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Barefoot Running University

 

For those individuals that prefer customized or personal coaching/instruction, I offer such services.  Please visit my "Barefoot Running University" site for details. 

Also, check out my barefoot and minimalist shoe running book "The Barefoot Running Guide".

Lose The Shoes:

A 12 week step-by-step plan to learn the art of running a barefoot 5k

Disclaimer

The material contained on this website is for informational purposes only.  The author and anyone else affiliated with the creation or distribution of this information may not be held liable for damages or injuries of any kind allegedly caused or resulting from the use of this material. Before beginning this, or any type of exercise program, it is recommended that you consult with your physician for authorization and clearance.  Furthermore, if you have any medical condition that affects the tactile sensations or blood flow to your feet or legs (diabetes, neuropathy, etc.), you should not attempt barefoot running.The information contained herein is not intended to, and never should, substitute for the necessity of seeking the advice of a qualified medical professional.  It is my sincere desire to provide information that enhances your running experience and allows you to reach your potential.  This will only happen if you stay healthy, injury free and use common sense.

How Do I Start Barefoot Running?

This guide will help you transition to barefoot running.  By the time you finish this plan, you should be able to run a 5k (3.1 mile) distance completely barefoot!  However, this plan is intended to be a stepping stone to barefoot bliss... it can be used by any runner regardless of your distance goals from a 5k to 25k, to marathon and beyond!  This plan is universal; it is designed to be used by either novice runners or runners with years of experience.  If you are a novice runner, simply begin the program as written.  If you are currently training, you may continue your current mileage.  Simply add the workouts in this program to your current running schedule.  The idea is to replace some of your "shod' mileage with the barefoot mileage.  Some people have done this by simply adding the barefoot mileage at the beginning or end of their already-scheduled runs.  I would recommend doing this at the beginning of a run so you will not be as fatigued.  Once you reach Stage 5, you may decide to continue replacing barefoot mileage with your shod mileage until your running is completely barefoot, or you may decide to continue both shod and barefoot running.  Both options should help reduce injuries.  In the event you already have barefoot experience, it may be possible to skip the first two stages. 

Form

Barefoot running form is difficult to describe in writing simply because there is so much variability.  The way I run may look significantly different than the way you run.  However, there are some universal points that should be followed. 

  • First, you MUST be relaxed!  Your entire body should be free of all tension.  If anything feels tight or you tense a body part, your form will suffer and injuries are sure to follow. 

  • Posture should be upright with a very slight forward lean.

  • Head should be level and your eyes should be focused on the road, trail, or track in front of you.

  • Arms should be loosely held close to your body with your elbows bent

  • Knees should be bent throughout your entire stride.

  • Instead of focusing on “pushing off” with each step, focus on picking your foot up off the ground by raising your knee.

  • Your foot will touch the ground under your body as opposed to in front of your body (as most people do when wearing a traditional running shoe),

  • When your foot gently touches the ground, you will land on the midfoot area, not your toes or heels.  The rest of your foot will almost immediately settle to the ground in a rolling motion.

  • You should run with a cadence somewhere in the ballpark of 180 steps per minute, maybe more (I average 200-210).

  • REMEMBER TO STAY RELAXED!

The following is an excellent description of proper posture from PeaceKaren, a contributor to the Runner's World Barefoot Forum:

"What works for me is to not think about leaning at all.  I either think about pushing myself forward from the hips using my gluteus muscles (like my hips are in a race with my feet and I want my hips to win) or imagine being pulled forward from the hips.  I sometimes visualize a cord running parallel to the ground, attached at the center of my hips (just below the belly button) and at the other end connected to a winch on a tree or telephone pole or some object directly in front of me.  Then I imagine that winch winding in the cord pulling me forward from that center hip position.  This automatically pulls my hips under me, improving my posture and causing the lean to happen naturally."

Also, see the videos below for examples of barefoot running form.

Video of Barefoot Running

Pain and Injury

One of the dangers of beginning barefoot running is doing too much too soon.  Your feet have likely spent most of their active life confined in shoes.  Shoes weaken the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons of your feet.  The skin on the soles of your feet will not be used to the sensory input of the ground.  In order to prevent injuries, it is important to begin barefoot running cautiously.  Barefoot running feels wonderful!  The urge to do too much before your feet are ready is very powerful.  As such, it is important to follow a conservative plan even if you feel great in the beginning.  Going too fast may result in a myriad of injuries, including  tendon and ligament damage, excessive blisters, stress fractures, and other over-use type injuries.  If at any time you experience pain, STOP!  Add a second day of rest, then try again.  Continue until you are pain-free.  Do not give in to the temptation to "run through the pain".  The soft-tissue injuries that can occur during the foot-strengthening process can set your progress back by weeks or even months.  TOO MUCH TOO SOON injuries are the greatest obstacle to successfully transitioning to barefoot running!  A fairly universal complaint is often referred to as the "top of the foot pain"- it feels like a dull ache on the top side of your foot.  This seems to be a function of your foot anatomy adapting to the different stresses of using new muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  Ken Bob Saxton has an excellent article on his website regarding this phenomenon.  Give this process time and the rewards will be great!

