Barefoot Running and Such

My journey into barefoot running may have been a bit different than most. It was a long time back when I saw pictures of a few Olympic marathoners who have competed barefoot, and while it struck me as pretty cool, I never thought much about it for myself.

I am a drummer. I have been drumming for over 20 years now and have spent a lot of time playing fast, punk rock. This really developed my right foot (I exclusively used a single bass drum pedal played with my right foot).

In my early twenties I had the great opportunity to rent a storage unit as a twenty-four hour-a-day practice space. I lived in a desert, so the summertime temperatures averaged 115 F. Needless to say, I played with with as little clothing as possible (and a high velocity fan). The shoes also came off.

I practiced and played a lot during this time and began learning with a double bass pedal (playing with the left foot and right foot on bass drum). I still played shows wearing shoes (usually Vans).

After about a month of barefoot practice, I noticed something interesting. My right foot had become stronger and had gained more control. My left foot also strengthened rather quickly too. I was pretty shocked at the right foot improvement. Trust me, my right foot was already really fast and strong (my punk band, in no way, needed to play any faster).

I talked to a lot of other drummers and started studying a lot of professionals. It turns out that many practiced and even performed barefoot. So that was that.

Years later, after spending a year in Thailand where I wore very thin flip-flops a lot, I arrived in Taiwan. In Taiwan I worked barefoot. Except for running, I went months without putting on shoes and it was great! By this time the barefoot running phenomenon was in full effect. I had actually looked for Vibram’s Five Fingers in Thailand and the Philippines to no avail. I would have just started going full barefoot, but the parks where I lived weren’t kept well enough for your feet to reasonably avoid injury.

On a trip to Taipei though, I finally found a pair of Five Fingers and bought them.

I paid close attention to the warnings of transitioning to barefoot running (as you should if you’re thinking of doing the same). I think my transition time was only a few weeks, but I still experienced more significant soreness than expected. I started with 30 to 40 easy minute runs (I should have done less) that were on pavement. It did take time for calluses to build up on certain areas of my feet—particularly on the outside ball of each foot and on the big toe.

After those first few weeks, I used the Five Fingers for all running and exercising except sprints. Unfortunately, I only had a slightly gravelly stadium parking lot to sprint in. You feel even small pebbles with the Five Fingers,and it can hurt.

Now that I’m back in the states, I do almost all of my running barefoot. I’ve also done hiking barefoot and sometimes I just wear the barefoot shoes around town. And now that I have well kept parks around, I do my sprints barefoot (lately without the Five Fingers).

I would encourage everybody to try out the barefoot lifestyle if possible. Do realize that you’re feet and lower legs will need some time adjust. Also, if you’re a heel striker (your heal impacts the ground first when running), you’ll have to get used to a new form of running. There’s a good amount of information about how to make the switch in forums, blogs and websites.

To date, there doesn’t seem to be enough significant, long-term studies on barefoot runners (especially westerners who grew up in shoes). Studies are being conducted now, but I think it will be some time before we really have some definitive answers.

I can’t stress enough to really take care in changing over to barefoot running. I’ve read a lot of articles lately that have stated many foot doctors are seeing increased instances of foot problems due to barefoot running. It’s my opinion that most of these people just went at it too hard, too soon.

Finally, there is something really nice about walking around barefoot or in Vibram’s Five Fingers. It’s nice to feel the ground beneath your feet and not a squishy piece of rubber. So there it is. Barefoot running and living. Check it out.

If you’re that into the barefoot thing, you can always try out bodyweight exercise. check out our TRX suspension trainer review page for a great option in expanding the number of bodyweight exercises you can perform.