Running is one of today’s most popular sports and is considered one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise. However, running is not without drawbacks because it is the cause of many leg and foot injuries. One of the newest ways of running that is touted as a way to avoid foot and leg injuries is actually the oldest way — barefoot running.
Benefits of barefoot running
The benefits of barefoot running (which also goes by the names minimalist running and natural running), center around the fact that the foot acts differently when shoes are not worn. When wearing shoes, a runner’s heel strikes the ground first, explaining why the heel of a running shoes is the focus of design. The front of a barefoot runner’s foot strikes the ground first. Advocates point out that this is the way to run at a more natural gait. They further point out that the foot, ankle and lower leg muscles work harder and become stronger because shoes weaken the smaller foot muscles.
Some studies have shown that running barefoot increases the runner’s efficiency by as much as 4% and reduces run time. Starting in 1960, runners such as the legendary Ethiopian, Ababe Bikilia, began winning Olympic gold medals running without shoes. As long as there have been people running, there have been barefoot runners.
Argument against natural running
Natural running has critics who state that running shoes actually correct running problems and help runners improve their form. They also point out that barefoot running is unsafe because the foot is exposed to cuts, infection and foot injuries.
One of the compromise solutions used by many runners is thin soled shoes. These shoes fit to the form of the fit, including the individual toes and offer some protection to the foot from ground causes injuries.
While the controversy continues and studies are released indicating the benefits and the downside of barefoot running, the trend continues to gain supporters. Proponents are also quick to caution runners who want to transition from running shoes to barefoot running that the move to shoeless takes time and practice. Thin sole shoes are suggested as a good transition tool. Exercising on an elliptical exercise machine is also considered a good way to make the move over time.
Barefoot running isn’t for every runner. Many runners have tried both ways and come back to wearing shoes. Still, running without shoes is described as more natural and grounding by those runners who find it to be the most efficient way to exercise.
About the Author: Erik Smith runs his own fitness blog called Workout Designs and he has been interested in fitness since he was a kid. You can learn more about barefoot running and other fitness related topics on his blog.