I felt super-impressive while running my first half marathon. Then a fellow racer jogged up next to me without shoes, and I immediately tumbled off my high horse.
In awe of this shoeless competitor, I kept pace with her for about five miles, ogling her feet the entire time. After all, we weren't running on a soft track, sandy beach or other foot-friendly surface; we were pounding pavement in the heart of Queens!
Apparently, I can expect to see more shoe-free runners. As celebrity personal trainer and Zeel Expert Stefan Aschan explains, barefoot running is increasing in popularity on a global scale, attracting running enthusiasts like South African track star Zola Budd-Pieterse and Academy Award winner Jake Gyllenhaal.
Why the sudden abandonment of athletic footwear? It's not a fashion statement or money-saving move. Rather, barefoot running-if done properly-may actually enhance your performance. Stefan explains how.
Fewer ankle sprains. Running sans sneakers can decrease the risk of ankle sprains as you become more aware of the positioning of your foot. Barefoot running also decreases the twisting torque that presses on the ankle as you heel-toe your way to the finish line.
Less plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is just a fancy way to describe an inflammation that can occur on the soles of your feet. It's a common condition incurred by athletes. Running without sneakers can actually decrease both the inflammation and discomfort.
Modified shock transfer. The way that your muscles and the supporting structures in your lower limbs absorb shock while running in sneakers can cause unnecessary stress on the body. Running barefoot helps redistribute the shock absorption in a way that prevents chronic injuries like piriformis syndrome and knee pain.
A faster pace. Running barefoot may reduce your oxygen consumption by a small yet significant amount. With a bit of practice, this reduced oxygen consumption may help improve your running pace and lead to a new PR (personal record).
Take it from Stefan. "If you want to try running barefoot, the philosophy is: Take it slow," he says. It's important to give your body-especially your feet and ankles-a transition period as you make this change, gradually conditioning and strengthening the surrounding ligaments, muscles and bones. Otherwise, you could do yourself more harm than good.
For more tips on barefoot running, book an appointment with Stefan Aschan. Ask about his upcoming training program where he'll teach five lucky runners how to go barefoot.