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a close up of a barefoot runner

    The human foot is designed to function efficiently without shoes. Barefoot running is a common preference for many amateur and professional runners who wish to adopt a more natural approach to leg and foot movements. The main difference between shoe-covered running and barefoot running is that feet strike the ground at the forefoot (just under the toes) and mid-foot area rather than on the heel with barefoot running.

    What Barefoot Running Does for Your Feet

    Various studies have confirmed that barefoot running can be beneficial since it restores the natural motions of feet, ankles, and legs. Runners often report an ability to run faster while also appreciating the ability to feel lightness with basic foot movements. Noted benefits of barefoot running also include:

    • Strengthening foot muscles
    • Reduced use of natural energy/effort to run since feet will be lighter
    • Less stress on sensory nerves due to lighter impact forces
    • Reduced risk of developing shin splints

    When to Avoid Barefoot Running

    While there are many potential benefits, barefoot running isn’t for everyone. It’s best to avoid barefoot running if you have a foot condition like chronic tendonitis or sensory loss in your feet. Also avoid running without shoes if you have a foot deformity or issues with gait mechanics that prevent your feet from carrying out natural motions. Barefoot running should also be avoided after foot surgery unless you get the “okay” to do so.

    Preparing for Barefoot Running

    Running barefoot is like getting used to arm movements again once a cast comes off. Feet will be making a more direct on the ground with each strike, so it’s important to strengthen foot-supporting muscles as much as possible to minimize the risk of injury while running sans shoes. Experiencing some initial soreness in the feet, calves, and lower legs is normal and usually temporary. Prepare for barefoot running by:

    • Starting with slow runs or jogs
    • Progressing naturally as you become used to the different strike motions
    • Learning and maintaining proper foot movements
    • Sticking to flat surfaces as much as possible to avoid sharp objects and broken pavement or concrete
    • Avoiding over-striding to protect calves, the Achilles tendon, and the arch

    Contrary to popular belief, calluses don’t usually develop from barefoot running since pavement acts as a natural pumice stone to minimize callusing. If you do get calluses, it will likely be on the balls of your feet, although topical ointments can help. Another option is to wear minimal running shoes designed to allow feet to function as naturally as possible if barefoot running isn’t for you. Speak with a podiatrist for more advice specific to your feet.

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