Ask The Expert

A Beginner’s Guide To Barefoot Running With Ben Le Vesconte

We caught up with Vivobarefoot’s movement expert and running coach Ben Le Vesconte for the full lowdown on barefoot running

Barefoot Running
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

We had a chat with Ben Le Vesconte to get the full lowdown on barefoot running.

Ben is Vivobarefoot’s movement expert and running coach, and here, he brings you everything you need to know about barefoot running.

For somebody who has never heard of the term, what is barefoot running?

Barefoot running is as much a technique as it is taking our shoes off to run.

When we run barefoot, we move from a heel strike, which is natural when walking, to a midfoot or forefoot strike as speed increases.

Barefoot running cadence or rhythm is usually quicker, the goal is around 180 steps per minute, meaning shorter strides landing closer to under body.

Stride length is contingent on speed, cadence is always quick ~180+. Barefoot style running can be mimicked in any shoe, however, maximising sensory feedback and freedom of movement by wearing wide, thin and flexible footwear makes sense to improve our technique.

When barefoot, we have better balance, hence why gymnastics, martial arts, yoga and most skilful movement disciplines are performed barefoot.

Woman Running

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

What are the main differences between barefoot running shoes and regular running shoes?

Regular cushioned running shoes are built on the empirically and scientifically disproven paradigm that feet are inherently weak and require support. Narrow toe boxes limit the blood flow and deform the feet.

Excessive cushioning decreases sensory feedback, which in turn leads to over-striding and more blunt running mechanics. Arch support increases metabolic cost by hindering the foot’s natural energy return and elastic recoil mechanisms. Stiff footwear limits the range of motion, which causes the weakening of our feet.

Humans have only run in cushioned footwear for 50 years and injuries are still prevalent, with approximately 80 per cent of runners getting injured each year.

The modern running shoe and shoes in general have successfully diminished sensory feedback without diminishing the injury inducing impact.

Wide, thin and flexible footwear allows the foot to move freely; the big toe to function optimally; provides maximum feedback for skilful movement and full range of motion to strengthen feet.

Not to mention they feel fantastic because we can feel and connect with the ground below.

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite II Recycled

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite II Recycled (Photo: The Sport Review)

What are some of the benefits of using barefoot running shoes?

There are many benefits of wearing barefoot shoes for day-to-day activities such as walking, including improved balance, physical function and foot strength.

The healthy barefoot running journey starts with many weeks, sometimes months, of walking (try 120 steps per minute walking), reconnecting with your feet, toe exercises, full body mobility and strength as well as checking your standing, squatting, walking, jumping and running technique before you go for a run.

Much as Harvard research shows running in barefootwear is associated with increases in both intrinsic and extrinsic foot muscular strength, as well as being associated with the most soft landings, they also advise that converting to a forefoot strike pattern in minimal shoes should be done slowly and be accompanied by foot and lower leg strengthening to minimize injuries during the transition.

Even after you have taken sufficient time to reconnect with feet, improve mobility and check your technique, start with only a few minutes of running, ensuring upright but springy posture, quick rhythm (approximately 180 steps per minute) and relaxed shoulders, hands and wrists.

If you don’t spend 80 per cent of your time barefoot or in barefoot shoes, don’t consider running barefoot!

Are there any potential downsides to barefoot running?

Too much too soon, like anything, will result in pain and potentially injury, hence the above advice for a healthy transition.

Most importantly, practice improving your ankle’s range of motion through exercises such as squats and other single leg exercises, and jumping skill (180bpm rhythm, ensuring heels are kissing the floor when jumping with a forefoot/midfoot strike to avoid overloading the plantar fascia, Achilles, soleus and calves).

How do Vivobarefoot’s running shoes compare to some of the other similar products on the market?

Vivobarefoot are the most barefoot – wide, thin and flexible!

Because we have puncture resistance in our soles we can go thinner to provide more sensory feedback.

Vivobarefoot have a comprehensive range from kids to adults, lifestyle to performance.

Our waterproof hiking boot, the Tracker, consistently receives phenomenal feedback, it’s a hiking game changer, and is adventurer Ed Stafford’s footwear of choice. We use natural materials such as corn, algae, rubber and recycled materials, as well as wild hide leather in the lifestyle and outdoor products.

The perfect footwear is regenerative to body and planet and its Vivobarefoot’s goal to be the most regenerative company in the world.

Is there anything else we should be aware of when it comes to barefoot running?

Check your feet and body – and take your time.

It’s important to listen to aches and pains and work through them, not around them.

There are a small percentage of people who have foot issues, mostly caused a lifetime of unhealthy footwear which may prevent them being able to run barefoot or certainly require additional time and effort to rehab before progressing into more strenuous activity.

This is why it is so important to walk before you run, reconnect and tune into your feet.

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite II Recycled

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite II Recycled (Photo: The Sport Review)

Where’s the best place to keep up to date with your work and what you’re up to?

Check out the Vivobarefoot Instagram Lives which feature loads of great sessions on posture, mobility, transition tips and more.

Vivobarefoot is in the process of updating its education resources and we’re looking forward to a revamped platform with transition tips and tools, updates on scientific research and more in depth online courses and when possible rewilding events.

Coaching is available in the Vivobarefoot Covent Garden store, and bookings will be available online again shortly, but please contact [email protected] for more information in the meantime.

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• Updated on 7 October 2020
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