This has become quite a hot topic this year and something I get asked about regularly. It’s still early days for conclusive evidence for whether barefoot running actually reduces the risk of injury or not so I’m going to tell you about my experience of it.
I invested in a pair of Vibram Five Fingers 2 years ago at a trade show at a fitness convention. I’m usually on the lookout for something innovative and thought they looked pretty funky but what impressed me was how comfortable they felt. Since then I’ve mostly worn them in the gym and walking around outside in the summer. The great Scottish weather doesn’t really lend well to wearing them all year round!
Back in the summer (you remember that day?)I decided to try them out on an actual run. I had finished a workout in the gym and headed down to the North Inch in Perth to try a lap and see what would happen. I ended up running my fastest ever lap by a significant amount (10 secs faster than with shoes). That was the ‘Wow!’ moment. What was interesting though was that I learned more about my body during those 8 minutes and 30 seconds than I’ve ever done running a marathon.
Wearing the Vibrams (or any similar shoe)changes your whole running style by pushing you to run on the ball of the foot. This means that you begin to use the calf muscles, hamstrings, glutes and, more crucially, the core muscles much more. I should state that this happened to me as everyone runs differently. What I noticed was that when I got half-way, some muscles began to tire and I could feel my heels striking the ground. I managed to lift them again and completed the lap. My opinion after the run was that in order to do it again, I would need to begin on shorter distances and build up gradually to allow my muscles to adapt.
A recent report I read has suggested that barefoot running should be recognised as a skill so therefore we need to practice to be good at it. The same way as we do with running or any other type of exercise we do. As I said, everyone runs differently so you need to give consideration as to how you approach barefoot running. With a change of posture comes different loads through different muscles so unless you build up gradually, you could be more at risk of injury than reducing it! The best way would be to allow time away from races (around 12 weeks) to try it and make it part of a conditioning program.
You may very well become a better runner from doing it and at the very least, you will learn how your body moves and possibly understand why other niggling aches happen.