So by now you have gotten out on your bare feet, and you have done some running.  You may have noticed a lot of things about how you walk, run, and just feel overall.  Phase Two of my Going Barefoot series is going to cover a lot of the common issues and questions I get about the process.

Strange Feelings

Feet: You may have noticed a lot of muscular changes during your transitional process, and the majority of them are normal.  You may get out of bed in the morning to really tight or sore feet.  Your arches may feel like they are super tight rubber bands about ready to snap.  The balls of your feet might be sensitive and give you tingling sensations as you take your day’s first steps.  Is this normal?  The answer is yes.  In most cases this is nothing more than your muscles and nerves adapting to the change.  They are growing and gaining new abilities as you continue on your path to barefoot running.  The only time I consider these sensations a concern is when they continue longer than the first few hours of the day.  Once your body gets warmed up these sensations should dissipate.  If they don’t, then you may need to consider the notion that you have sustained some sort of an injury.

Calves: Your calves may be getting really tight at the end of your walks/runs.  They may be tight when you wake up or just give you those soreness pangs when you have to use them.  Is this normal?  Again, in most cases, yes.  The biggest disconnect I have seen with barefoot runners is that they forget the way muscles work.  If you were to go into the gym and hit the muscles hard in a workout, you would feel soreness in those muscles for at least a couple of days.  Going from running in shoes to running barefoot hits the muscles of the foot and lower leg very much the way a trip to the gym would.  It will make them sore and tight.  The best remedies for these issues will be the same, and that is to just let them rest and stretch them as needed.

Getting to the Running Part

You may already be running, or you may just be at the end of Phase One and are only running short distances, and it is time to start ramping up the miles.  Here are some basic rules I recommend you follow in order to allow yourself a safe and comfortable transition.

Take it Slow: This is not the typical take it slow caution.  This is the “I mean take it really slow” caution.  A typical runner will consider taking it slow to mean only run a few miles, and in compensating shoes that may well be just fine.  When you are talking about putting all the load and responsibility on the skin, muscles, and every other part of the actual foot then that is way too much.  Taking it slow means running a quarter or half mile and calling it a day.  Take stock of your foot’s feelings the next day, and go from there.  If you can run a half-mile with no problems then you could probably try a mile after a day of rest.  That’s right I did not say the next day.  You have to remember that these are young muscles you are using, and they need time to recover.  Jump back out there too soon, and you will be facing myriad potential injuries and only set yourself back.  Once you can run a mile, the typical standard is to follow the ten percent rule.  That rules states that you would only increase your distance by ten percent each week.  That is each week, not each run.  If you can safely run two miles in a week then the next week you should safely be able to run two and a quarter miles if we round up.  Sound crazy?  Maybe so, but getting injured because you did too much too soon sounds crazier.

Keep Your Shoes With You: One of the best pieces of advice I received during my initial transition was to take my shoes with me.  If you are out running barefoot, and you start to develop a blister or hot spot then you really do not want to continue, but how do you do that if you are a mile away from home?  I guess you could call for a ride, or you could simply put your shoes on and head back.  The extra padding from the shoes will protect your feet and hopefully keep you from further aggravating the area.  The shoes will also come in handy should you feel any muscular soreness or come across some dangerous terrain.  There are, of course, a few issues that come up when you are carrying shoes with you.  Those could be where do you carry them or how do you carry water?  I simply run a loop with my shoes in my hands.  The loop means I can leave water at my starting point and know that I will be coming around for it soon.  The shoes in my hands act as a nice resistance tool and strengthen my arms, and they are conveniently located.  If that is not an option for you then maybe you run with a small pack to carry either the water or the shoes.  I can wear my Camelbak and carry my shoes without any real issue, and everything is right there with me.

Continue to Strengthen Your Feet: I find the biggest mistake barefoot runners make is they begin to feel strong about their running ability, and that allows them to forget about foot strengthening exercises.  Just because your feet are adapting and you can now run farther and maybe even faster, does not mean that the muscles in the feet no longer need to be exercised.  When a shod person can run a marathon, he will still go do leg exercises at the gym.  They do that because they want to get stronger and better, and so should you.  I outlined some foot exercises in Phase One, but here are a few to add to that list to ramp things up.

  1. Jump Rope:  Jumping rope barefoot is a great exercise for the feet and lower legs. The movement recruits all the muscles of the foot and calf complex and builds a lot of overall strength in the area.
  2. Lunges:  Doing a walking lunge barefoot will strengthen quads and hamstrings as well as force the foot to activate in order to maintain balance.  This is more of an indirect exercise for the feet, but calling upon the smaller secondary muscles to create body stability is a great idea for overall strengthening.
  3. Skipping:  Yes I said skipping.  Very much like jumping rope, this exercise will put a lot of force through the feet and entire leg to build strength.  You can either do a traditional skip like you did when you were a kid, or for a more advanced move you can do a power skip.  In this movement you will push hard off the ground, driving the knee upward, and swinging hard with the arms to help create momentum.  Remember that this is an advanced movement and can cause strain on the foot muscles if you do it too soon.

By now you should be feeling comfortable with running either completely bare or in some form of minimalist shoe.  This is really not that difficult of a transition to make, but it is one that needs to be made sensibly and with caution to avoid injury.  Most people who venture into barefoot running are doing so to get away from running injuries, and doing so properly could rid them of those injuries.  However if you do not proceed with caution, you will find yourself with a new running style and new host of injuries to deal with, and that will only be another miserable experience, which barefoot running should not be.  It is fun and invigorating, and I hope all of you who are enjoying it continue to do so.  For those of you thinking about making the switch I say give it a try, and you might find that you have been missing out on something great.

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3 responses »

  1. Great advice, when i started with my Vibram Fivefingers i went straight in to it and hurt my legs, so it’s definitely worth taking it slow to begin with.

  2. John says:

    I would definitely advise taking it very slow. If you’ve been shod for your whole life, your feet will be extremely weak.

    I ramped up too fast and got a metatarsal injury. I thought that because I was a high-level runner, I could increase my barefoot mileage relatively easily once the weather got warmer. Don’t do it! Begin with lots of walking on concrete and build up very methodically with the running mileage. Transitional footwear can be deceiving in terms of foot strength. You cannot just switch from minimal footwear to barefoot running and expect to have the strength needed. Barefoot running calls on so many more muscles and places much more stress on the newly awakened foot bones. Consequently, you have to proceed with baby steps when attempting to run more mileage sans shoes.

    This transition can take years, so be patient and look long-term. Don’t make the same mistake that I did!

  3. […] about minimalist running, here are a couple of good resources. First, the Go Barefooting Blog has an informative entry about transitioning. Second, Terra Plana is a company that makes minimalist footwear for both work and play (I’m […]

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