10 Reasons You Should Start Running Barefoot

This is part of the Cultivate Good Habits Series.

Barefoot on sand

Just last week, I came across the concept of barefoot running and was immediately intrigued by it.

If you are wondering what barefoot running is, it is well – very simply, running without shoes. Apparently there is already a barefoot movement that started since 1960s, advocating going barefoot in various activities, such as day-to-day life and running. And this movement is quickly gaining popularity over the years.

Barefoot Running: An Experiment

Here’s what Wiki says about barefoot running:

In early human history, barefoot running was widespread, but this became increasingly less so following the growth of footwear usage. Barefoot running is near non-existent in modern-day populations of industrialised and wealthier countries, although it remains relatively common in many poorer nations, especially within third world countries.

Come think of it, in the early times, humans survived perfectly fine without shoes. Somewhere along the way, shoes were invented (for perfectly valid reasons I’m sure, such as protection and cleanliness). Over time, they became a commodity and it was  a social faux pax to leave our house without shoes. And then in the recent centuries, shoes evolved (or degenerated, depending how you see it) into material possessions / fashion accessories – that, ironically, hurt our heels and feet (especially for girls), defeating the very reason why we even wear shoes to begin with.

And it seems like there is already a whole range of study results on how barefoot running is actually better for us, with more being done as we speak.

Barefoot Running explained by Harvard Professor Daniel Lieberman

The notion of barefoot running piqued my interest. For one, I love trying new things – it is through experimentation that I make my lifestyle choices. For example, I’m now a vegan because I experimented with the vegetarian and vegan diets back in ’08 and found veganism to be better than meat-based diets. I tried raw veganism as well, last year and a couple of months ago (via 21-day lifestyle revamp program), and while I didn’t continue it because it was hard to get raw vegan food in modern society, I’ve since incorporated a higher % of fruits/salads into my diet (at least 30~40%).

Barefoot running is something new to experiment with. If I try it and I like it, I can continue on with it. If I don’t, then at least I know I’ve tried it and it doesn’t suit me. Nothing to lose but everything to gain. This is also the rationale for 21-days cultivate a new habit program – for all new habits, give it a try for 21 days without negative bias and see how it’s like before/after, rather than rule it out at onstart.

More importantly, barefoot running interested me because I like the whole notion of going au naturale. As I journey on the path of personal growth, I’m increasingly seeing how we are closely tied with nature/the universe. A lot of rules and principles we live by today (such as eating meat, cooking food, wearing shoes, etc) were created through human history, and many of them exist now more as habits/practice, rather than out of necessity. Many of them are unnecessary complications that separate us from our true source. Recognizing these physical “noise” and barriers and shedding them away gradually brings us closer to our higher selves. I was surprised I never thought of running/going barefoot before – a lot to do with the societal conditioning that it’s a necessity to wear shoes.

My First Barefoot Run

So 2 evenings ago, I set off for my first ever barefoot run. I picked 10+pm, my regular jogging time. I like to run either in early mornings or late at night when it’s quiet, cooling and peaceful. Since my running spot was a park connector right behind my house, I went straight without shoes.

Walking Barefoot

First thing I felt when I stepped out of my house was how cooling and smooth the surface of the pavements were. I never realized this since I always wore shoes going out. I felt present and connected with every step as I walked over to the lift, stood around in the lobby and took the lift down to the ground level.

As I walked to the park, I walked on different surfaces, including concrete pavements, roads (asphalt concrete) and cemented ground. It was interesting feeling the different textures and temperatures of the grounds – definitely something I had not paid attention to with shoes on. Concrete pavements felt very cooling and smooth – as if you can just slide on them. Roads felt rough and grainy.. somewhat prickly too. Cemented grounds felt like an in-between of concrete and roads.

It was just 2 minutes walking to the path, and I already felt more mindful and present than my normal self when walking with shoes. I was aware of every step I take, how it felt and my connection with the ground whenever my foot touched base with it.

Running Barefoot

So I reached the park. By the way before this experiment, I didn’t read much about barefoot running. I wanted to try it out first hand without being biased by what others have to say. If it is really good, I would sense it for myself. I didn’t want to overthink the process as well. If we humans have thrived perfectly fine without shoes in the past, all the nitty gritty such as the right posture, jogging stance, pacing, landing form, strides, etc should come naturally once I start barefoot running.

