How To run barefoot? Detailed Guide

Walking barefoot takes some getting used to at first, but it contributes to an upright and efficient running style.

Flat feet, claw toes, shin splints, or shin splints – almost every runner in running shoes can sing a song about one of these terms. Many runners initially take painkillers or have insoles made for their running shoes. 

However, this often does not lead to the desired result. Most of the stories of runners who have decided to run barefoot and do their everyday training more or less without running shoes begin like this or something similar. 

But what’s the point of walking barefoot? And is it suitable for every runner?

The biomechanics of the foot during walking

If the foot is lifted while walking, the ankle joint is automatically lifted and the toes are pulled up. This movement is called dorsiflexion. 

This raises the longitudinal arch of the foot, which stabilizes the foot when stepping on it. A narrow cavity is created under the foot. For this movement, the forefoot needs space upwards, which is often not available in conventional shoes. 

Pre-tensioning and stabilization of the arch of the foot are therefore only possible to a small extent or not at all. Then other muscle groups in the legs take over this task, for which they are basically not made. 

This in turn can lead to overuse syndromes in the knee . When the arch of the foot cannot be stabilized, it is called flatfoot. The inner part of the foot sinks downwards and can hardly be lifted by active muscle tension. 

The tibia continues to rotate inward, creating a sustained pull on the anterior tibial muscle, the tibialis anterior. A possible consequence: shin splints, the shin splint syndrome that occurs again and again in many runners.

Walking barefoot promotes an upright posture

With a correct sequence of movements, you come down with a pre-activated longitudinal arch while running – and when pushing off, the final extension of the foot ensures that the entire body is stretched from the hips to the thoracic spine. 

The pre-activated foot arch and thus the entire muscle chain stabilize the body when the foot strikes. This is done particularly economically and gently if the entire sole hits the ground in a slightly supinated position, i.e. slightly emphasized on the outer edge of the foot.

The human body does not work with individual muscles, but with muscle chains, i.e. several muscles that together enable a certain movement. When walking barefoot, the entire mobility of the foot is used, because otherwise walking would be painful. 

Thus, walking barefoot contributes to a stronger uprighting of the upper body and stabilizes the abdominal and back muscles. There is a stronger push-off movement from the ground and the foot strike takes place with pre-activated foot muscles – a good prerequisite for an efficient running style.

A regular running ABC improves the running technique

Even if walking barefoot in itself helps to strengthen the core muscles: The ABC of running is not only important for runners in running shoes, but also when running barefoot. 

Because this is not only about the right posture, but also about the running technique. Running-specific movements improve mobility and quality of movement. The pace is also important when running barefoot: Running barefoot at 180 bpm is easy on the joints and enables quick evasive movements if there is a shard or small stone on the way.

The surface determines the running speed

Loamy mud is particularly slippery and small stones or shards are not visible. Salty snow in winter should be avoided as much as possible. 

The air temperature is actually irrelevant when walking barefoot. Much more interesting for barefoot runners are wet and windy conditions.

What to do in case of injuries

The experienced barefoot walkers always have a small first-aid kit with them, consisting of a small Swiss army knife, tweezers or a safety pin, disinfectant, superglue, and Leukotape Classic. 

With a disinfected safety pin, small foreign bodies can be removed, if possible while still on the running course. After disinfecting, the wound can be closed with superglue. One or more strips of leukocyte prevent further stones or dirt from getting into the wound. 

Larger wounds should be thoroughly cleaned and bandaged with plasters or gauze bandages. After that, they heal best in the fresh air.

Harden the feet

Feet that are sensitive to pressure and touch can be desensitized by self-massage with a mini ball. The repeated rolling over the ball with more or less strong pressure increases blood circulation and metabolism and improves the regeneration of muscles and all surrounding structures. 

Blisters should be punctured with a disinfected needle and thoroughly disinfected. A plaster then protects against the ingress of dirt particles.

This is how you get started with barefoot walking

Start by walking short distances. 3 – 5 km on asphalt, meadow, and firm ground is a good starting point for runners who run regularly at least once a week. 

In general, your feet get used to walking barefoot most quickly if you walk barefoot as often and as often as possible in everyday life. A high step frequency of 170 to 190 bpm is important.

It is normal for your feet to feel sore and slightly painful at first. The skin on the sole gradually becomes firmer, along with the formation of subcutaneous fat. Stones that get stuck on your feet during the first barefoot running sessions are becoming increasingly rare.

Competition is better for training

Anyone who is just taking their first steps without running shoes in training probably has no competition ambitions yet. 

The advantage of competitions, however, is that they usually take place on the street. And the asphalt there is often much cleaner than on the footpath.

The most important tips for getting started with barefoot running:

  • Adapt your running technique to the new load on your feet by taking short steps. A cadence of 170-190 bpm is a good guideline.
  • You can use a small ball to massage the aching foot muscles yourself and speed up regeneration.
  • Dirt can be removed quickly and easily with a conventional hand brush and soapy foam.

This belongs in your first aid kit for barefoot walking:

  • Small Swiss army knife, tweezers, or safety pin
  • disinfectant
  • superglue
  • Leukotape Classic


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