Adapting to barefoot-style running April 14 2015, 0 Comments

Changing back to a barefoot running style should be gradual. I say 'back' because, if you watch children running they land on the forefoot - and don't they love to run!

Landing on the forefoot means that the foot and the calves absorb the impact as the heel is lowered to the floor, and this requires strength.  The muscles and tendons involved in this movement need to be strengthened, and building muscle takes time - ask any body builder.  Overdoing it can result in stiffness, soreness and inflammation, and many people who have switched to barefoot shoes have experienced this.  So what can you do to avoid it?

Start slowly - keep running in the old shoes, and intersperse this with shorter distances in your barefoot shoes.  Take rest days - the body works by a system of repair-and-improve.  Every time you run, you create an oxygen debt in your muscles to which the body responds by building more lung capacity to capture oxygen, and more capillaries in the muscles to distribute it and take away carbon dioxide.  Working the muscles produces micro-tears in their structure, prompting a repair mechanism which builds back the tissue better than before.  All of this takes time, and rest days in between exercises allow it to happen.  Gradually increase the distance you do in your barefoot shoes, and if you start to experience stiffness in your calves, hold at that distance or drop back a little to allow them to catch up.  Gradually replace the time spent in your normal running shoes with time in your barefoot ones.

A useful tip is to roll out your muscles and tendons. You can buy a hard-foam roller to do this, but I use a rolling pin.  If I am feeling stiffness, I roll out the muscles in my calves, shins and upper legs for a few minutes before running and again after stretching at the end of the run.  This helps to move the lactic acid through and works with the stretching to lengthen and relax the muscles.  This has also helped in my case with achey knees, where I spent a little more time rolling the iliotibial band above and outside the knee as tightness here can affect the knee.

It does take time, but the rewards are great - success comes in the form of strong, fit legs and feet and light, trouble-free running with all of the pleasure that that can bring.