Barefoot Running

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Lemur
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Barefoot Running

Post by Lemur »

Curious if anyone here does currently does barefoot running on a regular basis or is recently trying it out and can share their experiences and pros/cons. I think over the years I've seen it mentioned in journals but I don't believe there is a thread on just this topic (Edit: Wrong there is one but from 2014... viewtopic.php?t=4618 and another from 2013 viewtopic.php?t=4276). May still be worth a discussion as I believe barefoot running didn't really become a trend until the 2010s...and now there should be some more experiences. I could be wrong.

I am skeptical of giving this a try due to lack of concrete literature from what I've found so far (I've more to read), but anecdotally there seems to be good results from those that do it right (skip the fibrams/minimalist shoes altogether and dive straight in but take care to build up slowly). Our hunter-gatherers did not jog/run in shoes...but they also didn't run miles on asphalt either.

NIH: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4212355/

Tons of references in the above link for further reading.

Interesting points in the discussion because Russ also speaks to the biomechanics here on the how the foot strikes the ground. Running related injuries are typical in the ankles, knees, and the lower back. As someone with a history of lower back problems, and as someone who jogs a few miles 3-4x a week, I can attest to the lower back soreness. I do wonder now if my shoes could be the cause (and the shoes in turn messing with my biomechanics).
The differences between barefoot and shod running have been increasingly studied in the literature. Runners typically contact the ground with the heel first: a rear foot strike (RFS). In contrast, barefoot runners tend to display a midfoot strike (MFS) or a forefoot strike (FFS), which may allow for absorption of collision forces with the ground and avoidance of excessive pressure at the heel.23 The difference in strike patterns may be related to potential kinetic and kinematic changes in ground reaction forces (GRFs), loading rates, joint moments and powers, joint range of motion, muscle activation patterns, and running economy. These alterations in biomechanics and joint forces while barefoot or in minimalist shoes may protect against RRI [Running-Related Injuries],and/or enhance running performance.
Despite the different technologies available, minimalist shoe designs cannot entirely replicate barefoot running, possibly because of differences in mechanics and economy in barefoot running. No definitive conclusions can be drawn on the risks or benefits to running barefoot, shod, or in minimalist shoes.
UPMC: https://www.upmc.com/services/sports-me ... ot-running

If you're gonna give this a shot, build up to it and take it slow:
If you choose to make the transition from shod to barefoot running it must be slow and steady. First start out by walking around barefoot for about 2 weeks, then start running in place and slowly transition into smooth flat surfaces. You can then increase your mileage and increase your speed again slow and steady, but no more than 10% in distance per week. The important thing is to listen to your body. If you are in pain you are doing too much too fast.
Anecdotal: https://youtu.be/y4EuZAWM-1Q

Russ Tedrake is a roboticist and professor at MIT and vice president of robotics research at TRI. He works on control of robots in interesting, complicated, underactuated, stochastic, difficult to model situations. Stated in the video, he runs barefoot to MIT daily about 6-7 miles.
Last edited by Lemur on Tue Jul 12, 2022 3:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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mountainFrugal
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by mountainFrugal »

I put in a lot of barefoot miles over a decade ago. The main benefit is the mid-foot strike form that running barefoot encourages naturally. So it is not barefoot per say, but the form that is the most important. I think these often get conflated, but your reference does a good job of explaining.

Pros:
more proprioception and sensitivity for running strike and surface.
strengthening of lower leg and foot muscles (your muscles will get stronger faster than your soft tissue... so take it slow as suggested above)
can do on beach or in park
does not have to be all or nothing to still gain benefits

Cons:
potential smugness ;)
dry and cracking of skin on feet
callous formation that can get deep tissue blisters underneath (not fun!)
more likely foot injury (abrasions, bruises, etc.) from inevitable misstrike on weird surfaces

I settled on minimalist style zero drop trail runners with thin wool running socks combined with active body scans of form while running. I enjoy the benefits of good form, have not been injured running in over a decade, and have had no cuts/cracks on my feet that take forever to heal.

Dave
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by Dave »

I don't do enough running to have an informed opinion on barefoot running, but I have worn Xeroshoes (a brand of zero-drop boots/shoes/sandals) for several years now and love them. I wear the sandals for almost everything, the shoes for things that are a bit more involved, and the boots when it's cold/wet.

Wearing such shoes is not perfectly similar to going truly barefoot, but it gets fairly close given the lack of drop and thin padding. I've walked over 40 miles in a single day wearing the shoes, hiked >10 miles in sandals many times, gone for a few mile jog a number of times, and wear them pretty much all the time. I do walk barefoot fairly frequently too, but environmental hazards like sharp rocks and glass keep me from doing too much of this.

