bare feet on sandRemember the first warm spring days back when we were kids? We simply ached to kick off the shoes, peel off those socks and run around barefoot . . . for the first time since September (or maybe October for the brave ones). If you want to enjoy that barefoot sensation again, consider this: barefoot walking and running have exploded in popularity over the past few years, and we don’t mean just running in the grass or on the beach.

We’re talking about some rough terrain here . . . gravel and rough asphalt. Maybe your first reaction is, “Yikes!” If so, you’re not alone, but read on, and maybe you’ll change your mind. Over the next few weeks, we’ll address this trend. And who knows? Maybe you’ll want to try it out during these lovely weeks of autumn!

Our first recommendation: start slow and easy. You just can’t jump in full speed. Be wise and avoid injury. For your first barefoot venture, walking on the grass around the nearest park is the obvious choice, as opposed to taking a five-mile run down a gravel road. Another thing to consider is this: barefoot doesn’t necessarily mean barefoot. What we’re trying to say is that there are new options in footwear, sometimes called minimalist running shoes or barefoot running shoes. REI offers a brief, informative article on the topic, explaining how minimalist styles offer a less bulky shoe with a low heel and little or no arch support. Barefoot styles even contain individual toe pockets—like gloves for your feet. Socks reminiscent of those crazy-colored, knee-high toe socks are also available, albeit in athletic form.

Of course, if you wear orthotics—or if you have bunions, hammertoes, plantar fasciitis, or other problems with your feet, barefoot running may not be for you.

For those of us who habitually wear shoes except when at the beach or in bed, this may seem like a foreign concept. Even so, barefoot running has steadily gained popularity over the past few years, and we’d like you to know more about it.

One of the foremost authorities on barefoot running is Ken Bob Saxton, whose website claims fame as the “Original Running Barefoot Website,” online since 1997. Interestingly, Ken Bob doesn’t believe that one needs to go barefoot on every run, or even part of every run—or every walk, for that matter. What he does say is that repetitive stress injuries common to long-distance runners can actually be related to wearing those wonderfully comfortable running shoes sought after by most runners. Ken Bob’s claim is that the pounding impact is partially masked by the shoes, thereby allowing runners to go harder and farther than they would if going barefoot, thereby leading to injury. By running barefoot, runners are more easily able to identify those injury-causing forces—and learn to run more “gently,” making it easier on the body. He also warns against using the minimalist running shoes as simply a way to run (or walk!) farther and harder than you can do barefoot.

Again, Ken Bob’s focus is to teach runners to adjust the running style—not just pad it—in order to run more gently and avoid injury. We strongly recommend that you learn more before joining the barefoot ranks. Check out this link for Ken Bob’s website for details and video, but here are the basics:

  • Relax.
  • Keep face and feet pointed forward.
  • Be upright instead of leaning forward.
  • Allow the hips to rotate to keep your feet in line.
  • Bend hips, knees and ankles to act as natural springs.
  • Lift feet instead of “pushing” them forward to improve cadence, weight distribution, lift off and efficiency.
  • Lead with your center.

This list just skims the surface . . . please click on the link above. Next week we’ll share more on barefoot/minimalist footwear. Until then, whether you walk or run . . . shod or barefoot, remember: at Body Healing Power, we help your body heal itself naturally.

Now let’s focus on minimalist footwear, sometimes called barefoot shoes. While we’re not advocating the purchase of any particular brand, we’ll point out two companies’ resources that may interest you if you are considering running barefoot.

First, REI points out that many barefoot running shoes are specifically designed for either trail running or road running. Whatever your choice, we recommend doing the research to learn which one best suits your needs. In addition, there are two basic styles of barefoot running shoes: the glove-like shoes with individual toe sleeves, a very thin (3-4mm) sole and “zero drop” from heel to toe; or the shoes described as minimalist, which look like a pared-down version of traditional shoes, except that they have little or no arch support and a 4-8mm heel. Both choices differ substantially from traditional running shoes that are built with padding, arch support and 8-12mm heels. For more info, if you didn’t click on the REI link, two weeks ago, here’s another chance at it.

It’s actually the design of traditional running shoes—which have been around only since the 1970s, by the way—that barefoot runners avoid. Why’s that? According to numerous sources, the 8-12mm drop from heel to toe is one reason. The design causes runners to come down on their heels. Barefoot running experts say the heel strike is hard on the body, especially the knees. They claim that barefoot running and the minimalist shoe styles encourage a mid-foot strike that allows the runner to run more gently, putting less stress on the body. Of course, the shoes can’t be the whole answer. Good running form is crucial. New Balance offers a brief video to point out four keys to good form, and to review info from last week’s newsletter, you may want to review the website of Ken Bob Saxton.

We hope you’re enjoying the fine spring weather! Until next week, whether you walk or run . . . shod or barefoot, remember: at Body Healing Power we help your body heal itself naturally.