As a Podiatrist I have been asked my opinion on Barefoot, Pose running and Chi running many times. As a runner myself, this is also a topic that interests me greatly and which I am always researching. As you can imagine it provokes a lot of discussion amongst my colleagues.
Barefoot, Pose and Chi running theories are based around running without shoes and spending most of your time on your forefoot. When running barefoot there are changes made to the way the forces go though your body, changing which muscles, bones and ligaments are stressed. There are pro’s and con’s to different techniques and I aim through this article to give you a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages.
Running barefoot has its advantages as it increases the range of motion used at the joints of the lower limbs and feet. It improves your body’s awareness of where your foot is on the ground, improves your balance, as well as proving a small decrease in the amount of weight you carry while running. There is only a small amount of research that has been done on this topic however, which has shown that there is a slight decrease in the amount of VO2 used, a decrease in training heart rate and the rate of perceived exertion when running barefoot. The researchers have put this down to decreased weight due to lack of footwear as well as increased elastic energy gained with flexion of the arch of the foot.
There are also risks and disadvantages of running barefoot including increase total load on calf/Achilles and forefoot as well as increasing the load on the muscles within the foot. It may also increase the total amount of load absorbed by the body and increase abrasion to the skin.
Therefore, there are different types of injuries associated with different types of running – clinically I see an increased number of Achilles injuries, and disorders of the ball of the foot/top of the foot relating to barefoot runners and less front of leg disorders. Barefoot running can also be similar to typical sports injuries associated with training errors, increasing the amount of running or the use of a new technique too quickly, not allowing the tissues of the body enough time to adapt to these new loads leading to tissue failure/injury.
Barefoot running is not for everyone as every runner can not physiologically adapt to the change in their running style. If you are really keen to give it a go make sure you have your feet and biomechanics assessed first by a qualified podiatrist. I have found the best way to trial it is to add running without shoes as a part of a structured, safe, training program. Make sure you protect the outside of your feet (Vibrams or equivalent) and very slowly build up the amount of activity done without support or shoes. Slowly building up will allow your body to adapt to the new conditions.
Good luck with your training
Download this article as a PDF. Barefoot Running