Switching to Barefoot and Minimalist
Assessing your personal running situation
Changing from running shoes to minimalist/barefoot shoes
The switch to pure barefoot running
Videos, links and further articles
The following information should help to awaken your desire to walk and run barefoot and to facilitate you in getting there. For most of us that is not as easy as it sounds. This is supported by the official figures: 98% of children are born into this world with healthy feet, but more than 60% of adults suffer with some form of foot damage. Since the event of padded running shoes in the last 50 years, 80% of runners will have experienced an injury. In light of this, it's high time to think about a more natural barefoot running style and/or the PaleoBarefoots®!
To better understand why this is, it helps to have a look back over the millions of years of human evolution. More than 300,000 years ago our stone age ancestors inhabited the earth. Unlike today's athletes who might say they "live to run", these Paleo-athletes ran to live! Their daily life was survival, hunting and searching for food over long distances. They needed strength, speed, agility and endurance. Their activities would be called extreme and they ran essentially barefoot. They would encounter many different terrains and challenges for their feet, the human foot structure is therefore correspondingly complex and needs to be precisely controlled.
The proprioceptive system that controls our balance and movement ensures our foot position will be well coordinated and controlled. For this system to function precisely, the brain relies on clear signals from our immediate surroundings. Temperature, muscle stretch, pressure receptors, joints and skin constantly transmit impulses to the brain telling it about current physical conditions. These are all evaluated by our proprioceptive system that triggers and turns on signals regulating reactions throughout the body.
About 70% of this feedback comes through receptors that are found in our feet. The more openly the sensors are exposed to the ground, the more precise the triggered pulses. If these receptors were not so important, it's hardly likely that so many would be in the foot area! The signals between foot and brain control heart-rate, muscles and organs to ensure safe and energy-efficient locomotion.
We can assume that people have always lived in valleys, prairies, forests, rivers and lakes, and along the coast. Typically, they lived close to good hunting grounds and sufficient plant food. Certainly, our feet are also suitable for the crossing of rocks or hard baked plains, but for the most part, people moved on rather soft natural surfaces. Everyone will be able to confirm that it is more comfortable to walk barefoot on sand, grass and leaves than on hard surfaces. Our walking system has been moulded by evolution to match the natural cushioning of the surfaces to which it has adapted.
Did you know that, when running, at every step our feet must absorb the shock of approximately three times our body weight? We therefore find the current trend of "soles a few millimetres to cover long distances on hard asphalt" somewhat distressing. For our feet, it's like a treadmill - very poor in variations (no variation in hardness, slope, etc.), but even worse - without any dampening effect.
Conversely, strongly damped running shoes with rigid soles are not great for soft, uneven natural surfaces. They remove the foot from the surface and consequently you feel things like hidden stones, holes etc; therefore the proprioceptive system generates correspondingly inaccurate responses. Statistics show that the majority of running injuries occur on soft surfaces. Additionally, with this combination of shoe and soil, far more energy is needed to counteract the double damping (shoe and foot) that occurs here.
Ultimately, depending on the distance and the combination of ground and shoes (or barefoot), it is not possible to forgo some support of supportive cushioning. This padding must come either from the ground, or from the shoe, or a combination of both. Normal running shoes should be used for hard surfaces (at least at long distance) while on natural surfaces, it's far better to resort to bare feet or thin-soled minimalist shoes.
Our thesis is hardly disputed by the leading initiators of the current barefoot trend (such as Daniel E. Lieberman and Christopher McDougall). Rather, they state that eventually, barefoot runners will also enjoy running on asphalt roads as these are predictable and well tolerated (see Video). However, they do not comment on the resulting rather unilateral exercise of the feet that this affords, and the undemanding receptor stimulation (same hardness, same surface, roughly same incline) that this provides.
Here is an example of how one-sided loads for a long time let suffer your feet! A great article and the author is humble enough to admit that he shouldn't have done this. Running on roads is still a good start (in minimalist or barefoot if it's not a race). Long term, however, one should run more on natural, more varied surfaces in order to train the feet and the proprioceptive system more comprehensive and in the sense of "natural running".
Supplement 02/2014: First scientific studies now confirm our conviction that minimalist footwear due to lack of damping is not appropriate for enduring running on the road. However, they are suitable for preferably soft, natural surfaces if the ground offers good grip for their soles. For anything beyond there are the Paleos®!
In addition to our personal experiences, the following lists include the experiences of the Paleo® testers since the beginning of 2011. It is primarily thanks to them that this page exists. Many thanks to them for this.
- Your legs and feet will feel stronger.
- Your feet and ankles are more supple.
- Your sense of balance improves with training.
- Your posture gets naturally realigned.
- Back and knee problems disappear.
- Foot problems slowly recede.
- Running injuries heal faster.
- You gain a better awareness of your movements.
- Endurance and energy efficiency improve.
- Overall movement is smoother.
- The feet get wider, the toes spread apart.
