Barefoot Running

Barefoot Rendezvous

Barefoot Running

Flat feet; narrow feet; pronation; supination; high arch; low arch; etc…  If you’re in the market for shoes you’ll probably hear some or all of these terms from salespeople and shoe companies. But does the shoe actually matter that much at all? What would you say if you could train yourself to be more explosive, have improved balance, and avoid altogether the aches and pains that result from practicing in poor footwear – and all without giving a damn about the shoes? You’re probably asking, ‘where can I get this drug and how illegal is it’? Well, it’s not illegal: it’s called barefoot running. Yes, I said barefoot; meaning no shoes or socks, just skin and surface. 

The rationale behind this rather au naturelle training method goes back thousands of years, to when Man first began to walk upright. Scientists have tracked our evolution through the millennia and it appears that we really haven’t evolved all that much in the way we move. Nice suits and expensive trainers on the outside – but the same old Neolithic anatomies underneath. It seems you can’t change much in the way the body functions between two arms and two legs!

According to a report published on the Sport Science website by Michael Warburton, shod runners (runners with shoes) appear to suffer far more injuries than those who go unshod. Why is this? The most obvious reason, of course, is that humans were not designed to wear shoes: we did not evolve to where we are today due to our footwear. Our feet adopt their most natural position when they are uninhibited by rubber and nylon enclosures, and so it stands to reason that this is how we should move.

Strength and Balance

Running barefoot provides some major benefits in the areas of strengthening the feet and providing more balance. First, how does strengthening the structure of our feet help us in Parkour? If you strengthen any muscle, you can then in turn lift more, receive more shock to that area without sustaining injury, and generally perform at a higher level. So by strengthening your feet, you will be able to jump further, drop farther safely, and practise for much longer.

With regards to balance – being perhaps the fundamental principle of Parkour – running barefoot allows for increased sensitivity for the surfaces you are moving over, which enables the muscles of the feet and legs to react that little bit quicker and more efficiently to the stimuli. It grants you a greater feel for your surroundings. You can grasp ledges and rocks with your toes (although not quite as well as monkeys!) and you can adapt to changing terrains by simply shifting the muscles in your feet to compensate.

Caution!

However, a word of caution is needed here.While it is true that we evolved to run and walk barefoot, evolution did not factor in the surfaces of the urban jungle: concrete, asphalt, steel… on these surfaces running barefoot can be dangerous. I am not saying you should throw your beloved trainers in the garbage – you do need protective footwear for urban Parkour practice – just that it may be of great benefit to you to utilize some barefoot running as a training method.

Here are some key points to remember before beginning your training:

  • Start slow:Your feet will adapt to harsher terrain over time, but they will not become impregnable.
  • Look at your background for guidance:  If you have engaged in barefoot practices before, such as a traditional martial art for example, you will probably adapt faster than someone who has worn shoes all of their lives.
  • Get your shots up to date!  Tetanus is a key one. You never know when you may inadvertently puncture your feet on something sharp, no matter how careful you are being.
  • Use your common sense:If the temperature is hot enough to see waves coming from the pavement, chances are you’re not going to want to run on that. Try some grassy areas instead.
  • Ask questions:The only way to know for sure how to do something properly is to ask those who know more and do some research.
  • Consult a foot specialistbefore attempting any form of barefoot training. Have them check your foot-type to see if you are likely to encounter any problems with training barefoot. Some feet are built differently and do require shoes or orthopaedic inserts to operate efficiently.

It should be noted that conventional Parkour requires shoes most of the time. Your body is being put through stressors that our feet were not necessarily designed to handle. The concrete jungle is much too unforgiving to allow for the current high-flying techniques without shoes, unless you drastically change your method of movement. High drops would be out of the question. Your movement would have to be much more fluid, with your feet being in contact with the ground much more frequently. Train barefoot when you can, but use your shoes when performing any activities where the added cushioning will add to your safety. A good pair of cushioned trainers will help preserve your body throughout your Parkour career.

The Bare Benefits

I’ve gone barefoot at a moderate level for about a year now; meaning I still use shoes when running on rocky terrain, hot asphalt, and during actual Parkour sessions. The results for me have been fantastic. I have no more knee problems, stronger arches, and a great deal more grace and balance. And that’s what Parkour is all about: being harmonious with your body and your environment. 

But hey, the choice is yours. The key to this activity is to make sure that it will not cause you any further harm. If a shoe works for you now and barefoot hurts too much, then don’t do it. The only way to know for yourself is to give it a try. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to dream of warmer temperatures where my feet won’t freeze…

 

The article by Michael Warburton can be found at: http://www.sportsci.org/jour/0103/mw.htm.

 

Further links for barefoot running can be found here:

http://www.runningbarefoot.org/

http://www.runwashington.com/features/barefootrunning.html

http://www.runningtimes.com/rt/articles/?id=5810

by Neal Oram