And that’s what happened. I started off with a slow and easy jog, taking cautious steps, one at a time. After a few steps, I let my instincts take over on my running posture and picked up speed. Within just a few minutes, I could see immediately see the difference between running barefoot and running with shoes.

Overall Conclusions

After running barefoot for 2 days (I went on for a second barefoot run yesterday) of 3km each time, I’m starting to love barefoot running. And here are 10 reasons why:

10 Reasons To Run Barefoot

  1. Connectedness. When I ran with running shoes in the past, I would just feel the cool air and soak in the sights of the sky/trees/stars while running. Running barefoot adds a new dimension to the running experience – I feel a whole level of connectedness to the ground, and as a corollary, the environment I am in.
  2. Lighter strides. With running shoes, my feet was completely buffered from the ground. I could never feel my strides, save for the numbing ‘thud’ between my feet and the soles of my shoes/ground whenever I land. This made me take heavy strides subconsciously. With barefoot running, I am definitely running much lighter than before. I’m not pounding on my knees/ankles/feet anymore.
  3. Right landing. People who wear running shoes typically land heel first (a.k.a hard heel strikes), which places more stress on the foot. The correct running form should be to land on the front or middle of the foot. Here’s what a Discovery News article says about landing:

    The difference in the way the foot strikes the ground is important. Lieberman’s study examined the physical stresses on feet with different types of running and found that people with running shoes strike the ground with the mass of the entire leg, nearly 7 percent of the body. That’s more than three times the weight of impact for barefoot running.

    “It’s really about how you hit the ground,” said Lieberman, who specializes in human evolutionary biology. “When you hit the ground, some of your body comes to a dead stop.”

    For runners in cushioned shoes, “it is literally like someone hitting you on the heel with a hammer,” Lieberman said. But, he said that “the way in which barefoot runners run is more or less collision free.”

    Interestingly, I came to the same conclusion during my first barefoot run, before reading about it. With running shoes, I would land on my heels and it caused a lot of impact. When I run barefoot, I automatically adjust and land on my forefeet/midfeet. Since I can feel my foot on the ground, I can immediately tell if  I am landing incorrectly with each stride. After my first barefoot run, I had a small blister in the top left corner of my right sole, which I see as a sign that I’m exerting more force than necessary on that area. It’s an indication that I should distribute my weight on other areas when landing.

  4. Better posture. Everything is very instinctual and it takes no more than just a few steps for me to get into a comfortable running posture. The contact between the foot and the ground is like an instant feedback if my posture needs correcting and if so, how. In retrospect, my posture and jogging stance felt stiff when I ran with shoes.
  5. Freedom & Liberty. Running without shoes made me realize how binding it was to have my feet wrapped up in socks and enclosed in shoes. When running barefoot, I can feel my heel, mid-sole, forefeet and my toes against the ground and brushing against the cooling air with each stride. It’s a liberating experience.
  6. Mindfulness. Every step I take, I’m aware. Every time my foot touches the ground, I can feel both the ground and my foot. During my run, I am present, of myself, my posture, my surroundings, my environment.
  7. Less stress for your knees/feet/joints. Studies have shown running barefoot brings less stress for your feet, even when compared with expensive running shoes (Nike, Adidas and Reebok included). A new study suggests running shoes may cause damage to knees, hips and ankles. With running shoes, we tend to shift our weight down to our ankles, which lead to higher possibility of ankle sprains. You might have heard how prolonged running causes knee cap pain – I suspect it’s because of the heavy strides we take with running shoes rather than running itself. By running barefoot, that’s less likely to happen since you get a better running posture (Reason #4) and lighter strides (Reason #2), which means lesser weight on your knees/ankles/feet.
  8. Gives you stronger feet. All the shoe wearing has made our feet weak and soft. In fact, some of us wear poor-fitted shoes that cramp our toes/feet. Here’s an interesting excerpt from an article “Go Barefoot to Get Stronger“:

    Through years of wearing shoes, our feet lose their tactile capacity, which is bad enough. But they also fail to develop to their proper size and shape. Tendons and ligaments shorten, muscles weaken, and the risk for foot and ankle injuries increases.

