Should I add barefoot running as a training supplement? If I do, what are the risks and rewards?

Even if you're not interested in running barefoot all the time, you can still reap benefits from kicking your shoes off as part of supplemental training.

Before you start the process, you should be clear what benefits you hope to gain and ensure they match up with what running barefoot can provide. Here are some things that can be reasonably expected from running barefoot:

  • Strengthening and awakening of feet and ankle muscles -- many smaller muscles that never get activated in shoes
  • Improve a slow stride rate
  • Improve the form of an existing mid-foot or forefoot strike
  • Improve balance

Barefoot running performed as supplemental training can also be dangerous. There are a few things you will want to be sure you're aware of:

  • It will be easy to overdo it by being overconfident, especially if you're already running quite a few miles shod
  • Smooth concrete or asphalt will provide a more consistent environment than grass. A soft surface will dull the feedback loop and make it more difficult to improve
  • The bottoms of your feet may require adaptation time
  • You can not heel strike while running barefoot. If you heelstrike in shoes, and don't plan to change your stride, running barefoot will most likely just screw up your stride and get you injured.
  • Expect some level of blisters, especially in the first few weeks, if you're not adapted to being barefoot.

Think about whether you're serious about accepting the risks of running barefoot. Many of the benefits of being unshod can be gained simply from walking barefoot. This is often a better and less damaging place to start your unshod journey.