Quite simply, Barefoot Running is running with bare feet! However, the Barefoot Running Movement is a little more complicated than that. Once the preserve of hippies, surfers and tribal folk, going barefoot has attracted the attention of more technologically minded modern runners.
Barefoot Running Explained
As a runner, it can quite often seem that, in picking running as your exercise of choice, you commit yourself to a life of (hopefully minor) injuries and niggles. When you chat to fellow runners the topic of conversation can often drift onto what injuries you have had and how much time out off you had to take. Where most of us just accept it as an occupational hazard, some runners, championed by Barefoot Ken Bob, have decided to try a radical solution – ditching the shoes (or at least, the normal running shoes)
The idea is that, even though there has been millions of pounds and dollars invested across the globe into footwear research, the regularity of injuries incurred by runners does not seem to reduce. In contrast to the money spent on research, natural selection has had almost 5 million years to produce an effective bipedal (walking on two feet) human foot, which should be more than enough time to create a design that works without constantly injuring the owner!
The Theory of Barefoot Running:
When you run with cushioned shoes on, the natural tendency is to plant your heel first, roll forward and push off your toe. This puts a lot of stress on your heel which has little natural spring in it and therefore can transfer the pressure to higher joints like the knee and the hips. When someone runs without shoes on, they are more likely to use the balls and the fore of the foot which then offers a natural cushioning and springing action through the length of the foot. This dampens the impact and can produce less stress injuries.
Although this all sounds very logical, and you just need to look at some of the tribes across the world for examples of people that can happily run around in rough terrain without shoes, modern humans have developed very soft feet. Most of us (unless we grew up in a hippy commune) will have worn shoes for the bulk of our life. As a consequence, the soles of our feet are soft and not resistant to the impact of multi terrain - you just have to watch a holiday maker leave a beach bare foot for an example of this; you get a few seconds of ‘hmm, this is ok, I can tolerate this’, followed by the realisation that the stones are quite sharp, before the inevitable stop, look around and search for either softer ground or somewhere to sit and put shoes on!
This is where the idea of ‘Minimal Shoes’ or ‘Racing Flats’ can come in to its own. These are shoes that have very little cushioning and allow your feet to feel the terrain that they are running on as well as flex and bend how they need to in order to cushion your ride. If you look at many of the major fell running shoes like Inov-8’s you will notice that they do not have much cushioning, this reduces the likeliness of a twisted ankle as it lowers the foot’s centre of gravity in increases your responsiveness. Minimal footwear is a step further (excuse the pun) however, with a very thin layer of rubber between you and the ground. This has the advantage of allowing your foot to function like it is barefoot, whilst being protected from the inevitable sharp stones and dangerous objects that can litter our trails and paths.
Mens and Womens Vibram Five Finger Sprint’s
Barefoot Running Products:
The latest proponent of this style of footwear is the outsole specialist ‘Vibram’ who have made the Five Fingers. A range of shoes that not only lack cushioning but also have a toed forefoot, the innovative Five Fingers range allows you to use the natural stabilisers that we are all born with – our toes. In order to cope with different terrains and uses, the Five Finger range features different tread patterns (similar to that of a car!). There is a lot of controversy about the idea, especially it’s scientific grounding, but it seems that for some people it is definitely an improvement. Time will tell whether it is a fad or whether it is the look of things to come, the only real way is to test them out.