Barefoot running: Should you try it?

Are those shoeless runners racing through dirty city streets just crazy, or are they getting real benefits from running barefoot — and should you try it?

Running barefoot

Curious about those barefoot runners you’ve seen out and about? Why are they choosing to pound the dirty pavement shoeless (or with those freaky-looking Vibrams on their feet)? The thinking behind this sport trend is that when you land on your forefoot (which you do when you run barefoot), your knees, ankles and hips are naturally bent, which results in the impact getting absorbed by your muscles. Compare that to running in a traditional running shoe, where you land on your heel, and your leg tends to be straight. In this case, the impact is absorbed by your joints, making the impact and the sport harder on your body.

Risk of injury

If you are considering trying barefoot running, you may want to keep in mind that just last week, Vibram was named in a Massachusetts class action lawsuit for making deceptive claims about its shoes, which are said to improve posture and foot health, promote spine alignment, strengthen muscles and reduce injury risk. The suit says that the shoes may in fact increase the risk of injury.

While this plays out in the courtroom, if the idea of the biomechanical benefits of barefoot running still interests you but not so much the barefoot part, brands like Nike, Reebok and Asics have come out with lightweight versions of the shoe that offer a similar running experience, often called natural running. Whether you go completely barefoot or with one of these versions, don’t let your enthusiasm get the best of you — start out slow. Why?

Start off slow

As you might expect, natural running will take some getting used to. So go easy, and definitely do it only at the beginning for short runs. Remember that the idea is to land on your forefoot, so if you’ve always been a heel striker, it’ll be quite the adjustment. It is possible, though, that you’re already a natural forefoot striker, in which case you may be the ideal candidate for this new sport trend.

And of course, feel free to still wear your old running shoes. There’s no rule that says you have to use one method or the other. Especially at the beginning, though, you’d be wise not to jump into natural running whole hog. Switch up your footwear from run to run.

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