The Wrong and Right Way to Run Barefoot

It is universally true that barefoot running teaches you how to run properly as compared with learning how to run in cushioned running shoes. But there is a wrong and right way to run barefoot and of course running improperly without any protection on your feet is a perfect way to get injured and doing so is what causes many inexperienced barefoot runners to jump to the conclusion that running barefoot is dangerous.

A new study has found that running barefoot the wrong way will produce higher initial loading rates than if you were to heel strike in cushioned running shoes.

The Wrong and Right Way to Run Barefoot

It turns out that if you pull your midfoot and forefoot back (shown below) before the foot strikes ground, results in greater initial loading rates as compared with heel striking in cushioned running shoes.

How NOT to Run Barefoot
Lifting your midfoot-forefoot before your foot strikes the ground makes it easier to heel strike, which increases initial loading rates on the lower leg joints when you run barefoot.

The Wrong and Right Way to Run Barefoot

A study by Tam et al. 2016 examined the initial loading rates between habitual shod runners and inexperienced barefoot runners. The researchers found that despite having more knee flexion, or greater knee bend at touchdown (an action associated with less impact), the inexperienced barefoot runners showed greater initial loading rate variability than the shod runners. The researchers also noticed a relationship between initial loading rates and foot strike angle (i.e. ankle angle) at touchdown whereby the inexperienced barefoot runners landed with greater ankle dorsiflexion (i.e. their midfoot-forefoot was pulled back) as compared with the shod runners, resulting in a landing that produced the greatest loading rate.

  • Ankle dorsiflexion at touchdown when running is bad because it means that the foot is in a better position relative to the ground to heel strike.

The fix to this problem is to NOT pull-back your midfoot-forefoot before your foot strikes the ground, instead let this part of your foot fall to the ground, or try slightly pointing your forefoot down toward the ground, so that it makes clear contact with the ground first before the feel. Below is a video showing what I mean.

In essence, you need to break the habit of pulling your midfoot and forefoot back before the foot strikes ground. If you do this, you’ll be more successful at avoiding heel strike when you run.

If you are struggling with knee pain or shin splints, excessive midfoot-forefoot lifting is most likely the mistake you are making when you run barefoot. Aside from that, make sure you are running and walking barefoot on a daily basis because of it’s now well-established benefits on health and performance. And, I am overly happy to announce that a new report found that running barefoot helps improve memory and focus.

More From Run Forefoot:

How Heel Strike Running Causes More Injuries Than Forefoot Running

Shoes That Help Promote A Forefoot Strike During Running

The Neuroscience of Barefoot Running

Dealing with Running Injuries

References:

Tam et al. Loading rate increases during barefoot running in habitually shod runners: Individual responses to an unfamiliar condition. Gait & Posture, 2016;46:47-52.

Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

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.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!