Walking Isn't Just Walking--Part 3 (Conclusion)
Walking Isn’t Just Walking—Part 3 (Conclusion)
I hope you’re finding this series enlightening and inspirational on how our health is influenced by our body’s natural makeup to move in our bare feet and feel the world. In Part 1, I explain the fundamentals of and techniques to obtain natural movement and form as it relates to walking/running. In Part 2, I compare movement shod vs. unshod by giving a brief history of the development of shoes and the biomechanical distinctions between the two. In Part 3, I provide insight and strategies for transitioning safely and correctly to walking and running bare footed.
“Kicking” Those Pumped Up Kicks
The biggest advantage for going totally barefoot is that feeling the ground with your skin gives you the most feedback about your form—feedback that stimulates you to change your gait to a more efficient, easy, and natural one.
As explained in the Part 1 and 2 of this series Walking Isn’t Just Walking, the real benefits come from how you walk or run differently when you're barefoot vs. how you walk or run in shoes. But, if you've spent a lifetime in shoes, you’re transition may take a little bit of time to complete. Instead of thinking that you can work your way to barefoot slowly, you need to go there immediately, but work your way up in time/distance slowly.
Also, the thought that you need to begin your transition on soft surfaces is completely wrong for the same reason that you don't want to be in cushy shoes—you'll likely heel-strike and won’t get the feedback that helps you quickly learn a new and better way to walk/run.
Walking: You’ll need to be barefoot or as close to barefoot as possible. When you walk, your foot can land in one of three ways—touching the forefoot first, followed by the heel dropping to the ground; landing basically flat-footed, more than likely touching the midfoot first; or, touching/rolling over the heel which is still like a flat-footed landing but with the heel contacting first. How fast/slow you’re walking, whether you’re walking up/down hill, and the kind of surface you’re on determines which one of these happens.
Where your foot lands isn’t a cause for concern, rather how you move your foot through space is. Using your prime movers, glutes (muscles in hips/buttocks) and hamstrings (muscles in back of thighs), forces you to move you forward, and place your foot down in a place where it’ll stop you from falling (rather than swinging it out in front of you). It’ll land closer to your center of mass, more flat-footed, with a slightly bent hip and knee, and in a biomechanically stronger position. (See Part 1 “Make Strides—Techniques for Natural Movement and Form.”)
Don’t worry about foot strike, it’ll take care of itself because you’re able to naturally articulate the foot and let the nerves in your feet feel the ground. You’ll feel like you’re walking “on top of your feet” rather than behind them.
Running: Well-known athletes like, Olympian Zola Budd and Abebe Bikila, ran barefoot, and Ron Hill competed in the Mexico City Olympics in “the lightest shoes I could find.” But since the barefoot movement began with regular people kicking off their kicks, the barefoot debate has heated up.
A Harvard study came out in 2010, showing that when you run barefoot, you adjust your stride to put less stress on your body. On the heels of the release of the study came editorials about how running barefoot is the worst thing anyone could do.
The main assertion by barefoot opponents is running barefoot increases risks of injury and is dangerous. However, shod runners get the same injuries! When injuries running barefoot do occur, they’re not from running barefoot—they’re from overuse. For example, when someone goes to the gym for the first time, and mimics Rich Froning’s workout (he’s considered the greatest Crossfit champion of all times), they’d end up with all manner of injuries, soreness and mobility issues. But nobody would say, “Crossfit is bad for you!” Instead, they would say, “You did too much too soon.”
If all you did was take off your shoes, go for a run, stop when it hurts, and experiment to find ways of running that don’t hurt, you’d learn for yourself how to transition from a shod runner to an unshod runner.
Those who’ve observed barefoot runners and coached barefoot running are starting to notice the obvious—different runners have different form. When you look at the best runners, they may have a few things in common, but they’re not all doing the same thing.
N=1—Getting Started With Running Bare Footed
Realize that the best coach is YOU and your sensations and whatever you can learn from watching video of yourself (especially slow motion video). In fact, you must become your own best coach because no external coach will be there for every situation you’ll encounter as a runner. If you can’t listen to yourself, make adjustments in what you’re doing, and know when to stop, no other coach can help you.
Start slowly and build up. Take off your shoes (or put on minimalist shoes), find the hardest and smoothest surface you can find (like a bike path or street) and run.
Run only about 200 yards.
See how you feel the next day. If you’re sore, wait until you’re not, then try again, and add 100 or 200 yards. Repeat.
Running loudly (making a lot of noise when your feet hit the ground) is a sign of incorrect form. This is true if you’re barefoot, in minimalist shoes, or any other footwear. Running quietly (not silently) signifies good form.
Take a day off and rest! Our body gets stronger when we let it recover.
Remember that this is a continuous process where your performance can always improve.
When transitioning to barefoot running, you may need to go slower than you realized—you’ll need to learn to listen to your body in a way you haven’t before; you’ll need time to build up strength in order to handle your pre-barefoot running distances; and you may want to get a minimalistic running shoe to give your sole a bit of protection. There are several good brands on the market but I prefer Xero Shoes because they’re legit barefoot shoes that are also stylish—from hiking to running, and walking to casual closed-toed and sandals. You can find a link for Xero Shoes at my shop page www.PrimalPrescribed.com/other.
Most importantly, have fun! If it’s not fun, do something different—try a different environment/surface, a different speed, or a different reason for running.
I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to respond to this blog with your comments, or contact me with questions or feedback. Be well and live awesome!
All of the information in this writing is for educational and informational purposes only. We are passionate about leading a healthy lifestyle and aim to share that passion with you through coaching, blogs, readings, chats, social media, etc. Primary sources to ensure accurate and current content, including studies, scientific references, and statistics, are found below:
Steven Sashen (2019) The Movement Movement
Daniel E. Lieberman et al (2010) Biomechanics of Foot Strikes & Applications to Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear, Harvard University