Top Four Benefits of Barefoot Running
It had been thirty years since Steven Sashen had been sprinting, but in early 2007 he was determined to return to the sport he’d loved as a teenager. Steven’s determination didn’t fade for two years as he suffered injury after injury in his relentless pursuit of finish lines and personal records. As he searched for ways to prevent the aches and pains that were slowing him down, he came across the story of the Tarahumara tribe of northern Mexico. The Tarahumara are famous the world over for their ability to run ultramarathon distances, sometimes as far as 200 miles, with nothing but thin leather sandals made from car tire scraps laced to their feet for protection.
Inspired by the Tarahumara, Steven decided to leave his shoes behind for his next run. He was shocked to find that the feedback he got from feeling the ground beneath his feet changed his gait, and within a few weeks he was no longer getting injured on his runs and became faster. In fact, he’s been a Masters All-American sprinter ever since he made the transition to barefoot running. More than that, being barefoot gave Steven a sense of freedom, comfort, and connection to the world around him that he wanted to experience all the time.
Following the example of the Tarahumara once again, Steven made his own minimalist sandal from an ultrathin piece of rubber and string. His new minimalist sandal protected his foot – and allowed him to get past pesky “no shirt no shoes no service” signs – without sacrificing the feeling of being barefoot. Steven’s sandals were instantly popular with other barefoot runners in his community and a few months later, Xero Shoes was born.
Steven built his company on the belief that the best running shoes are the ones you’re born with. After years of experience designing barefoot shoes for any occasion, the team at Xero Shoes have mastered the art of protecting your foot without restricting it. Eager to help you begin your barefoot journey, Xero Shoes shares the top four benefits that come when we kick off our shoes and experience the world feet first.
1. Increased Muscle Strength
The elevated and cushioned heels in modern running shoes were designed to help push you forward, and do some of the work for you by adding a spring to your step. In reality, the elevated heel in these shoes doesn’t actually live up to the promises of its design. Recent studies have shown that by running or even walking in barefoot shoes, you can build as much foot muscle strength as you would through specialized foot strengthening exercises. While it might seem counterproductive to forgo the features of running shoes at first glance, the added strength of well-developed feet muscles can make all the difference between a new PR and just another run.
2. Improved Running Technique
Running barefoot feels different than running in shoes and making the switch between the two will naturally change the way you run. Most runners are heel strikers, meaning they land on their heels first as they run. Heel striking can lead to greater risk of knee and hip injuries, which will slow you down and hinder your progress. Running barefoot makes heel striking painful and uncomfortable, so naturally you’ll start to adjust your stride to a forefoot or a midfoot strike. The benefit of landing first with your forefoot or your midfoot is that it encourages putting your foot directly under your hip, letting you drive your body forward with more power and more speed while using less energy.
3. Better Balance, Posture, and Stability
As Steven eased himself into walking and running with barefoot shoes, one of the first things he noticed was a connection between him and the ground. Without heavy, cumbersome material to block your senses and weigh you down, your body will become more responsive to the terrain around you. The dozens of muscles you’ve strengthened in your feet and ankles after transitioning to barefoot shoes will naturally cause you to make small adjustments in your legs, knees, hips, and spine, all working in tandem to improve your posture.
4. Reduced Injuries
A reduction in injuries is the number one reported benefit by those who’ve fully transitioned to barefoot style running, which is why Steven started running barefoot to begin with. According to Xero Shoes, barefoot runners report significantly less knee and heel injuries than their close-toed counterparts. As you get used to running without shoes and your technique changes, your body spreads the impact of running between your feet, knees, and hips instead of letting your heel do all the work.
You might look at the story of Steven dedicating himself to barefoot running in his mid-forties as a classic tale of an old dog learning new tricks. In reality, Steven’s story is more like an old dog (if you consider forty-five old) learning old tricks. Running and sprinting have been around for as long as humans but modern running shoes have been around for only 50 years. The Tarahumara had it right in the first place — after all, they are the people who “walk well.” Your feet were made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do. Until you start running. Then they’ll do that too.