If you have read the first two parts of this series you have a better understanding of barefoot running, its pros and cons, and whether it may be right for you. If you have gotten that far and still would like to introduce it into your running training it is time to learn the best ways to do so.
The first thing that you must know is that introducing anything new into your running needs to happen slowly over time. Most people know that you cannot get new orthotics and immediately start running long distances in them. You must gradually increase the time that you wear them until you feet get used to them. This is no different for barefoot running. Taking away your shoes creates an entirely new environment for you feet. While this may prove to be good in the long term it presents some short-term problems.
So, the first thing you must do is to begin running barefoot on very soft surfaces. The ideal place would be a grass surface that is flat and devoid of holes that could cause an ankle sprain. This surface will be gentle on your feet and let them build up a little toughness. Since you no longer have the cushion of the shoes, your feet must become resilient enough to handle the direct impact.
Now that you know where to run, the question becomes how hard and how long?
Again, since you are introducing a new variable to your runs you must begin with only short durations and at low intensity. Just allow yourself to get used to this new feel slowly. Start with only about 50-100 meter slow runs with small breaks in between. At first, only do this a limited number of times. This will not only toughen up your feet, but it will re-awaken those muscles that haven’t been used completely in the shoes. Once you do this for a few weeks you will get a sense of how your body is reacting. Then you can perform more repetitions of the same distance, but without increasing intensity.
After you are comfortable with these short distance repeats you can attempt to do low intensity, short runs. Begin with only 5-10 minute bouts and then slowly increase the time while maintaining low intensity. The time duration you choose should be done for 2-3 weeks before going longer. This slow increase is very important to avoid injury. Intensity is the last thing to be introduced and only after you are comfortable with many weeks of barefoot running.
This will provide you with a good basic guideline to introducing barefoot running. One final word: my advice is to use barefoot running as a supplement to running with your shoes. While barefoot running has many benefits it becomes much more problematic when various surfaces and intensities are introduced. Use the barefoot running as another training exercise rather than your primary way to run. This will help give you the benefits while avoiding many of the potential pitfalls.
Dr. Vince DiSaia, DC, CSCS
Dr. DiSaia then became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and provided personalized fitness training both privately and at fitness facilities. He decided to increase his knowledge of the human body and attended Southern California University of Health Sciences. Four years later he received his doctorate of chiropractic from SCUHS with Magna Cum Laude honors. Since then, Dr. DiSaia has continuously sought out new ways to help his patients and clients perform their best. His expertise with the musculoskeletal system is greatly enhanced through his Full Body Certification as an Active Release Techniques (ART) Provider. He has been certified as a Kinesio Tape practitioner and is also a Certified Level 2 Medical Golf Fitness Instructor (CGFI) through the Titleist Performance Institute.
Dr. DiSaia currently runs his own practice in Lake Forest, CA, and also works in conjunction with other healthcare providers within a medical clinic in Foothill Ranch, CA. He resides in Orange, CA where he lives with his wife Marci and his sons Carson and Cole.