- Your running style alters ...
- You'll switch to a "gliding" style.
- You'll find barefoot considerably quieter and lighter.
- You reduce the pressure going through your knees.
- You lean your upper body further forward.
- You make more, but shorter steps.
- Fore and mid foot strike the ground first.
- You run under your centre of gravity.
- Your immune system is strengthened and you are sick less often.
- Mentally you'll feel better and experience lifted mood generally.
- Correctly regulated, barefoot running is great fun!
- The right attitude matters!
- especially if the weather is bad or cold,
- if you haven't been running for a few days.
- Once you overcome yourself you realize again how nice it feels.
- Barefoot running requires inner peace and relaxation.
- If one is distracted mentally, this increases the risk of injury.
- As a beginner, you should be well prepared ...
- plan and explore your barefoot path prior to running it,
- freqently switch the running surface,
- wear a hat (the head loses a lot of heat and energy),
- ensure you have access to water for rough cleaning
- or better yet, finish at a water source!
- Regularity is important! Develop a regular barefoot habit.
- Try to get out into nature at least every two to three days.
- In the beginning, however, less is more, don't run before you can walk!
- Note!! Particularly after winter you start from scratch!
- A few minutes are enough initially. You can slowly increase over time.
- Longer breaks between excursions should be avoided if possible.
- Be prepared for minor injuries (important even if you aren't barefoot!).
- This is especially important during longer trips where you'll be remote.
- for example, you can stub your toes,
- you might incur a bruise or small cut,
- you can twist something, or maybe even fall.
- Carrying a small first aid kit makes sense, it should at least contain:
- a small bandage (6 cm wide)
- a roll of plaster/micropore tape (2.5 cm wide),
- an elastic adhesive bandage (8 inches wide)
- a vial of rubbing alcohol.
- You should also ensure you have a current tetanus shot (once in 10 years).
- f you are a diabetic, you should avoid unnecessary risks to your feet.
- Where incidents might occur on the road, you should ...
- (Again, this is especially to be considered during long trips.)
- ensure you can cut things short if in doubt, or always be able to turn back,
- know where there is a safe place where you can rest.
- It's advisable to check the route before you set out.
- Tell someone where you are going and your likely route.
- One should develop body-awareness and observe it well.
- Applies in general and is not only important for walking barefoot.
- It's better to not follow any trends blindly, but first listen to your body!
- Read our article "Forefoot running" - does it make sense?
- Note any changes to the legs and feet and take care of them.
- Particularly, intensity and duration of any reactions are important.
- Barefoot running in cold weather and at low temperatures..
- one should first start running with normal shoes,
- and change to barefoot running only when the feet have warmed up.
- the risk of injury increases enormously because one no longer feels clearly.
- The feeling for the ground is lost and timely response lacks or comes too late.
- (You then pounce too hard without taking back load when landing on eg stones.).
- Thereby caused bruises and sprains you realize much later when you are back home.
- So better to switch back to your spare shoes early!
- Sore muscles, a little pulling and discomfort are not a bad sign!
- Anyone who has worked out in a gym knows this.
- These are an indication that your body is adjusting.
- New barefoot runners often find that their calves hurt more initially - it's normal.
- However, it should NOT seriously hurt, that means it was too much!
- If you get pain, try to be more gentle on yourself, take additional rest and observe.
- Reduce the duration and intensity of runs, and be more careful.
- It's better to take your time than to push too hard.
- Do not forget to take care of your feet.
- As a barefoot runner, you should wash your feet daily.
- You might find it helpful to apply some moisturizer, but not too often.
- For this purpose it is best to use a light, non-greasy moisturizer,
- on dry or cracked skin you might try some Bag Balm (don't use if allergic to lanolin).
- Are you a casual or serious runner?
- On which surfaces are you used to running?
- Are you used to choosing suitable surfaces for your shoes?
- Or trying to match your shoes to other surfaces?
- You understand that barefoot/minimalist is not just a different pair of shoes?
- What is your personal training situation?
- Do you have patience and endurance to handle changes?
- Wet, cold and dirty feet no problem?
Regardless of your current situation, you should not change immediately and radically, this is a process that takes time. You should be aware that any change of shoes, surfaces and especially the combination of the two has great impact on your tendons, ligaments, muscles and your running style (the stride & strike). You should understand that it could be months until your feet, legs and body adjust to the new conditions, and the ideal shoe-surface combination is found. Your personal running style will develop and become more fluent in the long run, but you will need to be patient. (Please read our article "Forefoot running nonsense?"
- Your feet were previously supported and cushioned.
- The shoe 'drop' (gradient heel-toe) is now close to "0".
- The foot has space and can move freely.
- Each toe can now help individually.
- You no longer have any support for the arch of the foot.
- You can feel the ground beneath much better than before.
- The receptors of your soles feel more.
