There is a notion going around these days that simply taking off your shoes and either putting rubber gloves around your feet or running barefoot is all you need to do to eliminate injuries. I am often in prospect park in Brooklyn where I watch runners a lot and I can share with you that from my observation running barefoot or with little on your feet as possible will not teach you how to run. You might not be thudding down on your heel quite as hard, and as a result compressing your spine less, but you can be creating other problems just as easily.
The human body is a machine that is designed to work in a very specific manner and any deviation from the operating instructions will eventually add up to haunt us. I often tell my yoga students that what we can get away with in our twenties, thirties, and forties will not be so easy in our seventies eighties and nineties.
I’m not into running barefoot but I wear very flat shoes and run exclusively on the balls of my feet without my heel ever touching the ground. This goes a long way towards getting the body into proper alignment. You can feel this simply by balancing on the balls of your feet with the heels off the ground. When the heels lift up the thighs go back a little under the pelvis, which is naturally moved into its correct anterior tilt. The spine is always better aligned when the pelvis is in the correct position.
What running barefoot accomplishes best is softening the endless pressure that heel striking creates in the spinal column. What is doesn’t do is force your feet to land correctly. Even though the heel no longer touches down, the foot often lands in exactly the way you normally stand and walk which for most people is splayed open way too much.
We don’t need to walk and run with exactly parallel feet but we do want/need to push off of the inner half of the foot as we move forward. This doesn’t happen by osmosis. In my case, my psoas (my favorite muscle) tends to be a little tight on the right side, which can inhibit internal rotation on the affected leg. So while me left leg and foot are always landing and moving forward exactly as they should, my right foot wants to land more to the middle or outside of the foot.
Running barefoot or running with minimal support is the way to go and, based on my observations at Prospect Park, clearly becoming more and more popular. But please don’t think it is the answer to all of your issues. Changing or getting rid of shoes will not teach you how to run. That is work you have to do by yourself if you want to run into your nineties.
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