Learning how to run barefoot is easier than you think, but there are two basic, yet key requirements to keep in mind when running barefoot: terrain and speed.
Running without shoes is becoming very popular these days, simply because it’s the stepping-stone that gives you better direction in developing the proper forefoot strike landing –Dont forget! Before you learn barefoot running, you need to know what a forefoot strike looks like. Click here to see.
How to Run Barefoot
When it comes to learning barefoot running, terrain and speed is often neglected which is unfortunate because both directly influence foot strike pattern.
So, how to learn barefoot running? You need to learn barefoot running on pavement, not soft surfaces such as grass, sand, a treadmill, a matted surface, or a soft track. And, you need to run a little faster.
In turns out that runners are more likely to heel strike on softer surfaces and at slower running speeds (2.1-3.0 m/s) as compared with harder surfaces and at faster running speeds (Hatala et al; Lieberman et al.).
- According to Lieberman et al. habitually barefoot runners from Kenya who normally landed with a forefoot strike, landed with a heel strike and had greater ankle dorsiflexion at touchdown when they ran on a soft track.
Basically, without warning, we inexplicably screw up our foot strike pattern on softer surfaces. What is more, a raft of recent research is revealing that runners typically maintain heel strike on softer surfaces because plantar tactile stimulation is reduced, making heel striking feel comfortable when running barefoot.
Ultimately, heel striking when running barefoot, opens the door to a variety of physical injuries because the heel strike transient is greater as compared with heel striking in cushioned shoes. This is why well-meaning barefoot runners advise barefoot running learners to run on pavement. Because heel striking on pavement hurts when barefoot, barefoot running on pavement will undoubtedly enhance your ability to concentrate on landing properly on your forefoot.
What about running speed?
In recent years, scientists have started arriving at the conclusion that running too slow increases biomechanical flubbers such as knee extension and ankle dorsiflexion –both of which encourage a heel strike landing. The thinking goes, running slow when learning barefoot running helps prevent injury –but it is actually better to run faster than your goal pace.
Another counterintuitive insight is that running too slow causes you to hyper-concentrate on monitoring the quality of your overall mechanics, which is counterproductive because the cerebellum ( a part of the brain that controls both motor task and learning), is not consciously accessible! (Svoboda, 2015).
In contrast, ongoing research has established that runners execute adequate kinematic factors such as ankle plantar flexion, increased stride frequency, and knee flexion, which lowers the risk of landing on the heel, and instead, improves forefoot strike accuracy.
The Take Home Message
To become good at forefoot running, running barefoot on pavement is key in bringing good results for a better, more efficient running gait. But the big challenge is convincing runners that barefoot running on pavement is not harmful. (Click here to learn why running barefoot on hard surfaces does not make us vulnerable to injury).
Overuse injuries are common side-effects of cushioned running shoes, yet barefoot runners who run on pavement seem to meet the biomechanical requirements related to safer, less forceful landings. With that in mind, please do not overlook terrain as a means of enhancing biomechanics because surface type has profound effects on form. And of course, so does running speed. Speed and terrain relates to your ability to strategically manage a forefoot strike whereby running faster on pavement translates readily into good forefoot strike mechanics and peak performance.
More From Run Forefoot:
Traditional Running Shoes Impair Arch Function – Learn how the arch of the foot has difficulty recovering elastic energy in a traditional running shoe.
Running Shoes Changes Your Foot Strike – Learn the difference between forefoot running barefoot and in cushioned running shoes.
Do Heel Strikers Run Slower? – There are 2 factors of heel strike running that affect speed, in a negative way. Read this article and see what they are.
Best Shoes for Forefoot Strikers – Not a fan of barefoot running? You can run just as well in barefoot-inspired footwear. Read my reviews on the shoes I feel help maximize forefoot strike.
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Hatala KG, Dingwall HL, Wunderlich RE, Richmond BG (2013) Variation in foot strike patterns during running among habitually barefoot populations. PLoS One 8:e52548. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.
0052548 PMID: 23326341
Lieberman et al. Variation in foot strike patterns among habitually barefoot and shod runners in Kenya. PLOS ONE, 2015;10 (7): e0131354. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131354
Svoboda, E. You Choked. Scientific American Mind, Feb/Mar 2009; pp. 38.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.