With summer in sight, we're aching to spend our waking hours outdoors, preferably barefoot. Because taking off your shoes and grounding your feet into the earth is one of the most liberating, powerful feelings, especially when the weather is beautiful. Studies even show that going barefoot—otherwise known as "earthing"—has health benefits like increasing antioxidants and improving sleep.
So as we prepare to take more of our workouts outdoors, your mind may have wandered to barefoot running. I know mine has! Maybe you have friends who do it, or perhaps you've tried it once or twice yourself. But is it good for you? Let's talk about that.
Arch strength and ankle injuries.
Before the invention of shoes, human beings had stronger feet. They didn't have the option of a buffer between themselves and the earth, so what could they do? They adapted.
But in addition to strong arches, ankles, and toes, back in the day people didn't have to deal with factors like pavement and the possibility that shards of glass were lurking nearby. "Barefoot running is a good idea in theory, but I do not recommend it," says integrative health coach and trainer Michelle Cady. "We don't all live in the woods or along soft meadow dirt trails. In the concrete jungle, a level of protection is necessary to absorb the shock impact of each running step."
Fitness instructor and physical therapist Dara Richman adds that in the modern world, our feet are simply not built to run without any support, and some feet don't even hold up with support. "Poor foot support for collapsed arches, excessively rigid arches, and global ankle weakness from deconditioning or prior ankle sprains can potentially lead to more ankle sprains, foot sprains, and toe injuries. Poor foundation and lack of foot support can cause issues up the chain as well, including knee issues and pain, ligament sprains, and ACL injuries."
What about toe shoes or minimalist running shoes?
A few years ago, it seemed like minimalist running shoes, or toe shoes, were everywhere. People were wearing them to the office, to the grocery store, and on runs. Michelle says that while she doesn't mind toe shoes, you do have to build up your strength before relying on them completely. "One of my clients ran in minimalist toe shoes for years with no pain," she explained. She adapted to them slowly, building from five minutes to ten minutes and so on. Now she can run half-marathons in toe shoes."
But overall, her running recommendation is regular old sneakers. "I think toe shoes are better for walking and running errands to build up your foot strength, not subjecting your foot to the impact of the running stride. I dare you to style them and wear them on your next trip to the grocery store!"
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, and osteopathic physician, says she thinks that if people want to run barefoot eventually, toe shoes are a good place to start. "They strengthen the arches and prep the nervous system," she explains.
Plus, they make quite the fashion statement.
Where you should run if you're going to run barefoot.
It's probably obvious by now, but running barefoot on rock-hard cement isn't the best idea. "The best places to run barefoot are always beach or soft grass," says Gabrielle. "You can progress to streets, but then the danger lies in glass cuts."
Michelle agrees that beaches and grass are the best options. "If you find yourself at the beach, on a soft grassy meadow, or a dirt path, consider getting five minutes of barefoot running under your belt. But as a warning, your ankles will feel it the next day. Go slow. It's not worth an injury. "