What is barefoot running?

After a lifetime of buying expensive trainers, the thought of running without shoes is pretty extreme. But for some people (including a stream of high-profile celebrity advocates like Kate Hudson and Scarlett Johansson) this new and somewhat controversial fitness trend gives the ultimate high. And not only for the reported physical benefits; keeping it simple and feeling closer to nature – literally – are other common drawcards.

What are the benefits of barefoot running?

Recent Harvard University research suggests barefoot running could be beneficial for injury prevention, feet strengthening and changing your gait (form). Are you guilty of striking the ground with your heel while running? Going barefoot naturally encourages runners to land on the middle or front of the foot instead, which can reduce pain.

What are the risks?

There is potential for damage, and it’s not just from rocks or stray glass. “Switching to barefoot running too quickly could overload your joints and tendons, which can lead to tendinopathy (disease of the tendon), stress fractures – you could even tear something,” according to Dr George Murley, PhD, lecturer at La Trobe University in Melbourne. It’s also not advised for those with diabetes, arthritis or chronic circulation issues.

Seriously, no shoes?

As podiatrist Jason Agosta points out, there’s a spectrum of options. “Seasoned runners may run barefoot or wear barefoot shoes, such as Vibram FiveFingers.” There are also minimalist shoes, like Merrell’s Barefoot Pace Glove, which train and strengthen fee. For the average person? Wear lightwear trainers, rather than running barefoot.

How to get into barefoot running

Want to try it? Okay, but go slow. “Walk, jog or run barefoot on an oval for 100 metres,” says Murley. “Try that regularly, keep a diary and over four to six weeks you may feel ready to progress.”

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