Barefoot running 100% of the time

Should Every Run be 100% Barefoot/Minimal?

Not too long back, I was sitting near my front door agonizing over which pair of running shoes I was going to wear for my 10km training run.

I’m a minimal runner. 

I had to choose my most flexible, lowest stack shoe, right? 

Recently I’ve been less certain about completing 100% of my runs in minimal shoes. What if my feet are only 70% recovered from my previous run? What if I want to push my distance during the week? Could I just throw on my Altras and not feel the guilt?

Maybe…

I decided to turn to the experts and see what they were saying about running barefoot 100% of the time. So, while I was searching around the online journals for barefoot research, as you do, I came across the title “Correlations between stack height differences in minimal shoes and impact loading.” The part that grabbed me was “impact loading.” 

It’s a common belief that adding more cushion lessens the impact load. Why do you think Hoka became (and still are) a big deal? 

Well, I hate to break it to you, but it’s not all that true. Maximal shoes have been shown to increase the impact force compared to traditional shoes, and it is theorized that minimal shoes lessen that force even further. But why?

It’s all about your running gait. Basically, the way you run. 

If you’ve ever run barefoot on concrete, you’ll know what I mean. There’s just no way you can land on your heel. It just hurts; instead, you have to use the intricate muscles in the foot and legs to soften the blow. 

But if you put a big chunk of foam under your foot, you can heel strike all you want. Heck, you can even jump from great heights without a second thought.

Just because it doesn’t hurt doesn’t mean that it’s easy on your body. The cushion will take the edge off, but it will also push the impact forces into other areas of the body, namely the knees, hips, and lower back (sound familiar?). 

Back to the study and the whole point of the post! 

Does that mean I should run in barefoot shoes 100% of the time?

You could, but it’s not always necessary. 

To work out why we need to look at how we build muscle and adapt to minimal running. 

Starting out Barefoot

“Start out slow.” You’ve heard it before. And it’s true!

You’re trying to teach your body a new skill…barefoot running. More importantly, your brain is playing with this new technique and working out the most optimal way of performing the task. And that learning process is vital. 

Over time, running softly at a high cadence will come naturally with barefoot. And once your brain has learned how to fire the muscles to do so, it’s hard for it to unlearn it. 

So if you suddenly throw a pair of thick soles on when you spend most of your days in barefoot shoes, what do you think will happen? Will you revert right back to the old-school way of heavy heel striking? Likely not. 

The data in the study completely backs this up. They took 32 participants, all of which were already minimal/mostly minimal runners. Using different shoes, they then tested various forces across their stride pattern. Think Xero Shoes all the way through to Altra Escalante’s. 

And guess what? They found very little difference across the range of shoes and the range of runners! 

This is what the study says to me: the runners were already efficiently running in a minimal style. Their running technique reflected the use of bare feet, and it’s not easy to break that style with one or two runs in different shoes.

How can I use this data?

You know, sometimes running in squishy shoes is nice. I’m not going to deny it!

So if I’m heading out for a long run, or if I’m pretty tired from a previous workout, I’m going to throw on Altra Escalante’s, Altra Superiors, or similar. And that’s ok. 

As long as I’m still training barefoot or in minimal shoes most of the time, I’m still giving my brain the stimulation to “practice” an optimal barefoot gait. That means in my everyday life too!

The big question becomes, what’s the minimum effective dose? How many times a week do I have to run barefoot? 

That’s just a question I can’t answer right now. But I enjoy minimal running enough not to care, and I’m just going to go by intuition and feel for now. And that’s primarily minimal for me.

Rules I live by right now.

  • Minimal shoes in everyday life
  • Minimal shoes for most of my runs
  • If I’m going for a long run, or my feet and calves are tired, I may throw my Altras on

These rules may differ for you, especially if you’re just starting out with minimal shoes. Just remember, go slow! If you don’t know what that means, feel free to reach out to me!

Do you see things differently? Have I taken the wrong conclusion from the study? Let me know! I’m happy to talk about other solutions! 

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Nick

Nick helps aspiring runners learn how to take a healthful approach to their training and races so they don’t crash and burn before they achieve their goals.

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