As an avid barefoot runner I have come across a number of myths about barefoot running that just aren’t true. Here are the top 7 myths I would like to debunk:
Barefoot Myth 1. The Vibram FiveFingers is the de facto barefoot running shoe
True, the FiveFingers is recommended by Chris McDougall and many barefoot runners. But Vibrams are really made for the expert barefoot runner and may not be the most suitable for you. There are many other brands of barefoot running shoes out there. The Nike Free is more suitable for beginning barefoot runners given its greater padding, while the New Balance MR10 is more for the intermediate runner.
Barefoot Running Myth 2. Barefoot runners run barefoot
The vast majority of barefoot runners still wear shoes – they wear minimalist or barefoot running shoes that provide maximum contact with the ground while still protecting the runner against sharp objects that may be on the ground.
Barefoot Running Myth 3. But I will step on glass and other sharp objects!
Some people seem to think that running barefoot implies stepping on glass. They immediately imagine the pain of accidentally stepping on glass barefoot. However, when was the last time you actually stepped on glass even while wearing shoes? It is no different when you are wearing barefoot running shoes – you pay attention to what is around you and try not to step on things that you know will obviously hurt
Barefoot Running Myth 4. We are built to run barefoot
That is certainly what the book ‘Born to Run’ tries to explain. However, years of wearing padded shoes have made us incapable of running without padding. Our feet muscles are now configured such that they require the additional cushion in order to support our entire body weight. Building your natural feet muscles again requires much perseverance and does not happen overnight.
Barefoot Myth 5. Barefoot running results in injuries
As with anything else, you will have injuries if you push your body over the limit it has been accustomed to. Your feet are no different. When you first start barefoot running, getting the Vibram FiveFingers may be the coolest thing, but you cannot run in these for hours on end. Your feet will hurt tremendously the next day and you will take a long time to recover. You need to ease into it – start by walking for 30 minutes each day in your barefoot shoes. Gradually increase this interval day by day until you can walk for an hour in barefoot shoes without feeling any pain.
Barefoot Myth 6. You are either born a barefoot runner or not
Many readers bought their first barefoot shoes: say a Nike Free or a Vibram FiveFingers, and give up after about a week. They decide that they were not born to run barefoot. The truth is that none of us are able to run barefoot in this time and age. We need to train our feet muscles from the ground up, literally. There are long-formed habits that we need to change – such as the heel strike, the need for padding, the tendency to place undue stress on our knees.
One of my friends, an experienced barefoot runner who has run a full marathon barefoot, highly recommends the following exercise: stand on one leg barefoot and attempt to hold the balance for as long as you can. This activates the same muscles as when you are running barefoot and is a relatively painless way to train yourself to run barefoot.