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Article written by:

Hamish Nelson, Podiatrist

Barefoot running is a recent trend within the running community that has gathered great interest for its many potential benefits.

Every athlete is constantly looking for that competitive edge, from advancement in footwear technology to a new training method that will bring them closer to their next goal. Barefoot running is another training technique that has been developed to achieve this. Not a new thing to the human race with man running unshod for centuries; however a return to this natural running style is strongly believed to be the best direction for runners keen to improve their running style. This article is not trying to argue in the affirmative or negative for barefoot running but will provide a balanced opinion of the information and highlight the positives and negatives associated with running barefoot.

The Positives

Barefoot running has gathered a great deal of interest amongst the running fraternity for its multitude of foot health benefits. These benefits stem from the development of a more natural running gait that requires the runner to shorten his stride length increasing cadence striking the ground with a more forefoot position.
Forefoot reduces ground forces through the knee joint producing a smoother absorption of forces. Strengthens intrinsic muscles of the feet improving foot posture.

Improved proprioception reduces the incidence of ankle sprains amongst runners (*).
Produces a more economical and natural running style for athletes reducing energy expenditure

The Negatives

Surfaces we run on are hard and produce high ground reaction forces.
No cushioning to absorb this shock our body cannot deal with these forces.
Can overload the bone and soft tissues causing stress fractures, marrow oedema, plantar fascia and Achilles tendon issues.
Plantar flexed fore foot strike while running creates greater load through the calf muscles and Achilles tendon as they keep the heel from striking the ground.
What should you do
If barefoot running has taken your fancy then there a few things that are important to remember.
It is not for everyone. You might follow every piece of advice perfectly but still not be able to do it.
Take your time, build up gradually. Similar to training with weights, you can’t go from 0 to 100 over night.
Try to run on soft surfaces like grass rather than concrete or bitumen. Much more forgiving on the soles of your feet with lower ground forces than concrete.
Listening to your body is essential. Barefoot running may be natural however it is foreign to your muscles and joints so listen to aches and pains and seek advice before continuing.
Gaining advice from your Podiatrist or someone experienced in bare foot running is important before you begin. Knowledge is power and the power of someone else’s experiences is invaluable.
Planning is necessary to set goals and be able to measure your progress. This will require a training diary to document this progress and evaluate your progression to becoming a bare foot runner.

Hamish Nelson is a Podiatrist who works at our Waurn Ponds clinic Ph 5245 7577.

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