David Csonka of Naturally Engineered is a writer and “natural health enthusiast living under the shadow of the mountains of Denver, Colorado.” He has written a fantastic, free eBook called Couch to Barefoot: The 15 Minute Guide for People Wanting to Know What Barefoot Running is All About and has graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us.
1) In your eBook, you suggest that people considering barefoot running should begin by going straight to barefoot running as opposed to purchasing a minimalist running shoe. What is the primary argument for this approach?
There have been some experiments which have shown that even the slightest bit of padding or material between the bottom of the foot and the ground will alter your gait, posture, and landing to some degree. I have noticed this myself, that when switching between different types of minimalist shoes, sometimes my form will lag a bit in terms of adapting to the amount of cushion. The end result is that I may strike the ground harder than is optimal simply because of movement-based habit.
I think it is best to learn the most proper running form first (achieved while barefoot), and then reincorporate minimalist shoes later as needed, according to situations and context.
2) What has been your experience with in barefoot running in terms of the time required to build up the requisite strength in your feet?
This is going to be highly individualized – accounting for weekly volume of running, intensity, health factors, nutrition, and rest, etc. Most people lack the patience to reduce mileage and rest, myself included. I’ve had bouts of tendinitis in the past due to this. Also, keep in mind that soft tissue and muscle grows faster than bone. There are plenty of folks out there getting stress fractures, probably because of poor nutrition and impatience.
I typically advise people to use pain as a guide. Pain is your body telling you to stop. The mantras of “pushing through the pain”, or “no pain no gain” are terribly counter-productive. The difference between exercise-induced discomfort and damage-induced pain is important, and sadly lost on many. At the least, I would give yourself several months to recondition your feet. If you are in the middle of training for something like a marathon, I would consider foregoing full barefoot training until after the season is over, and maybe use one day a week for light barefoot conditioning.
3) Given that you are an advocate for barefoot running, what shoe or shoes do you use in the gym?
I almost always wear my Vibram Five Finger KSO’s for any indoor weight-lifting or crossfit-style training. They’re light, flexible, and don’t constrict my toes. I’ll switch to something with more ankle padding for rowing machines and such, simply because of the blistering factor.
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photo credit: Bram Booth
David Csonka is a writer, photographer, and natural health enthusiast living in Denver, Colorado. He graduated from the Florida State University with a B.S. and an M.S. in Information Studies. He enjoys being active outdoors, and capturing nature through the lens of his camera. You can read more from him at Naturally Engineered.