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Barefoot Running Races Back to the Evolutionary Starting Line

There’s something about feeling every undulation on the trail, the blades of grass on a mist-covered field. On one small grains of dirt caress your feet as you run; on the other bits of dew cling to your toes, cool and refreshing. And on both you bound along on the balls of your feet, head held high, legs strong, springy and injury-free. At least in theory.

Barefoot running, along with barefoot shoes—superlight, minimalist running shoes with no heel cushion or arch support—are making huge strides forward that can be traced to, oh, the dawn of man. Littleton has a Naked Foot Barefoot Running Club that offers free weekly training, fun runs, and biomechanics and injury prevention clinics. And they’re promoting The Naked Foot 5K next September in Denver.

Like the current movement away from prescription medicine to natural remedies, or from GMOs to organic food, people are realizing that 2-inches of man-made cushion can’t compete with what nature provided you.

And based on a number of studies and statistics out there, it seems like they’re right. According to Stephen Messier, director of the J.B. Snow Biomechanics Laboratory at Wake Forest University, up to 79 percent of runners are injured every year using modern footwear. And that number hasn’t really changed, he says, since the 1970s. When, incidentally, a little company called Nike “just did it” and created the modern-day running shoe.

Since then shoes have been marketed as a necessary item for comfort and safety, to limit impact with an abundance of cushioning, for example, or to provide technology to counter pronation. With these supposed “advances,” however, came injuries. Lots of them.

Barefoot running turns this notion of a fortress on your foot upside down, saying that less is definitely more. Humans thrived as runners for thousands of years prior to the last four decades, when injuries were almost unheard of.

No reason we can’t get back to that place, right? During a 2009 trip, Daniel Lieberman, chairman of Harvard’s Human Evolutionary Biology Department, found a school in Kenya where no one wore shoes. He noted that while most runners in America land hard on their heels, the barefoot Kenyans seemed to land softly on the balls of their feet. In fact, he discovered in the lab that barefoot runners land with almost zero initial impact shock.

Companies like Vibram—one of the originators of barefoot shoes—claim that barefoot running also strengthens muscles in the feet and lower legs and improves range of motion.

But the best part of going barefoot, many proponents contend, is that it puts the fun back in running. Something deep down inside remembers what it’s like to be intimate with the surface you’re running on. And it likes it.

Potential Benefits

  • Strengthens muscles in the feet and lower legs
  • Improves range of motion in ankles, feet, and toes
  • Stimulates neural function important to balance and agility
  • Eliminates heel lift to align the spine and improve posture
  • Allows the foot and body to move naturally

Source: Vibram

Related Programming

Local “Barefoot” Groups, Events & Resources

Barefoot Training Tips

  • Land gently on your forefoot and gradually let the heel come down
  • Transition slowly
  • Stretch your calves and Achilles tendon
  • Don’t do anything that causes pain
  • Listen to your body and run totally barefoot to learn good form
  • Consult a doctor

Source: Biomechanics of Foot Strides

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