Fitness Trend: Barefoot Running
Running is one of the most well respected forms of exercise because it engages the entire body simultaneously. By performing the basic motion of moving your feet and accelerating, you are effectively working virtually every muscle in your legs and feet, as well as your cardiovascular system. Barefoot running seems to be a trend picking up some definite traction, pardon the pun. So, what is it about running shoeless that you need to know, and more importantly, is it really safe?
Some athletes that train for marathons and cross-training races enthusiastically endorse the natural effects of barefoot running. They claim that wearing shoes actually interferes with the foot's ability to compensate and respond to the terrain. According to the theory, a bare foot will be more cautious and faster to adapt or react to the ground it is pounding against. Also, studies have examined how much weight a shoe really adds for a runner. In some of the research results, the soles and cushions were thought to increase the resistance level when starting and stopping with each step. The results suggested that running barefoot allows the tendons and bones to work naturally, building up their strength in the process. Over time, the skin of a foot will become tougher as it recovers from surface encounters. As this happens, it might be less sensitive to those surfaces, leading to fewer chances of cuts or injuries, a major reason why people avoid barefoot running. To date, it has not been scientifically proven that running barefoot has any factual advantages over running with shoes. Yet, there is a small, but avid community, defending the idea that running in bare feet could be beneficial in some ways.
Basic logic tells us that running without shoes will only increase the risks of cutting your feet. Thus, the majority is still hesitant to attempt barefoot running. The fear of stepping on a rock or glass outweighs the arguments put forth in favor of running shoeless. In addition, many podiatrists have expressed concerns about the vulnerability of unprotected feet. In looking at your feet, you will notice that the bone structure is very small compared to other areas of your body. The smaller bones tend to fracture more easily, and cannot withstand heavy impacts. Countering the claims that barefoot running prevents injuries, doctors suggest that the risk of injury is, in fact, higher when running barefoot.
The Bottom Line
If you do an internet search for "barefoot running," you will see many different articles and websites on both sides of the discussion. Some are bold advocates of running barefoot, while others emphatically warn against the dangers associated with it. As with many forms of physical fitness, there is enough evidence produced by both groups to quickly confuse anyone. Generally, it is always best to listen to a doctor's instructions. Visit or contact your favorite podiatrist to learn their position on the issue. Even as you read the testimonials and warnings about running barefoot, it might not be a choice you have to make. In fact, you can still get the benefits of running with or without shoes as long as you are careful and pay attention to where you are running at all times. For example, running barefoot through the sand on a beach or in some types of soft grass can be a great experience. When you are on pavement, dirt, or rocky terrain, be sure to wear shoes, and watch where you step. Protecting your feet should always be a top priority for runners of all levels.