A Calgary family's feet standing barefoot on grass across from shoes

How to Transition to Barefoot Running

You may have heard your friends or family talking about the recent barefoot running trend and wondered if it might be right for you.

The advantages of barefoot running compared to the advantages of traditional running is the subject of some debate in the running community. Avid barefoot runners often claim to sustain fewer injuries while using less energy. Barefoot running advocates also claim they experience strengthened foot muscles, less pronation, and stronger foot arches. Many barefoot runners enjoy the simple connection to nature they experience when running uninhibited by shoes.

If you want to try barefoot running, you might think the process is as simple as leaving your shoes behind on your morning run. This is not the case. Barefoot running uses different muscles and poses different risks than traditional running. You may need to adjust your strike and stride. Before you make the switch, read our tips and tricks to make the change easier and safer.

1. Visit a Podiatrist

Even experienced runners should check with their doctors before making a large change to their workout regimen. Your doctor can examine your current level of activity as well as the current state of your feet and help you develop a realistic training schedule.

A podiatrist can also help you understand what to expect. It is important to understand what pain or stiffness is normal, and what pain could be indicative of a larger problem.

Additionally, it is important to exercise and stretch your ankles and feet throughout the process. Your podiatrist can recommend stretches and exercises that will be most effective for you.

2. Start Small

Before you throw your running shoes away, start taking short walks barefoot. If you take the time to develop thicker skin and callouses, it will be easier to start running barefoot later.

For the first few weeks, keep running with your shoes on and take short, barefoot walks. Slowly, start jogging barefoot. After you develop thicker skin, start supplementing your usual runs with short (200m or so) barefoot runs.

Unless otherwise instructed by your doctor, each week increase the amount of time you spend running barefoot by no more than 10%.

Throughout this process, remember to stretch more than you might normally stretch. Barefoot running uses different, probably weaker, muscles. If you want to avoid unnecessary stiffness, stretch and massage your calf muscles every time you run.

3. Shorten Your Stride

People who run with shoes can run with longer strides than those who run barefoot. If your barefoot stride is too long, you will put excess stress on your calf muscles, the arches of your feet, and your Achilles tendon.

A healthy-sized stride should feel like you are running in place.

4. Watch Your Posture and the Road

As you run, avoid slouching and other lazy techniques. Stand up straight and keep your head held high as you run. Bend your knees to encourage proper landings and to minimize the impact force on your body. Try to lead with your hips instead of your head or shoulders.

When you first switch to barefoot running, you might be tempted to look down to avoid debris. Instead of looking down at your feet, look ahead. This will give you more time to avoid debris without interrupting your stride.

Stay focused. Shoes guard your feet from ice, sharp objects, and other debris. You might usually zone out while running, but when you run barefoot, you need to remain alert the entire time.

5. Change Your Strike

Because of the adjustments that athletic shoes offer, many people run with a heel strike instead of a forefoot strike or a mid-foot strike. Heel striking creates a larger impact force on the body, which is magnified when you run barefoot.

As you run, each landing should feel gentle. Strive to land on the ball of your foot on the lateral side before gently lowering your heel to the ground. Your foot should be nearly horizontal every time you land, and you should feel a soft spring in your step.

6. Run on a Flat Surface

As you start running barefoot, you might be drawn to soft surfaces like the grass or a sandy beach. While this might seem more comfortable, it will prevent you from developing proper form. Hard, unforgiving surfaces like asphalt or concrete make you aware of improper form.

If your landings are too hard, you will experience discomfort and adjust your strike. It is a lot easier to ignore heel striking instead of transitioning to forefoot or mid-foot striking when you run on soft surfaces.

The transition to barefoot running should be gradual. Consult with your podiatrist before making any big changes and watch your form. If you create a realistic training schedule and hold yourself to it, in several months you might be able to ditch your running shoes entirely.