This question stumped me for years!
About two years ago, I was making some awesome strength and cardio gains by incorporating more high-intensity interval weight training into my workout program. As the weather would warm up, I would always look forward to running outside to really focus on the finishing touches for that summer body, but for some reason, I always felt like running was the one exercise that never seemed to get easier. I played soccer and ran track in high school but running as an exercise was always the hardest, most boring and most painful to endure.
After a while, I started to become annoyed, frustrated and fed up with running. I was tired of shin splints and frustrated that running a mile never got easier. Most of all, running wasn't fun, to the point where I just either "forced" myself to do it or avoided it completely. I would have to crank my iPod to max volume just to blot out the thoughts of how much I hated it. I can significantly tell the difference in interest between my weight lifting routines and running. Running just wasn't as fun as lifting weights!
After a frustrating run one day, I went straight to Barnes and Noble and saw if I could find some more information on running. Little did I know that I would find a book that would change my fitness journey forever. I stumbled across a book entitled, "Barefoot Running: Step by Step", by "Barefoot" Ken Bob Saxton. I always like to read the first couple pages of a book to see what kind of interest it sparks in me and this book lit off fireworks!
The book was written by "Barefoot" Ken Bob Saxton who had ran over 60 marathons completely barefoot. Let me say that again...marathons! I was shocked! Here I am, crying over one mile with shoes on and this guy is running marathons without shoes with a huge smile on his face. I said to myself, "he must be doing something right", and bought the book. This book was probably one of the best investments I've ever made!
I find exercise physiology or human movement to be the most interesting thing in the whole entire world (hence why I chose to graduate with a Kinesiology degree, and dedicate my whole life to health and fitness). So when I say that every page in that book made perfect sense in terms of the physiology and science behind barefoot running, it really did! What I learned in the first couple of pages is that running with shoes on was the answer to that daunting question that became the title of this blog.
Here's some exercise science for you. Your body communicates within itself through different kinds of receptors that are placed all over your body. The clearer the communication is to the brain, the stronger the response will be.
For example, your feet and hands have billions of receptors that detect temperature, pressure, texture and pain. When you touch a hot pan, temperature receptors on your skin send messages to the brain saying the pan is hot. Your brain interprets the message and sends a new message to the appropriate muscles to contract and pull your hand away from the hot pan as quickly as possible. Your body uses these receptors to keep your body away from injury and harm. The clearer the communication to the brain, the stronger the response will be.
Now that we have a better idea about receptors and the constant communication that occurs in the body, we can discuss why barefoot running will literally teach you how to run correctly, significantly reducing injury, all while having the most fun doing it!
Running barefoot will literally teach you how to run correctly because our feet are our natural shoes. The human body was scientifically designed to be barefoot. Our feet are like our hands. Our feet can grab and wrap around things, the skin can become tougher to protect itself from abrasions and cuts and the structure (foot-ankle complex) can become much stronger from the constant bearing of your bodyweight. Once man created streets and pavement, the shoe was invented to "protect" your feet, but since then, we've lost all natural movement and motor control of them. Shoes to this day have been nothing but a mere fashion statement.
When you take your shoes off, do you feel an instance of relief and joy? This is a sign that your body wants to be in it's natural state and constantly needs that feedback contacted between your feet and planet Earth. When we put our shoes back on, we lose that communication and it becomes very hard for your brain to speak to your lower body. This eventually can lead to postural imbalances, lower back pain, knee pain, fractures, falls, loss of balance and proprioception (bodily awareness), very weak ankles, improper running form, and unstable lower body joints and injury. Your body wants to keep you away from harm, but wearing shoes makes it very difficult for your brain to speak to your lower body. The barefoot life is a huge part of your natural being and wearing shoes less can make you happier, less stressed and fitter!
Running barefoot can significantly reduce lower body injury especially ones that are related to running. Since the feedback from your feet to the ground becomes crystal clear for your brain to interpret, the biomechanics of how you run begins to naturally change. When you run without shoes, your body moves in a forward progression as opposed to with shoes running in a backwards regression.
Here's more exercise science: "Ground Reaction Force" is the force that is redirected to your body from the ground. When you push into the ground, the ground will push you back equal to the amount of force you produced in the exact opposite direction. When you jump, you essentially don't lift off the ground, the ground pushes you off.
Thick soles on the bottom of your running shoes make it deceptively comfortable to land on your heel. When this happens, your leg is almost straight and locked out. Your knee becomes the first joint in line to receive eight times your bodyweight of that ground reaction force, then the hip with six times the impact, and then your lower back with about four times...it kind of makes sense that marathon runners experience injury every year.
When we begin to land and run on the balls of our feet, your body will naturally lean forward more. When we press the balls of the feet into the ground, the ground reaction force propels us forward which is the direction we want to achieve when we run. Bio-mechanically, your lower body joints will receive a significantly lower impact, ultimately reducing your chances of running-related injuries. Think of your heels of your body as the brakes and the balls as the the gas pedal. Running with shoes on is like slamming the brakes in your car every 10 yards. Barefoot running teaches you how to keep your "foot" on the gas, literally.
Not only will running barefoot teach you how to run correctly and greatly reduce injuries, it's way more fun than running with shoes on! This was the ultimate selling point for me. Barefoot running made running fun for me. The stimulation of Earth under your feet gives off a pleasant feeling of being your "natural self". I felt more connected to life and I believe that's the true "runner's high." I can also tell I was having more fun because I never felt the need to run with headphones on. I loved the experience of being in the present moment with just myself and planet Earth. I may sound like a hippie now, but never in a million years would I have thought that I'd be talking so highly of running. Running barefoot is a completely different experience than running with shoes on. It was life changing for me.
Interested in Learning How to Run Barefoot?
I will be hosting a four-day workshop over the course of four Sundays in April. The first day will be this Sunday, April 10th at 8 a.m., and completely FREE for anyone that's interested in learning.
The lesson will take place at the track behind Cedar Grove High School (90 Rugby Rd, Cedar Grove, 07009). If you'd like to join or are definitely interested in trying this workshop, type your name and email into the box below and join us on Sunday! Hope to see you there!
Always Dedicated to Your Success,
Carl Anthony Grande
Co-Owner of Empyrea Group Training - www.trainempyrean.com