But my guest blogger today, Bretta Riches, takes barefooting to a whole new level. She's a barefoot runner, and part of a rapidly growing movement who understands why running barefoot is much better for you than wearing running shoes.
So, over to Bretta:
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics, minimalist and barefoot runner, founder of RunForefoot.com.
I was a heel strike runner, always injured, until I was inspired by the bestseller Born to Run AND by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to run barefoot in efforts to learn forefoot running.
Now, I'm injury free and I want YOU to be too! This is why I launched by blog, Run Forefoot, to help runners make TRUE progress by making very important recommendations with respect to barefoot running to enhance what you already have!
I truly believe barefoot running makes good runners great and that the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running.
Did you know that when you run barefoot, the sensory-rich condition naturally moves you toward adopting safer, more effective mechanics in a sustained way?
This is because our bare foot is internally studded with sensors that relay pressure and tactile sensory information to the brain which in turn, helps enforce a forefoot strike landing --a light landing pattern on the balls of the foot AND is also commonly used by most elite runners, especially from East Africa.
It’s incredibly important to recognize the stimulus-driven forefoot strike landing pattern acquired through barefoot running results in significantly less impact production as compared to running in cushioned running shoes.
Sadly, the leading idea holds that running is a high impact, high risky activity that ‘requires’ thick cushioned running shoes as an aid to prevent injury.
However, if you follow the data trail and look at the trend lines, injury rates among joggers is unacceptably high considering ALL the advancements in running shoe technology. How do we know running shoes are to blame for causing injury? Numerous lines of evidence have supported that the thicker the underfoot cushioning of a running shoe, the harder the runner strikes the ground with their foot in efforts to reach a steady, more secured landing surface. As a result, more impact is virtually produced and balance stability may become compromised.
From this, it’s safe to make the case that thick under-heel cushioning may be a structural impediment to landing stability, leading to a sustained loss in balance control and increased risk of ankle injury during running. What is equally troubling, conventional running shoes with a raised heel facilitates a forceful heel strike landing --a foot strike pattern known to unleash a multitude of impact forces implicated in many repetitive stress injury, including bony injuries. In that regard, we are quickly finding out that standard cushioned running shoes may certainly be an injury magnet. Knowing this motivated me to take up barefoot running as it’s hard to make the big error of heel striking since the sensory involvement in barefoot running helps enforce a forefoot strike landing (it’s very painful to heel strike when running barefoot!)
Nevertheless, a soft forefoot strike landing pattern is one of the many mechanical gifts of barefoot running that may free yourself from injury! What is the precise mechanism in which barefoot running helps prompt a forefoot strike landing? Research has revealed that the sensory supply-lines that floods the bottom of the bare foot during barefoot running stimulates activity in motor nerves to create reflexive mechanical adjustments that helps enforce a lighter exchange of the foot on the ground. In simple terms, the body naturally chooses the path of less discomfort in the absence of underfoot cushioning, thus a forefoot strike landing is adaptively preferred over a heel strike landing. This also means running barefoot is a more defensible, safer way to run because you are more deeply connected with your foot step awareness; your foot step is less likely to be misplaced and less hard-hitting.
Collectively, these mechanical gains and built-up foot strength through barefoot running helps silence harmful impact forces, reduces knee-joint loading and minimizes balance instabilities AND are good reasons researchers have a strong interest in barefoot running as a promising therapeutic approach to help runners avoid impact-related injury and resolve foot ailments. In contrast, sensory input and foot strength are dangerously depleted with long-term use of conventional running shoes, leading to a steadily decline in foot strength and may lower the quality of mechanical efficiency, which in turn, may place obstacles in the path to running injury-free and may threaten good running economy. Again, this is why I now heavily integrate barefoot running into my training regiment!
Another reason barefoot running is incredibly appealing to me is that I believe one of the official reasons for the outstanding performance outcomes of most East African runners is their barefoot running experience which extends back to childhood. It's true, most East African distance runners display visually stunning, aesthetically different and potentially more efficient running mechanics to that of most runners from habitually shod populations.
Because of their extensive barefoot running experience during youth, I firmly believe most East African runners developed a vital source of mechanical growth at an early age that can power an efficient stride as adult runners, giving them a whole new set of potential to perform at a higher level with exquisitely calibrated biomechanics that ensures an elastically driven, responsive yet economical stride combined with minimal muscular effort.
This is why barefoot running deserves a lot of attention based on the reason that it results in full-blown, energy-saving engagement of key elastic structures in the lower leg -- the arch and Achilles-- essential for powering good running economy, whereas these structures may be under-utilized and weakened as a result of long-term dependence on traditional running shoes. Knowing this should clearly encourage runners to spend more time running barefoot than in traditional running shoes in efforts to weaponize and safeguard your stride as doing so undoubtedly improves your reflexive capacity to avoid high impact landings and will certainly help you adopt an effective forefoot strike landing that taps into the spring behavior of the arch and Achilles tendon. The result: more spring, less muscular effort and even more importantly, less impact!
In all, barefoot running not only worked for most East African runners, it worked for me because I can honestly say that after 5 years of running barefoot -- running barefoot for 21 km a day-- I’ve completely avoided injury and my performance progress has improved dramatically!
This is what I want people to understand: In conventional running shoes, the underfoot sensory nerves as well as the foot’s muscles are in an inactive state. When the underfoot nerves are offline, there’s a greater likelihood foot strike position can be tossed haphazardly during running, potentially moving you toward injury.
Conversely, barefoot running helps limit the cost of mechanical mistakes since the continued extraction of tactile sensory input gives you a stronger support base of continuing help, bringing together a more perfect order of motor skills that help you pivot away from forceful heel striking, and instead, land with a less impact-intensive forefoot strike landing.
I would also like to highlight the importance of learning forefoot striking through barefoot running on pavement, not grass! This is because the softness of the grass under the bare foot may lead to a threatening shift in foot strike mechanics, making heel striking feel comfortable. Remember, most of the impact production during running comes from your foot-ground interaction! It’s the heel strike landing pattern you want avoid to limit the flow of injurious impact forces. In contrast, there’s more sensory involvement when you run barefoot on pavement which is going to do a better a job triggering full participation of motor nerves and reflexes to support a softer landing strategy of the foot (i.e. forefoot striking).
With my personal experience as well as insights gained from the research and anecdotal reports, running barefoot on pavement seems to work best as a quick, highly effective form of fixer because the sensory nerves on the bare foot respond more strongly, allowing for enhanced self-monitoring of your forefoot strike pattern.
From this, you will score more success in improving your biomechanics! Just always bear in mind: running barefoot on grass is incapable of producing the SAME sensory experience as running barefoot on pavement.
Because tactile sensations are greatly amplified when you run barefoot on pavement, richer sensory signals are captured; your brain does a better job at grasping how your foot should interact with the ground.
Ultimately, safer running is more closely matched to barefoot running AND troubles seem to flourish when our feet are completely disconnected from the earth. Running is not physically harmful, nor is it unpleasant; runners just face rising tides of problems when their feet are locked up and disengaged in unnatural substrates, like the traditional running shoe.
Try and weave barefoot running into your training regiment and you will quickly feel the difference! You will ALWAYS benefit from the influx of sensory feedback because it revitalizes your foot strength and can be harnessed to do even more in teasing out mechanical flaws, breaking the cycle of injury and performance setbacks!
If you want to learn more about the health and performance benefits of barefoot running,please visit my blog: runforefoot.com and check out my YouTube channel Run Forefoot as well!