Barefoot or Minimalist Shoes?

"Should I begin transitioning to barefoot running by wearing a minimalist shoe (Vibram Five Fingers, Feelmax shoes, cross country racing flats, huararche sandals, etc.)?  Many people will ask this seemingly logical question.  It is my belief that it is better to learn the proper form of barefoot running first, then use minimalist shoes as needed.  If you begin by wearing minimalist shoes, you may be insulating your best form of feedback- the soles of your feet. 

The Plan

Each stage of the plan is designed to help acclimate your body to barefoot running.  The temptation to speed the process will be great.  Rushing through the process will greatly increase the likelihood of injuries.  To resist doing too much too soon, do not advance to the next stage until you can successfully complete the recommended mileage pain-free!  This plan uses a conservative time frame because of the frightening frequency of overuse injuries.  Barefoot running is just too much fun!

Stage

Time Frame

Directions

Stage 1

2 weeks

Walk around barefoot as many places as possible.  Do not start running yet.  This will begin to condition your feet and soles for more active barefoot running.  This stage could also include barefoot activities such as hiking.  There is no mileage associated with the stage.  Move on to stage two if you do not experience pain after two weeks. If you already do a lot of barefoot activity, this step may be skipped.

Stage 2

2 weeks

Begin walking in place barefoot.  Slowly increase the cadence until you are slowly running in place.  The idea is to learn how it feels to lightly touch the ground and pull your feet straight up without pushing off.  This will also begin the process of preparing the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments of your feet to barefoot running.  Start with 30 seconds of running in place 2-3 times per day.  Increase this time by 15 seconds each day.  Move on to stage three when you can run in place for three minutes without pain.  If you already do a lot of barefoot activity, this step may be skipped.

Stage 3

4 weeks

Find hard, smooth surface without debris.  Examples include new asphalt, smooth sidewalks, or running tracks.  Begin running 3 times per week with at least one rest day after each barefoot run.  Limit distance to 1/8 to 1/4 mile depending on running experience.  Increase distance by 1/8th mile each day.  Pace should be VERY slow, the focus is on finding a form that works well for you.  If you experience pain, take an extra day off.  If you develop blisters, slow down or reevaluate form.  Move on to stage four when you are able to run 1.5 miles barefoot without pain, including one or two days after the barefoot run (some injuries are not immediately apparent).

Stage 4

4 weeks

Begin adding different terrain, including softer surfaces and hills.  This can include grass, dirt trail, sand, etc.  A good strategy is to run a hard surface one day, then a soft surface the next.  At this stage, you should be running approximately 1.5 miles barefoot.  During this stage, continue adding 1/8th mile per run.  Continue going slow, your focus is going to be perfecting your form.  Again, if you experience blisters, slow down.  If you feel pain, take a day off.  Move on to stage five when you are able to run 3 miles barefoot without pain, including one or two days after the barefoot run (some injuries are not immediately apparent).

Stage 5

No specific time frame

By this point, you should be running about 3 miles per run.  You may begin experimenting with slowly increasing your pace, increasing your distance, or adding technical trails or hills to your routine.  Only add one element at a time.  Do not increase distance by more than 10% per week or speed by more than 15 seconds per mile.  Again, if you experience blisters, slow down.  If you feel pain, take a day off.  Your feet should now be conditioned enough to be your "running shoe" of choice for most of your runs.  Just keep in mind that completing this transition is similar to earning your black belt in martial arts; which is considered the point at which you know the basics and true learning begins...not where the learning ends.  Take it slow, listen to your body and enjoy your journey.  (Thanks for the conclusion, Notleh!)

 

Credits: This plan was developed based on my own experiences coupled with the advice and feedback of the many wonderful contributors to the Runner's World Barefoot Running Forum, including Notleh, Barefoot Hugo, PeaceKaren, Jeff D in MA, Blind Boy, Barefoot Dama, Barefoot Huang, AFrunner, syndibee, Nergock, Tender Toes Mark, Barefoot Bonehead, Dirty Toes Joe, and Zolodoco.  If you have questions, comments, or would like to become part of a friendly, helpful community of caring barefoot runners, please visit this forum.  You may also email me using the button below.

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