barefoot-runningNo matter how great a runner you are, you’re going to have to take some time to let your body adjust to running around in Vibram Five Fingers, even more so when completely barefoot. The benefits of learning to run in the barefoot style are pretty substantial, but the potential risks of approaching this endeavor carelessly are equally significant.

You’ll never reach your endurance goals if you are hampered by injuries, and minimalist running will help you with that – but, only if you approach it conscientiously.

If you are new to the minimalist running trend, then you will have to come to grips with the fact that you can’t immediately run the same kind of distance that you are used to doing in cushioned shoes. Well, you could, but then you will likely spend the rest of the week laid up in bed with muscle tears. In fact, your well defined runners muscles are still one of the biggest roadblocks towards reaching your barefoot mileage goals.

According to Dr. Michael Nirenberg and Dr. Benno Nigg, while walking in shoes, only the tibialis anterior (a shin muscle) and triceps surae (calf) muscles are needed.

You see, there are about 20 muscles within our foot and 12 muscles from our leg that attach to our foot. So, while wearing cushioned shoes only a couple of those different muscles are needed to facilitate human locomotion. What do you think all of those other muscles are doing in the mean time? Well, if they aren’t ever used they body lets them shrink to maximize efficiency. And, if you have elevated heels under your feet, your calf muscles will shorten in length as well.

So, what can you do to improve your foot strength?

Your best bet is to approach this like a weightlifter would approach a strength training regimen. Don’t try to do too run farther than your body is capable of, and get adequate rest so that your muscles have time to adapt.

One of the most obvious signs that you are doing too much distance early on is that your calf muscles are incredibly tight and sore. You will be using those calves much more now, so treat them well or you’ll risk developing antagonistic shin splints.

The muscles and tendons surrounding the bones on the top of your feet will also develop tendinitis and swelling if you do too much. The foot no longer has a cage of support and protection around it, and is forced to act as the interface between your body and the ground. The torque generated from pushing around several hundred pounds of weight at speed and high repetition is a lot to ask of your newly awakened feet.

Ultimately, to strengthen your foot muscles you will need to use them for their intended purpose.

For runners, this primarily means running or walking barefoot or in minimalist shoes. Once you take off the foot coffins you have been use to, your body will take care of the rest. I don’t think you need to resort to isolation weight-lifting for calf muscles, or weighted foot lifts, just kick off the shoes and start a gradual running progression.

Just remember to eat well and get plenty of sleep, both essential ingredients for building muscle and repairing tissues. Finally, pay attention to your body’s signals and be reasonable when it seems that it is telling you to take it easy. For many, pain is an annoyance to be ignored or pushed aside. However, if it’s just a training run, maybe consider doing yourself a favor and listening to your body this time.

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12 Responses to Build Up Muscle Strength For Barefoot Running

  1. Fitz says:

    Well said. The #1 mistake newbies to barefooting make is jumping into it too aggressively. Minimalism begs the question, “Why are you doing it?” If your end goal is to race faster, you don’t have to run barefoot or in VFF all the time. Brief periods of barefoot running – either strides or slow jogging – will strengthen your feet and lower legs enough. It’s definitely not an “all or nothing” venture.
    .-= Fitz´s last blog ..Elite Core and Dynamic Warm-Ups: A Comprehensive Guide =-.

  2. David Csonka says:

    Well, I have noticed that a lot of runners tend to be very driven and competitive people. A day not spent pushing mileage is often seen as wasted time, I think.

  3. Half-marathon hangover | Barefoot Brandon says:

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  5. Justin says:

    I definitely have been taking it easy getting used to walking around barefoot (as per your advice when I first got my VFF’s) and as a result I have not had to deal with any injuries. While I was able to avoid foot injuries from too much strain I couldn’t avoid them all together. I’ve had to take a break from my VFF’s because I stepped on my belt (the part of the buckle that goes in the hole) breaking both my belt and bruising the bottom of my right foot, and the other day my puppy dropped her bone on the toes of my left foot, bruising those as well.

  6. David Csonka says:

    Ouch Justin, that belt incident sounds pretty serious. Honestly, I can’t imagine anything worse besides a nail actually breaking through and cutting in the foot. Hopefully your toe nail will be fine. I have one that is still screwed up from back when I played soccer a few years ago, a guys cleats landed right on my toes and the nail on my big toe has been messed up since.

  7. George @ Gain Muscle Now says:

    I grew up on a beach and ran around barefoot all day long. My high school was inland quite a bit and a lot of kids didn’t go to the beach or run around barefoot like the rest of us.

    My friends who lived near the beach were all the best at track. I have no idea if all of this barefoot running had something to do with it, but your article makes me think there was some kind of connection.

    -George D
    .-= George @ Gain Muscle Now´s last blog ..Exercise While You Dance With 10 Minute Workout =-.

  8. David Csonka says:

    George I would not be surprised if there was a connection between your track performance and your barefoot beach training. For one, running on the sand requires so much more effort because of how much energy it absorbs. The lack of a springy bounce like you get on a track means you retain less mechanical energy, and thus have to work harder. You can certainly expect to get stronger when you work harder.

    Also, the opportunity to build up strength in your feet and lower legs must have had a beneficial effect on performance as well. One could argue that the tendons play as much of a role in running efficiency as the muscles do.

  9. chad says:

    Why did you write this article and not give tips on HOW to strengthen the feet? Kind of a waste of time on your part, isn’t it?

  10. David Csonka says:

    Thank you for the feedback Chad. I mistakenly assumed that the reader would understand that to strengthen your feet you need to use them, ie. walk or run barefoot or in minimalist shoes. I’ll take a look at updating the post to make it more useful.

  11. Jamal says:

    Great read. But I was wondering what you would suggest for someone who’s arches are fallen in? Ive been barefoot running for a while now but my feet still fall inward when standing. Im pretty sure I wasnt born this way and have no history of pain. I am looking to correct knock knees and hip misalignments and have isolated the problem to the feet. What other natural/functional exercises can i do to alleviate the problem?