Training on Treadmills for Barefoot Running

Although barefoot running is just now gaining attention, it dates back hundreds of years. Indian tribes and villagers got around with very thin foot protection like moccasins or bare feet. According to Professor Daniel Lieberman from Harvard University, they were forced to contact the ground with a different type of force that can be beneficial in the prevention of injuries.

If you are going the way of the tribesman, a good place to start is on your own personal treadmill. Be advised that this takes time, patience and strict attention to detail. You can’t just rip off your shoes and go crazy. The reason you need to take your time transitioning is because the bones, muscles and tendons in your feet and lower legs have to remodel since they are predisposed to a certain length and tension. For example, your calves are adapted to a certain length because your heels have been pitched upward for many years wearing conventional shoes. If you try to run barefoot instantly, you run the risk of pulling a calf muscle because it will stretch beyond its limits.

Start By Changing Your Foot Strike

The way you move your feet while walking and running is called your gait. In a normal gait, people tend to use what’s called a heel strike. It’s pretty easy to deduce that this involves your heel hitting the ground first.

When you are training to do barefoot running, you need to change your gait to land with a forefoot strike. Here are the details.

  • Do NOT run on your tiptoes. This can cause excess stress on the joints in your toes.
  • Land on the balls of your feet.
  • Let your heel hit lightly or not at all.
  • Keep your shoulders broad.
  • Tighten your abs and keep your chest lifted.

Your first step in training is to practice this technique until you get it down pat.

Working Towards Going Shoe-less

Once you have gotten your forefoot mechanics dialed in, your next phase is to get a new pair of shoes that have a zero heel drop. This means the thickness is the same at the toe and heel. Shoes with hard-rubber soles make good options here. Your goal is use your shoes for a series of weeks or even months. Remember, you don’t want to rush things when making a transition to barefoot running. It can take up to a year or more of training before you are completely barefoot.

After you adapt to your shoes, gradually transition to shoes with thinner and thinner soles. Keep following this pattern until you get to a minimalist shoe that is 1 mm thick. These are as close to barefoot as you can get without actually being barefoot. By gradually reducing your shoe thickness, your calves have time to stretch out and you will be less prone to get injured.

Making the Final Transition

The last step in your journey is to finally go barefoot. This should also be done progressively. Here are some key steps to follow.

  1. Do a warm-up while wearing your minimalist shoes then go into a light jog.
  2. After about 10 minutes, grab the handrails, lift yourself up and place your feet on the sides of the deck.
  3. Step off the treadmill, remove your shoes and step back onto the sides of the deck.
  4. Lift yourself up and go back into a run. Make sure to keep your speed low here.
  5. Run for 2 to 5 minutes, then come back off and put your shoes back on.
  6. Finish your run as normal.

Follow this pattern for a week, and each week thereafter, add two more minutes to your barefoot time. Keep doing this until you are able to run completely barefoot. After you feel comfortable, slowly start running faster until you are at a pace that you used to run with shoes.

Now you have the strategy in place to go from shoes to no shoes. The more you practice on your treadmill, the faster you will get to barefoot. And always stretch really well when you are finished. Keeping your feet, calves and legs as limber as possible will expedite the process.