
2. Take it slow. “You must progress slowly to allow your musculoskeletal system to adapt to the new running pattern,” says Davis. SELF has a great 4-week strengthening plan so you can make a smooth transition to minimalist footwear.
3. Want to go barefoot? Start with walking before you run. “It is best to learn the right way to run without the interference of shoes,” says Davis, adding that walking barefoot is “the best way to try it out.” Then, she says, “Once you’re up to walking briskly for 30 minutes, slowly begin to replace the walking with running.” Then…
4. Consider minimalist shoes, either some or all of the time, depending on your comfort level. No matter what, says Davis, “You should protect your feet when necessary, such as in the cold, heat, dark or on surfaces that may have hidden sharp objects.”
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5. Seek out smooth, hard surfaces. It might seem counterintuitive, but according to Davis, a smooth, hard surface is best for learning to run with bare feet or while wearing minimalist shoes.