Barefoot shoes provide completely different conditions that are a change from what your feet are used to now. Without your old running shoes, your foot muscles, ligaments and tendons need to be strengthened and brought into the correct form. Initially, the missing heel cushioning alone can lead to significant problems with the calf muscles and Achilles tendons, because they might be simply too short to cope. You literally need to 'grow into' barefoot running! This takes time, tendons and ligaments respond especially slowly!
Added to this is the chosen surface. If you have just decided on running in the future on natural surfaces (grass, sand, forest soil, etc.), there are further requirements. For example, on soft surfaces, your feet will sink deeper into the ground and thus hyperextend the joints. Uneven surfaces result in the foot experiencing different angles and inclinations. Also, your foot receptors need to be trained - you will tend to 'overreact' to stimulation such as rocks, branches that 'tickle' your receptors.
Begin with a few minutes and increase very slowly. If you're already a trained runner, begin with minimalists for only a few minutes. See how your body reacts, and gradually (but continuously) increase usage time. We also recommend not to try to train a certain running style but give your body the chance to develop it independently. Everyone runs differently. (Again, refer to our article "Forefoot running nonsense?".
- In addition to the previous items ...
- The receptors on your soles are now completely free.
- You will immediately feel cold, heat, moisture, etc.
- You are no longer protected from hazards on the ground.
- You'll get dirty feet! ;)
At the beginning, running on rough surfaces will be quite challenging. Conversely, there's no more authentic foot feeling for relaxing! Even mud and puddles become a real treat! Minimalists can indeed adjust feet to barefoot running, but don't truly afford a full barefoot feeling - namely the direct perception of all environmental factors at each step.
For years, your feet have probably been well protected, packed in shoes, and now they are highly sensitive. This particularly applies to the receptors that 'listen' through the soles of your feet – they’ve had to listen very carefully to 'hear' anything, but barefoot, they face the full brunt of the environment to which they have been newly exposed. Therefore, you will find that you might only be able to go a few hundred meters on the forest floor - your receptors will interpret every little bump as a hazard.
Afterwards, your feet will be literally 'buzzing' - similarly to how your face might feel after a long, cold winter walk. Adapting to this direct stimulation occurs surprisingly fast and after a short while, you'll feel more comfortable. Your brain will filter out the noise from the real dangers when things are working properly.
Speaking of danger, of course, there remains a degree of risk of injury, as with any activity. Especially on unfamiliar natural surfaces such as soil there can be sharp stones, glass, pieces of metal and other hazards lurking to ruin your joyful barefoot run. It's only possible to be truly relaxed when you can see clearly and know the area well. For everything else, there's PaleoBarefoots® - they allow the same feel and fun, but without the risk of injury.
Everyone should find his or her own tolerance level. A good tip is to start by running barefoot for maximum 15 minutes, once a day and then observe your feet well - they will tell you if you have tolerated it, or if it was too much too soon.
Video: Daniel Lieberman: How To Run: DOs & DON'Ts
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health 2010
Foot strike patterns and collision forces
Video: How dramatically heels and high heels affect the entire body ...
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health 2012
What we can learn about running from barefoot running: an evolutionary medical perspective.
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health 2012
Foot strike and injury rates in endurance runners: a retrospective study.
Wikipedia · Barefoot Running
SPORTSCIENCE · Barefoot Running
Runners World November 2012
Changes to Stride, Surface and Form to Avoid Injury
New York Times October 2012
Myths of Running: Forefoot, Barefoot and Otherwise
Leichtschuhe bei Schmerzen am unteren Rücken
Schweizer Sonntagszeitung April 2010
Auf dem Weg zum natural running
Süddeutsche Zeitung Mai 2010
Gelenke schonen beim Joggen - Hornhaut statt Turnschuh
Süddeutsche Zeitung März 2010
weiche Sohle: verpönt
Süddeutsche Zeitung Mai 2010
Laufschuhe belasten Gelenke Schlimmer als barfuß
Harvard Universität, Januar 2010, Studie:
Running barefoot or in Minimal Footwear
Universität von Virginia, Januar 2010, Studie:
The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques
BBC, Januar 2010
Shoes may have changed how we run
Der Standard (AT), Januar 2010
Wer geübt barfuß läuft, schützt automatisch ...
Berliner Morgenpost, Januar 2010, US Studie:
Forscher empfehlen, barfuß zu joggen
Welt, Januar 2010, Sportmedizin:
Joggingschuhe belasten mehr als Barfußlaufen
SPIEGEL, Januar 2010, Jogging Studie:
Laufschuhe belasten Gelenke stärker als Barfußlaufen
ETH Zürich, 2009 Studie Kinderfüße:
Barfuss schneller als in Turnschuhen
Note. The experiences and tips provided here are primarily used as a guidance and are intended for those who want to find the path to walk barefoot again. This information is of course no substitute for the advice of a doctor, trainer or coach. Before carrying out exercises and/or changes of your training you should ask them if necessary. We cannot accept any liability for this information purely based on our personal experience.
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