At one point I looked into the research behind them and decided they were safe enough to give a shot and see how they went. I've never looked back. I get the concern about running on harder surfaces, and I don't have a strong opinion on that. I just don't run enough that it concerns me - walking FTW :D.

ertyu
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by ertyu »

re: barefoot walking, also see the cheapest possible CVS-grade flip-flops. If given choice, I would wear little else

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Jean
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by Jean »

i spent more than a year barefeet. the main downside is that some places don't let you in, and you need to wash your feet before going to bed (or have a pair of bed socks if you're lazy like me).
i stoped when my bike got stollen, and i replaced it with aclipless bike and had to buy shoes to go with it.

Scott 2
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by Scott 2 »

I am using Xero shoes (Prios) to go 5-10 miles on foot per week. I'm not fast. Maybe 4-5 miles per hour on average. I've had to build up over about 9 months. I am typically lifting barefoot, or if at the gym, in the Prios.


My interest was largely in finding shoes that fit my feet. I have a wide toe box and a developing bunion on one foot. Normal shoes (even 4E new balance) hurt, especially if I'm active in them. The Prios have been far and away my best option. I tried at least a dozen models. I had zero interest in the super thin soles.

Yet, the sensory feedback immediately changed my gait. Instead of walking like a duck, I had to walk with my toes pointing forward. I could feel that doing stuff in my hips. I view that as a positive gain, one that has carried over into my gait 24/7.

I also become much more aware of what I am stepping on. Walking on a natural path massages the bottoms of my feet. Initially, it was an extremely bizarre feeling. The soft tissue in my feet has gotten a ton of work and improved in quality dramatically. Another major positive. I used to constantly struggle with plantar fascitis.

Building up to my slow jog has made my feet and calves much stronger. I've always been a guy with super skinny calves, to the point where people would comment. That is changed, along with my feet and ankles being far less of a weak point. My balance is much better. Great for aging.

Because these are movement patterns I haven't used much, while being weak, they are also relatively unworn. So I am not moving into old joint pains I might have built up over the first 40 years of my life. It's fun to have pain free progress available.


The negatives:

1. My old shoes don't fit as well. I know what comfort can feel like. I also think my toe box has widened. I am very dependent on my special shoes, to the point where I've bought 3 pairs.

2. It's taken a ton of time, with almost daily effort, for very limited performance results. I roll my feet and calves out all the time. I am massaging them with my hands, playing with toe spacers, doing shin raises, etc. Yet, I am constantly passed by heel strikers with their thick shoes on the trail.

3. Getting hurt is easy. I am nursing an angry ankle right now, from pushing to move faster. Pulling back when you're already going slow can feel frustrating. Accidentally crossing the line is so easy, because the rest of your body is far more capable.

4. Now that I'm barefoot around the house almost constantly, my feet are dirty. Like when I shower, there are black footprints. It's kinda gross.


Overall - I am happy with the return on effort. But my alternative was constant toe pain. So there was a strong incentive. I found the Xero shoes to be an ideal balance of protection and sensory input.

I'd consider Born to Run and Bowman's Whole Body Barefoot essential reading. I think the negative experiences you read, are from people pushing too hard too fast, as well as failing to do the supporting exercises. Even now, there are times I'll need to pull back and use a pair of heeled shoes to rest strained tissues.


I did try going thinner, btw:

1. Vibrams - wiggling my toes into the little pockets was far too annoying. They feel like an over-priced sock. They didn't really match my foot shape either.

2. Xero z-trail sandals - I don't like how they tug on the side of my toes. They are also a slippery on the bottom and let crud in. You really feel a sweaty foot.

3. Barefoot when lifting - too much and my feet will start to ache, especially the ball of my foot. Time on cold concrete adds up fast. I try to stay on my mats or put on the Xero shoes if I'll be doing a lot of walking on the concrete.

I can see a purist would want super thin or zero padding, but I don't see the incremental gain.

recal
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by recal »

I'm also someone who switched to "semi-barefoot" shoes. I wear the Feiyue shoes every day because they're cheap, fashionable, lack any support, and work for martial arts.

I had a "disability" of being unable to walk for a couple of years that got slowly fixed through strengthening. I was put into thick shoes and aggressive $300 custom inserts every year. I finally found a good physical therapist this year who's gotten me entirely off of the inserts and big shoes. I still use expensive athletic shoes for tennis, but day-to-day, I walk in these minimalist shoes.

