How to Start Running Barefoot

Barefoot Ted's Beginners Tips

Barefoot Ted

So, you wanna start running barefoot or in minimalist footwear?

Firstly, before you begin, you want to evaluate what it is that is leading you to even accept the logic behind the concept of barefoot running or running in barefoot-inspired footwear. We all know that barefoot running has gotten a lot of attention lately. Much of it is valid and deserves your attention. 

Yet, one must still ask: Is this a viable option for me?

Before you answer that question, let me explain why I think running barefoot or in minimalist running shoes may not be good for you. It is not good if you are thinking it is some sort of cure-all that only requires taking off your shoes and starting to run injury free without radical changes in the way you may have been thinking of running up to now.

If your running strategy has been about very specific time or distance goals, and you have been willing to push through pain to injury, then I would caution you: your bare feet will not allow you to continue this way. 

Alas, the hallmark of my barefoot running philosophy is regaining connectedness, mindfulness, and presence in your running and in your body.

Barefoot running is not about blocking or pushing through pain, or at least it shouldn't be. Rather it is about tuning in to your own body's highly sophisticated set of integrated awareness systems, systems that communicate through feelings and senses that are being collected in real time as you move. From my perspective, learning how to run well means learning how to tap into the feeling of running well, which more often than not requires baring the foot to get the full feel of what happens when you move. 

However, even if you decide that barefoot or minimalist footwear is the route for you, take one step backward and realize you are most likely in the process of rehabilitating your feet and legs from years of being differently-abled, shoed, and cast. Atrophy, loss of range of motion, weakness, neglect, the foot has not been treated well lately. All the padding and support and protection has not led to stronger feet...sadly. 

So, the first key is to start slowly, incrementally and avoid over-exuberance.  Avoid being driven by your ego. Think orchard growing, not fast food. Think lifetime of development and growth. Think joy. 

So, what are my secrets and what is it I share with clients who take my Introduction to Barefoot Running Clinic?

My goal is to get people to learn how to feel what good running feels like. I want them to develop a feeling for it. One of the primary feelings becomes an awareness of the texture and hardness of terrain and of impact. This awareness is the beginning. 

To master this awareness, I have clients learn to move on hard surfaces first. Not focusing on distance or speed, I have my clients first walk and then trot on hard, fairly smooth surfaces. I work with them to focus on and begin to master three goals: quiet, quick, in balance.

The Three Goals of Barefoot Running

  1. Master gentle, quiet, forefoot-centric landings, silent and smooth. Learn to move with no hard edges and no pounding by learning how to have the impact of landing flow through the entire foot, starting in the forefoot and quickly spreading through the legs smoothly. Notice how silent your movement becomes. Imagine the movement of a big cat. Watch your dogs trot. Let them be models for tuned-in, flowing movement that wastes little energy on pound or sound. 
  2. Quicken your cadence: Running in bare feet or minimalist shoes encourages this naturally.  Some shoe runners are plodders. You can hear them coming. Lots of wasted energy on poorly-timed impact. Quicker cadence ends up making sense when you realize that your ability to absorb and recoil energy through elasticity in your body dissipates quickly and is lost if not used. Learning how to get back in touch with the sweet spot of optimal recoil efficiency is easier to find when you can feel your feet, since feeling that encourages a landing phase with the foot more in line with your center of gravity (thinking about how you land if you jump down onto a hard surface in barefeet, not on your heels!). Over-striding is discouraged, nearly impossible barefooted. 
  3. Stable upright posture: balanced head, core engaged, unbent torso, the feeling of balance, relaxed, yet strong.  I think that good running can be judged aesthetically. It should look good, not painful. When you see someone moving or running well, it looks smooth and fluid and graceful and efficient. The opposite looks painful, when someone is hunched and stiff, robotic and plodding. Indeed efficient running is tall and stable, the upper body acting as the fulcrum from which the legs and arms can move freely with a serious lack of bouncing or swaying of the head. 

Ultimately, my coaching goal is to help people perfect what I call a persistent hunt trot...a gait not purely about speed, but about smooth, flowing, efficient, sustainable movement, movement that leaves you ready to hunt or play another day.  And even if you choose to wear minimalist footwear instead of going completely unshod all the time, the principles still remain the same.  Run as if you were barefoot, all the time.

Barefooting itself is all about mindfulness and presence. Running like an upright primate, not like a robot. Aware of your body and your environment AT ALL TIMES.     

Listen to your body...learn to hear what it is telling you. Adjust accordingly. Advance accordingly.

Best Regards, 

Barefoot Ted