    If it sounds like the ancient Chinese tradition of binding the feet, it kinda is. “It’s identical, but to a lesser degree,” Rooney says. “Shoes crush the foot into abnormal positions and you don’t get the movement the foot is designed for.”

    Going barefoot builds up our foot muscles and makes them stronger, the way they should be.

  9. It’s Fun! Do you remember the times when you were young and ran around barefooted? How did that feel? Walking/Running barefooted brought a sense of child-like wonder that was lost since long ago, like dancing in the rain. It made running fun, more fun than it normally is. I ended up running longer than my normal route (3km vs. 2.4km).
  10. Saves money. I wish I knew about barefoot running before I bought all the sport shoes – Adidas, Reebok, soccer shoes, Nike Air, Zoom, Zoom+ and what not. Sports apparel have become more fashion accessories and cost more than they should. If I add up all the money I spent on sport shoes over the years, it easily sums up to over one grand. That is a lot of money that could have been saved and used for better purposes.

Attention from Others?

If you are wondering about what others might think, I didn’t notice any overt stares or unwanted attention from other people. But then again, it was about 10pm at night, so it might not be all that obvious. The people who did see it were probably too wound down to pay much attention.

Running Surface

The track is made of asphalt concrete if I’m not wrong – It’s not smooth like concrete ground, but it’s also not as grainy as roads, so it was good for barefoot running, save for a sporadic twig and stone. Ideally I’d like to run on the stadium tracks which are rubbery and safe from foreign objects, but the nearest stadium is 20 minutes away, so the park is my best option.

Continuing with Barefoot Running

I’m going to continue barefoot running for the next few weeks, and if nothing goes wrong I plan to make it a permanent habit. :) I might bring it a notch further by going barefoot in my day-to-day activities. The only concerns I have will be (1) hot surfaces during day time and (2) unwanted attention.

Try Barefoot Running For Yourself

Whether you are intrigued by the notion of barefoot running or not, I’d say try it for yourself before making any conclusions on it. Here are some resources that you will find handy:

How To Get Started

Vibram Five Fingers Footwear (for barefoot running)

If you have done barefoot running before or you plan to do so, feel free to share your thoughts and experiences with everyone in the comments area :D

Update June 3 ’10: Over 8k visits on this article in just 3 days! Thanks so much to everyone who shared this with others. There’s been many link backs to this article, including a video review by Josue, who found value in barefoot running after he recovered from a ruptured Achilles Tendon. Feel free to share this article with more people to drive awareness of barefoot running.

Update Aug 10, ’10: It’s been over 2 months since this was last written and I’m proud to say that I’m been running barefoot ever since I wrote this post.

This is part of the Cultivate Good Habits Series. Be sure to check out the full series:

  1. 21 Days To Cultivate Life Transforming Habits
  2. 21-Day Lifestyle Revamp Program
  3. 14 Tips To Successfully Cultivate New Habits (exclusive article in Personal Excellence Book, Volume 2)
  4. Waking Early21 Tips To Wake Up Early
  5. Quitting Soda5 Reasons To Quit Drinking Soda (& How To Do It)
  6. Improve Your PostureBenefits Of A Good Posture (& 13 Tips To Do It)
  7. Be TV-Free: 10 Reasons You Should Stop Watching TV
  8. Being On Time17 Tips To Be On Time
  9. Meditation10 Reasons You Should Meditate | How To Meditate in 5 Simple Steps
  10. Manage Emails Effectively11 Simple Tips To Effective Email Management
  11. Run Barefoot: 10 Reasons You Should Start Running Barefoot
  12. Weight Loss: 25 Of My Best Weight Loss Tips
  13. Emotional EatingHow To Stop Emotional Eating (6-part series)
  14. Better Oral CareHow To Attain Healthier Gums and Teeth – A Simple but Important Guide

Image: vossi


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  • Emil Outzen

    Well I havn’t quite been running barefoot, but some moths ago I changed the heel-landing way of running into fore-foot running. The result has actually been quite amazing. Of course it took a lot of hard work, and days with extremely sore calfs, but as a basketball player I am now accelerating faster, loosing less energi while running, and then I don’t feel any pain in my knee.

