ChiRunning response to: Should I run barefoot or not?

« Go Back

If you’ve been following the boom in barefoot running over the past couple of years, you might have suspected (and rightly so) that it has been at least partially responsible for the current shift in running shoe design. What I’d like to say about that is that it’s not about the shoes…or lack thereof. Some of the major running shoe manufacturers and a growing number of younger, smaller shoe companies are joining the revolution and cranking out “minimalist” shoes at an astounding rate. These shoes are all designed around the idea that running without the traditional built-in heel lift is better for your body, which I wholeheartedly agree with and, which I have to say, has been a looooong time coming. That being said, I’d like to add in my own words of caution for those of you who might be led to believe that running barefoot or in minimal shoes, will automatically make you a better runner. Running in flatter, more minimal shoes will allow your feet, ankle and leg muscles to strengthen, readjust, and move with better structural alignment. All of these can help you become a better runner, but the onus to really become a better runner is really on you… not on whether you’re running barefoot or in shoes. It’s what ChiRunning has been talking about for the better part of eleven years now.

I have been a proponent of good running form, as the primary way to run more efficiently and injury-free, since I began teaching ChiRunning in 1999. For the better part of eleven years now I’ve felt a lot like a salmon swimming upstream. And, because of the recent media interest in running technique, I no longer feel like the voice in the dark.

I believe that the shift in the paradigm started in 2004 when Dr. Dan Lieberman (Harvard) published a study which showed that we humans were designed to not only spend most of our time on our hind legs, but to run (either after game or away from predators). Lieberman also recently published another study, which received wide recognition, showing the difference in impact between habitually shod and unshod runners. The recent upsurge in the popularity of minimalist running has also been partly spawned by barefoot convert Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run.

I totally agree with recent studies showing that over-built running shoes are a big contributor to the 65% annual injury rate. But the ChiRunning book sets out to put the responsibility for injury-prevention on the runner, not on the shoes. If you’re running in a way that creates impact and injury to your feet, ankles, knees or hips you’ll need to look farther than a change in footwear to get to the source of your problem or you could be just as much at risk for getting injured as the next runner. It always comes down to running technique.

Running barefoot or in minimal shoes allows your feet to accurately sense the ground and allows your body to find its own natural balance and alignment. This works wonders towards helping runners and walkers avoid many of the more common impact injuries. The best way to consistently guarantee that you avoid running injuries is to adopt a “barefoot-like” running style. This means that, no matter what shoes you’re wearing, or whether or not your even wearing shoes, you’re always trying to run in a way that creates the least amount of impact, imbalance and extraneous effort in your body.

Here are some of what I would call the barefoot-like characteristics of ChiRunning:
• Allow your feet to land under your center of mass in a soft, midfoot/forefoot strike with your lower legs completely relaxed
• Lean forward from your ankles
• Allow your upper body to gently fall forward with each stride while your legs swing rearward
• Take shorter strides (which allows for a midfoot strike under your center of mass)
• Run with a quicker, steady cadence (170-180 strides/minute) at all speeds

These are only a few of the ChiRunning focuses, but they are each crucial components to effortless, injury-free running. And, most importantly, they can all be done with or without shoes. For a complete list of the ChiRunning focuses please refer to the end of Chapter Four in the ChiRunning Book.

Happy Trails,


Posted in Beginners

Related Articles