TRANSITIONING TO BAREFOOT RUNNING
Although, barefoot running aims to counteract the damaging impact forces that the higher-heeled traditional shoe causes, there have been reports of injuries such as stress fractures, calf tears and Achilles tendonitis. This has been attributed to enthusiasts transitioning too quick and not allowing adequate recovery time (Bates, 2012).
With this in mind, regardless of your running experience, it is crucial to gradually incorporate barefoot running shoes into training schedules to ensure adequate adaptation and minimise the risk of injury. Successful transition is achieved over a long period of time; for some this may mean weeks, for others up to months or even a year can be expected. It is important to remain patient and build gradually (progressing around 10% each week or running the first 5-10minutes of your run unshod, then changing into your usual footwear) (www.vibramfivefigers.com).
Incorporating a dynamic warm-up, and progressing to plyometrics, sprint and agility work will help strengthen your feet and ankle muscles, preparing them for barefoot runners (Mychal, 2012). To assist with a healthy integration, runners can walk on different surfaces to improve balance, increase circulation and sensation, and adjust foot stride length. A foot strength training program including heel raises, toe grips, dorsi/plantar flexion and towel grabbing will also prove beneficial. Most importantly, although some discomfort is expected for the first couple of weeks – whilst the feet and lower legs adapt and compensate – runners should stop if they experience pain at any time. Practicing good running form by ensuring proper foot strike, posture and stride length is also advised (www.merrell.com).
Just recently, a Go Barefoot application has been created by Merrell, designed to assist users in mastering the propel form. This app allows users to progress safely from traditional running shoes to barefoot running, through step-by-step training guides designed to encourage proper foot strike, cadence and posture (www.merrell.com).
In short, listen to your body, build gradually and practice good form when transitioning to barefoot running shoes.