  • Carissa

    It’s interesting to view the negativity of certain individuals regarding barefoot running. People will offer rude sentiments to protect their mode of thinking. I stepped on a nail wearing sneakers…went right thru the shoe and into my foot. I also stepped on a nail as a child playing barefoot in a gutter while it was raining. The effects of both incidents are pretty parallel. Nail in foot. Tetanus shot. No more damage or no less. If it’s gonna happen it’s gonna happen. All the fearful protecting of the self isn’t going to stop it. Also, you can look as you run…. :wink:

    • http://hunboon.wordpress.com Hun Boon

      To be honest, I wouldn’t want to worry about nails, broken glass, sharp rocks with every step I take. Some are simply too small to notice until you step on them. I feel it’s justified to have such concerns, and they shouldn’t be labelled as negative.

      The spirit of barefoot running is not whether you wear shoes or not, but whether you’re running in the correct posture.

  • Kelly

    Celes – Great article. I definitely know where you’re coming from with your list of 10. It was very informative and told me just a little something I didn’t already know about barefoot running!

    Regarding the Vibrams, I purchased my pair and began running with the shoes (socks? What should we call them?) on the same day: May 30th – a little over two weeks ago. Now, I am a competitive collegiate athlete (cross country and distance track) and so I have been upping the ante on my mileage each week (I am currently at around 4.5 miles/day) in order to prepare for my upcoming cross country season. Anyway, my first day running with them was dreadful, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong – they felt perfect, molding to the shape of my feet. I was about 1.5 mi in, however, when I was feeling gutsy and attempted running through a street that was being renovated, where I painfully landed my heel upon a few decent size rocks. Needless to say, I limped around for next three days. From that day forward, I have been running off and on with the Vibrams and my Nike Structure Triax’s. This system has been working out great for me and as soon as my feet are entirely calloused and no longer dainty and weak, I plan to ween myself of trainers altogether (with the possible exception of racing flats). I now absolutely love the feel of “barefoot” running.

    I hope this helps anyone out who is curious about the Vibram Five Fingers.

    Cheers,

    Kelly

  • http://www.avocationalsinger.blogspot.com Frances

    I have started incorporating some barefoot running recently. I had to stop running last year to heal a very bad case of plantar fasciitis. During that time off to heal, I read a lot about barefoot running and wanted to try it really badly based on what I had read. But I thought I had to recover completely from my plantar fasciitis before I could do so, and I also thought I had to lose weight before I tried it.

    I was wrong. And as it turns out, my first little jaunts out barefoot have been wonderful. My foot feels great and I even think the barefoot running has made the plantar fasciitis improve drastically.

    You really captured the wonderful feeling of running barefoot when you wrote about the connectedness above.

    I took a barefoot workshop with Michael Sandler — author of the book Barefoot Running: How to Run Light and Free by Getting in Touch With the Earth — when he was in Central Park a couple of weeks ago. He made me aware of some considerations one must take when beginning barefoot running. I’m proceeding very slowly — to condition my feet, which are weak from being supported for years in expensive running and walking shoes. But I’m having a blast and I feel like I’m on the right track!

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  • http://www.okizoo.com/ OKIZOO

    I ran bare foot on the beach and got a worm in my foot. Better think twice before venturing out without shoes. I think I’ll take my Mom’s advice over this post.

    • http://twitter.com/FunkeeMonk Joe Goh

      How coincidental! I just wrote about this a few days ago: http://www.dailymile.com/people/joegoh/entries/2836826

      “3 surprising things i’ve learned (the hard way) from my switch to being a barefoot runner:
      1) Running on sand and grass doesn’t help improve running form and is more dangerous than running on pavement. Grass hides biting insects and beach sand is frequently filled with icky things that infect your soles with fungus.
      2) Walking barefoot is harder on your soles than running barefoot. This means that if you’re Asian (which means you walked barefoot indoors your entire life), you don’t need to walk outdoors much before you start running.
      3) Running faster makes you less susceptible to being stung by sharp pebbles than running slower (jogging).”

      As you’ve found out the hard way like I did, running barefoot on the beach is a bad idea. Hope you’ll give barefooting a go again, on pavement this time. :-)

  • Kimberly Ross

    I started running barefoot several months ago. The transition was not pleasant but hey I wanted to join see what the hype was all about. I started by running around the house on bare feet then bought a pair of VFF’s and went on a 2 mile walk and slowly increased the distance. Now, I’m just enjoying the freedom of running with a pair of barefoot running shoes and even on bare feet.

