Running barefoot is more than just taking your shoes off and hitting the track. In fact, if you don't learn at least the basics, you could easily injure yourself. On the other hand, once you get a few technical points down, you'll be running more efficiently and at a lower risk of injury (all without the need for Nikes).
Step 1: The Landing
When most people run, they extend their foot out and land on the ground with their heel. This heel-strike is actually one of the most injury-causing aspects of running. When you heel strike, you are actually stopping your forward momentum and putting a lot of stress on your knees. The heel-strike can also cause plantar fasciitis, which is the very painful inflammation of the (plantar fascia) tendon connecting the heel and the toes. If you've ever had heel spurs, you know exactly why we want to avoid them.
How should we land then? Simple: on the midfoot, or the balls of the feet. In doing this, the calf muscles absorb more of the force than the knee. The is preferable because the calf is a muscle that can be improved and strengthened, whereas the knee is a joint, and extreme pressure on joints can cause aches, sprains, and even tendon tears.
When you land on your midfoot, your stride will be much shorter. This is OK! In fact, a short, choppy stride is what we're after. The balls of your feet should strike the ground underneath your body (see the diagram).
Step 2: The Pull
The Pull is simple, but it is also one of the most important aspects of barefoot running. Once you learn to pull properly, the midfoot landing will come naturally.
The Pull (from Pose Running) simply means pulling your foot up toward your butt after landing on the ground. Your foot shouldn't go any further back than your hip, but it should go too far forward either. Remember, we're not trying to lengthen our stride! In fact, a short, choppy stride is ideal.
Now that you know the Pull and the Landing, you're ready to practice. A few times a week, practice the landing and the pull by running in place with good form. When you start to get fatigued, go ahead and stop for the day. It is better to run a little with great form than to run a lot with poor form (which can potentially cause injury!)
Step 3: The Lean
This is where you get moving.
Remember running in place from the last step? Now, all you're going to do is run in place, and lean forward. There is no change in form between running in place and running distances, other than the lean forward!
That's it! Of course, there are more technical aspects to methods such as Pose and Chi Running, but these are the basic principles. The next step will have some extra tips and resources for your barefoot running journey.
Step 4: Tips & Resources
Remember to start slow. You will be sore for a while, but it will go away in time. This is simply your body getting used to a new form of exercise.
If you're going to be running around barefoot, you'll probably want to pick up a pair of minimalist shoes. These protect your feet from sharp objects such as glass and stones, without impeding the correct form. To find a high-quality pair of barefoot running shoes for a beginner, check out our reviews.
For more in-depth articles about correct form, injuries, and other common barefoot running questions, take a look at this FAQ.
Good Luck, and happy running!