I feel strong, agile, and confident in them, and highly recommend them to anyone. An advantage of the Feiyues in particular is they cost $15 on AliExpress and they're quite grippy (since they're martial arts shoes). Shaolin Monks wear them every day, so they're good enough for me.

white belt
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by white belt »

It may be worth looking into resources to improve your running form, even with just regular running shoes. Unless you have a background where you actually learned proper running technique from a coach (so basically track and cross country), then it might be the case that running with improper form has been causing a lot of your issues. I’m looking into trying to improve my own running form because despite having played all sorts of sports and doing a lot of distance running in the military, I’ve always been told I have a strange looking running form.

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Viktor K
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by Viktor K »

recal wrote:
Fri Aug 05, 2022 10:39 am
I feel strong, agile, and confident in them, and highly recommend them to anyone. An advantage of the Feiyues in particular is they cost $15 on AliExpress and they're quite grippy (since they're martial arts shoes). Shaolin Monks wear them every day, so they're good enough for me.
thanks for the rec, i have been looking for a casual shoe other than nicer flip flops. i don’t know that barefoot running is for me, but i can at least retire my running shoes that i wear for everything but running. these are cheap enough that they seem worth a try.

Slevin
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by Slevin »

I wore Feiyues for about a year. I didn't use them for barefoot running, but i did use them for boxing footwork training and casual wear. I think my pairs lasted an average of about 3 months before succumbing to holes in the toes or sole, and the toebox was undeniably tight compared to most barefoot shoes. From being involved in a movement community where they were heavily used and abused, I think my figure was about average. The heavy hitters who trained on harder surfaces like tennis courts and basketball courts wore them out a bit faster, and people using them for casual wear only lasted a while longer. So just take that into account; they are a $15 shoe. And they perform like one. There is also a nicer Feiyue made in France that is a little more expensive and lasts longer due to different soles, but it's also less barefoot due to the differences.

recal
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by recal »

Slevin wrote:
Fri Aug 05, 2022 9:27 pm
I wore Feiyues for about a year. I didn't use them for barefoot running, but i did use them for boxing footwork training and casual wear. I think my pairs lasted an average of about 3 months before succumbing to holes in the toes or sole, and the toebox was undeniably tight compared to most barefoot shoes. From being involved in a movement community where they were heavily used and abused, I think my figure was about average. The heavy hitters who trained on harder surfaces like tennis courts and basketball courts wore them out a bit faster, and people using them for casual wear only lasted a while longer. So just take that into account; they are a $15 shoe. And they perform like one. There is also a nicer Feiyue made in France that is a little more expensive and lasts longer due to different soles, but it's also less barefoot due to the differences.
Important warning. Feiyues are minimalist, but have a narrow toe box compared to what makes a truly "barefoot shoe." They're good if you're just trying to stop using Nikes and other expensive brands with weird arch and heel support, not for the "true barefoot experience." Minimalist =/= barefoot!

Scott 2
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by Scott 2 »

white belt wrote:
Fri Aug 05, 2022 1:39 pm
I’m looking into trying to improve my own running form because despite having played all sorts of sports and doing a lot of distance running in the military, I’ve always been told I have a strange looking running form.
I'd be interested in your findings. I've come across two schools of thought. The first is that the body will find its most efficient form, via practice. The other is that we can be coached into it. Since the former is free, that's what I've been going with.

sky
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by sky »

I wear barefoot shoes and am trying to improve my walking form. I have experienced cramping in my calves and am trying to learn not do the heel strike gait. Walking may require different techniques than running because you are always supported by one foot or the other. I am walking on sidewalk and pavement, which makes things more difficult. Here are some notes/thoughts from my walk today:

Feet pointed forward, not angled to the right or left.
Outer side of feet angled slightly lower than the rest of the foot.
Body leaning slightly forward of former heel strike position gait.
I imagine a rocking chair action as the foot impacts the ground.
As weight is applied to the foot, the middle outer foot takes the initial impact, then the full width of the forward part of the foot takes the full weight.
The foot impacts first in the middle (fore and aft), outer side of the foot but the body weight doesn't come down until just after that when more weight is on the forward part of the foot.
The ball of the foot (just behind the toes) acts as a shock absorber.
The heel of the shoe impacts or touches the ground, but only slightly and before the body weight comes down on the foot.

I still have to concentrate to walk in this way, I am not yet able to do it naturally without thinking. My right leg is better at it than my left leg.

Slevin
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Re: Barefoot Running

Post by Slevin »

Great @sky, it’s a nice process and it will become more natural over time. And as your body changes and adjusts as you fix other bits, you have to redo it a few times. Just part of the process. In fact, I think I’ve taught myself to walk at least two dozen times so far with all the changes in ankles, knees, hip flexors, glutes, lower back, upper back, etc.

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