    In fact, I’m in the market now for a new pair of shoes. Saw the new Vibram Bikila at http://barefootrunningshoes.org/2010/07/12/vibram-bikila-unboxing-and-first-impressions/ and I’m thinking how cool it would look on me. But I heard it’s super hard to find one of these nowadays.” :wink:

  • http://www.zemblog.com Sand Sock Girl

    Good points you got! Thanks much for this very informative article on barefooting. Running barefoot is one of the things I love doing.

  • Charmaine

    I have read many articles on the benefits of barefoot running but I dare not give it a try cos’ I am afraid that I may cut my feet accidentally or step on sharp object. Normally, I work out in the morning even before the sunrise so it is pretty risky. Thanks for sharing your experiences. :wink:

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  • Tom Hagen

    I can’t / don’t run but I don’t wear shoes when I’m around home. When you mentioned about when we were kids, we didn’t wear shoes, brought back many memories. I stumbled across your web site & have bookmarked it to return and read more. I will tell others about it.
    Thanks for posted all this information,
    Tom

  • Sue Gibbens

    I have been told by so many people that running barefooted is bad and I started to think I must be strange as I believe that our feet are the right tools for the job . Thank god I found your site! I am 43 and have just lost two and a half stone and have invested in a good treadmill at home as well as going to the local gym. I had found that running in trainers was near on impossible so started to run barefooted at home and wow! I have to say I am known for walking around the office without my shoes and did so as a kid at home too so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise but I was concerned about potential damage to my ankles/knees/hips. Thank you to everyone that has posted on this site for your insight into something I believe will become a real passion! I’m wondering if I should invest in some VFF as I am running the Breast Cancer Race for Life next June? Us Brits are somewhat reserved!

  • Anarchee

    Two words: Zola Budd! As kids growing up in Africa we did everything barefoot including going to the shops and would take our shoes off to play at break at school. Now I’m older and have been conditioned to wearing shoes I don’t think I’d manage without a fair amount of conditioning and practice. Also, in our urban areas there is a lot of broken glass :( but I’m definitely going to try it running on the promenade and on the grass nearby.

    For more info on Zola: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zola_Budd

  • http://pachuvachuva.wordpress.com mauie

    I am not much of a runner (heck, I actually have just been starting at this thing..hehe) but since I live near the seashore, running barefoot would be a cool thing to try. Thanks for this! ;)

    Btw, as it’s my first time on your blog (stumbled upon, actually), do you have any article discussing some nice songs to listen to while running/jogging? I’m doing some research along those lines to motivate me to run. ^_^

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Hey mauie! You can check out this article for recommendations on inspirational songs :D (be sure to check out reader recommendations in the comments too) http://personalexcellence.co/blog/inspirational-songs/

      • http://pachuvachuva.wordpress.com mauie

        Thanks for the recommendation, Celeste! Will check these out. :)

  • F J Kenny

    I was asked to go in for a bypass surgery 10 years ago. I took the option of going in for a life style change; which meant giving up cigarettes, and changing to a vegetarian diet. I do an hours brisk walking on bare foot in my front yard, early in the morning every day. This is followed with a bath and meditation. The blood flow in my lower limbs is back to normal, and I have never felt healthier. Incidentally, I wonder sometimes how many ……. I would have gone through in the ten years of walking bare foot. Please take bare foot walking seriously.

  • alilac

    i love this idea and have even started doing more plyometric exercises barefoot… ballerinas and gymnasts are primarily barefoot, so i figure i can do a few jumping jacks sans shoes.

  • http://www.ashmenon.com Ash Menon

    Ahaha Celes, you can afford to do this because you live in Singapore. The closest thing Singapore has to litter is the shadow of buildings on the pavement. If I tried this in Selangor, I’d be in surgery by evening for god knows how many infected wounds.

  • Eva

    I would like to give it a go but do you think barefoot running is a good idea at wintertime? everything is covered by snow :)

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Hey Eva! I’m not sure as I’ve never lived in a cold climate before but you should be careful about getting a frostbite! I think the best is to do it only when it’s summer, spring or autumn :D . Or you can always run barefoot on the treadmill too!

      • bliz

        It can get pretty hot on the treadmill though, and be careful of the friction.