Barefoot Training – Back to Basics

Barefoot Training – Back to Basics

0 Comments 📁 Training 🕔06.October 2014
Barefoot Training – Back to Basics

Use it or lose it!

Barefoot training or ‘natural running’ has been gaining in popularity at a rate of knotts. It started as early as Greecian times where olympic athletes competed in the first marathon barefoot or with single layer sandals on. Back in those days they didn’t have the supportive insoles, padded cushioning and added stability control of our modern day running shoes. More recently, olympic athletes such as South African Zola Budd and Ethiopian Adebe Bakila kicked up quite a stir when they competed at the olympics barefoot! Some for different reasons than others – supposedly, in the 80’s World Class running shoe manufaturer Adidas ran out of shoes of the correct size for Adebe to compete in, so he opted to go al natural.

Most pro barefoot runners believe that if you don’t use it, you lose it!

So let’s keep our feet strong like the rest of our body so we can compete in our obstacle races to the best of our abilities. Feet are a lot more important than we seem to realise. Though nobody without a weird foot fettish would gaze in loving admiration at the sight of a mere foot – we need to understand the impact of the humble foot on our entire body. Foot mechanics effect our whole posture, balance, disperse energy from the body to the ground during running and effect the ankle, knee and hip joints as well as lower back muscles and joints. Suffice to say, me thinks we need to take some better care of our feet – but do we do this by bare footing it like Zola and Adebe, or do we coddle them with comfy shoes?

There are many pro’s and cons to barefoot training. Professionsals don’t seem to be able to agree on iether so here’s a list of the advantages and disadvantages of running barefoot so you can decide for yourself.


  1. Running barefoot strengthens the small stabilising muscles and ligaments in your feet that, through years of wearing supportive shoes, have gradually weakened. This improves your overall balance. No more faceplants…yay feet!

  2. Barefoot running also improves neuromuscular pathways which results in better nerve conductivity – to put it simply, better foot-brain communication.

  3. Some scientists believe that natural running improves your spatial awareness in relation to your environment. And let’s be honest, we could use all the help we can get when running through muddy ditches, climbing over 8ft walls and swinging like Tarzan from monkeybars.

  4. It’s said that the strengthening of the muscles in your feet from barefoot running can reduce wear and tear on your joints which cause you to hobble around like an old man before your time.

  5. Prolonged barefoot running has been said to encourage you to land naturally on the forefoot, which is a better way of running with less impact. It also gives you a smoother, lengthened gait.

  6. Now, who could possibly argue the smelly feet problem everybody faces at some point? Give your running shoes a good wiff next time you’ve been in them during a good long obstacle race…you’ll understand!


  1. Wearing running shoes does absorb pressure during running, especially on hard surfaces like tar (for the road runner junkies). This will help to prevent inflammation of ligaments and general foot tenderness.

  2. Shoes with adequate support will also help with issues that arise due to poor foot conformation such as flat feet or high arches.

  3. During obstacle races, we need all the traction that we can get. Running shoes, especially off road shoes, will provide enough grip to get over those dreaded climbing obstacles.

  4. Wearing correct running shoes for a long time can correct biomechanical faults (conformation faults). I personally use anti-pronating shoes for my embarassingly flat feet and have found that, to a certain extent, it has led to an improvement in the conformation fault. Go check out our over-pronating article to read more about the issue.

For those of us who are pro barefoot training, there are ways to ease the transition into barefoot running. Don’t try to be a heavy ‘oa’ and start by running 10km as your first barefoot exercise. Start really small to prevent foot, ankle or calf injuries which is a strong risk factor while strengthening your foot muscles.

When you initially start, you will feel slight pain or discomfort in the feet, ankles or calfs while the muscles and ligaments are adjusting to the new strain. Wait until this pain subsides before you begin your next barefoot session to avoid tendonitis. The more you exercise the quicker this pain will subside and once you are a seasoned bare footer, it will disappear altogether.


Some people like to start with some basic walking barefoot in the house before really getting into the natural training culture. Others, like me, like to stay barefoot for most of their waking hours. We suggest you start on a soft surface – if you have a good spot in the garden on a flat, grassy patch, go ahead and rock out some barefoot training there. You can do anything from simple foot stretching to yoga moves that incorporate the use of feet. You can slowly graduate onto eccentric training (no, it doesn’t involve anything crazy) – such as reverse heal raises, backward walking and skipping on the spot.

Once your muscles and ligaments have adapted to your new found barefoot training chi, you can graduate onto some low distance running – try your local consenting soccer or school field where you know it’s level and free of debris that might cause bruising on the padding of your feet. Ever landed on a stone on your heel? Lots of F’s and B’s and a long lasting limp, not cool.

Now here is where the trick comes in; Obstacle Racing is not done on pretty grassy fields, with soft landings and good grip. We need running shoes for our races – if you’ve ever tried an 8ft wall climb with no shoes on you’ll know why. So barefoot train away if it suits you. Otherwise you could try out the Vibram 5 Fingers (minimalist shoes). That’s right, those are those ninja looking shoes some people have been brave enough to wear in public for reasons unknown to us. Unfortunately Vibram is in a bit of a legal pickle with individuals claiming that their shoes just aint doin’ the trick. Stay tuned to Obstacle Obsessed for an update on that matter.

Our feet house approximately 30% of all the joints in our body. So hopefully, if you were on the fence about running barefoot this will give you the firm boot onto whichever side you needed to be on. Good luck with your training and remember – start slow, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

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